Hatred or heritage?

State Confederate, flag groups drive Haywood flag controversy
By Vicki Hyatt | Dec 14, 2012
Photo by: Caroline Klapper Caroline Klapper photo TAKING A STAND — As Haywood County Commissioners fashion a policy governing what can be displayed on public property, a group spearheaded by the N.C. Sons of Confederate Veterans contends flying the Confederate Battle Flag on the courthouse lawn is, instead, a First Amendment issue.

There are plenty of  Haywood folks who care about honoring their Civil War roots. But the political drama about displaying the Confederate flag on the courthouse lawn is a cause being directed by groups from outside the county.

It is the Raleigh-based N.C. Sons of Confederate Veterans, not its local chapter, threatening trouble if county commissioners don't meet their demands. Controversial Black Mountain attorney Kirk Lyons, a Black Mountain attorney who has represented those charged with hate crimes, and the WNC Flaggers, a group contending the Confederate flag is a symbol against federal tyranny, not racism or hatred, have been driving forces in the sidewalk protests and meetings. Flags placed at the Confederate monument in Waynesville state they are the property of both groups.

In letters to the county stating he will "use all legal means necessary," Lyons said he speaks for himself, as well as the state Confederate veterans group.

Thomas Smith, Jr., commander of the N.C. Sons of Confederate Veterans, said he followed media reports about what happened in Haywood and was contacted by local residents. The goal in Haywood is not to force any type of Constitutional test case as that's already been done elsewhere. The show of force is to ensure the Confederate Battle Flag can be displayed at the Confederate monument on Confederate Memorial Day, Confederate Flag Day, Robert E. Lee Day and other significant dates.

What's happening in Haywood is of concern to Confederate veteran members across the state, which is why the the state, as opposed to the local chapter, is taking the lead on the issue, Smith said. Just as the federal government has control over the states and the states have powers over the local government, the wishes of the state veterans group supersede the desires of a local affiliate, he added.

Smith bristled at the idea the state group may be forcing an issue that didn't originate at the grass-roots level, much like the complaints many have about the federal or state governments forcing actions locally.

“I won’t get into the semantics of what’s local control and what’s not,” he said.

Policy in question

There is no county policy at present that governs what county taxpayers, groups or businesses can display on the courthouse lawn or other public properties. County Manager Marty Stamey said the only reference that has been found on the flag topic is from a May 1993 county commission minute entry showing the board granted a request from Jule Morrow to fly the Stars and Bars Flag on county property on May 8 and May 10 in observance of Confederate Memorial Day.

Two Confederate flags were put up near the monument in July. When county staff removed them, it prompted a number of street protests, public comments at commissioner meetings and talk about forming a permanent policy about who can use county property for what.

Derrick Shipman, camp commander for the Julius Welch Camp #229 in Haywood, an affiliate of the state Sons of Confederate Veterans group, said his organization didn’t raise the issue with either the commissioners or the state organization. He said he's heard about Lyons' past involvement with what some consider hate groups, but didn't want to comment on the issue.

“He’s here because the state organization wants him here," Shipman said.

The Julius Welch Camp, which has about 40 members, puts up 296 crosses in communities throughout the county during the time leading up to Confederate Memorial Day on May 10. They also decorate the graves of Confederate veterans.

Shipman said he isn’t bothered by the state organization taking the lead role in Haywood, even if it indirectly links the local group to a controversial political movement.

"Some people think it means different things," he said of the Confederate Battle Flag, which has been used in the past by the Klu Klux Klan, the segregationist Dixiecrats and the Nazi groups.

But placing the Confederate Battle Flag at a historical monument to honor soldiers who fought under it should not be a problem, he said.

"I understand the objections, but we're not trying to make a political or social statement. We just want to honor those soldiers with the flag that they flew going into battle. Each their own,” Shipman said. “They (Lyons and the state group) are here to support us, and I don’t have a problem with that.”

Both Smith and Shipman are hoping the issue can be settled amicably, though in a Nov. 19 letter to County Attorney Chip Killian, Lyons had this to say: “The Southern Legal Resource Center, and, I am empowered to say, the 3500 member North Carolina Division Sons of Confederate Veterans will strenuously oppose the proposed ‘Display Policy’ by all legal means necessary, if the wording we have brought to your attention remains in the final adopted policy.”

When groups showed up on the courthouse sidewalk waving the Confederate flag and talking about it being their First Amendment right to put flags on county property, two other local Confederate groups distanced themselves from the efforts.

Shortly after the Confederate flags showed up at the courthouse monument, Jule Morrow, member of the N.C. Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) and captain of the 25th N.C. Infantry Inc., said the SCV was given permission in 1993 to fly the Stars and Bars flag during May in Haywood County. The appearance of the recent flags, he stressed, were actions of individuals rather than the organization. Those wanted to put up the flags should have first consulted the county, he said.

Canton resident Aileen Ezell,who is president of the N.C. Division of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, requested the protestors “let the matter die a natural death.”

“You are free to use the marker, to place a wreath there at any time and to hold any observances you wish, but the N.C. Division UDC asks that you do not engage our organization in uneeded publicity over a flag issue,” Ezell said.