Kenric Ward: Southern pride flies over Florida
By Kenric Ward
Sunday, May 3, 2009
TAMPA — In case you missed it, Confederate Memorial Day was April 26.
While 18 million Floridians may have been oblivious to the state-sanctioned holiday, nearly 2,000 people gathered in east Tampa the day before to raise a toast, and a flag, to Southern pride and the antebellum affinity for state’s rights.
The banner for their celebration was a 35-foot-by-60-foot battle flag, hoisted on a 139-foot poll at the Interstate 75/Interstate 4 interchange. Touted as the largest in the world, the Stars and Bars flapped in the breeze, rippling to a mixture of reverence and Rebel Yells.
If an assemblage of Civil War re-enactors seems anachronistic, don’t tell that to Marion Lambert and members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. This throng ran the gamut from the pre-pubescent to the post-septuagenarian. Entertainers ranged from folk musicians to Lynyrd Skynyrd knockoffs. A few African-Americans even joined in the festivities.
Moving forward, Lambert says Florida’s SCV is using high-tech mapping tools to locate future flag sites. Previously raised in Lake City (on I-75 near Interstate 10) and Havana (U.S. 27 north of Tallahassee), additional flag locations are targeted for Jacksonville, Miami, Orlando and Pensacola.
While the flag evokes fear and loathing among some — Gov. Jeb Bush removed it from the Capitol grounds in the 1990s — the SCV remains proudly unreconstructed.
“Did you know that out of the 224 years that slavery was legal in this country, only four of those years did the Confederate battle flag fly?” asks Georgia pastor John Weaver.
Historians also point out that the Stars and Bars never flew on a slave ship. That honor was reserved for the Stars and Stripes.
“When Massachusetts ended slavery, they sold their last slaves to the South, and while the money was jingling in their pockets, they looked down their long, pointed noses at us,” Weaver cried.
Alexis de Tocqueville, writing in “Democracy in America,” foresaw in 1830 an “irrepressible conflict” between North and South. Almost 150 years after the last shots were fired in the War Between the States, a geographic and cultural divide remains. Though no one is talking about re-imposing slavery, the Confederate battle flag remains iconic.
Bearing St. Andrew’s cross, and the Christianity that adheres to it, the Rebel banner has rallied freedom fighters around the globe. When the Berlin Wall fell, the Stars and Bars waved amidst the cheering East Germans.
Florida’s Confederate remnant didn’t lay down its arms until May 10, 1865, almost a month after Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox. Gov. John Milton, who said he would rather die than live under Yankee rule, committed suicide at the end of the war. Tallahassee was the only state capital east of the Mississippi not occupied by Union forces.
Plaques at the Tampa monument commemorate such history and recount depredations committed by Union troops on civilians. Secessionist-author Walter “Donnie” Kennedy amplified on the subject, relating that Karl Marx applauded Abraham Lincoln’s re-election in 1864 as a victory for centralized government control and “the reconstruction of a social world.”
If the Florida SCV wins state approval for a Confederate license plate, the $25-per-tag revenue will help to expand the organization’s “Flags Across Florida” campaign. At an estimated cost of $140,000, memorials like the one in Tampa will require a lot of tag sales.
Ultimately, though, the SCV says it’s not enough to put up new banners — no matter how big.
“It’s not enough to raise the Confederate flag,” Weaver declared Saturday. “We must raise Confederates!”
Lambert says there are about 1,700 Florida SCV members (who, by organization rules, are descendants of Confederate soldiers) and 35,000 across the South. To see how their work is going, visit the memorial park at 10418 U.S. 92.
Just look for the flag. You can’t miss it.