Confederate flag on tag seeks backer

But opposition to the plate comes swiftly.
By ANNE LINDBERG, Times Staff Writer
Published January 31, 2007

For some, the Confederate battle flag is a symbol of the country’s racist
past, of a viewpoint best forgotten.

But a group who cherishes the old flag as a point of Southern pride is working
to do just the opposite.

The Sons of Confederate Veterans want to immortalize the flag on a Florida speciality
license plate.

The group’s leaders say they have collected 30,000 signatures from people
who would buy the plate. They’ve also raised the $60,000 deposit needed
to put the proposal before the state Legislature.

Getting it approved this year would be especially appropriate, they say, because
it is the 200th anniversary of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s birthday.

The group knows the plate will evoke some bad feelings, said Robert Hurst, the
public relations director for the Florida division of the Sons of Confederate

“There are people in this society, who, every time you mention Confederate,
will complain,” Hurst said. “We know that there will be opposition
and gnashing of teeth and thumping of chests when we get our tags.”

The group’s goal, he said, is to honor “our ancestors, to maintain
our presence and raise some money for our division.”

Despite the controversy, Hurst said he does not believe the Sons of Confederate
Veterans will have any trouble getting legislative approval.

It would be “bad faith,” he said, for the Legislature to refuse
it after approving 100 other speciality plates.
State Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, disagreed, saying the Legislature is “too
sophisticated” to permit such a specialty tag.

“I don’t think they’d fall into the trap of passing legislation
that raises the spectre of racism,” Joyner said. “It’s a very
sensitive issue in this state and this country. It’s very polarizing and
we don’t need that today.”

Funds for graveyards

Last month, Hillsborough County commissioners ran into criticism after issuing
a proclamation recognizing the bicentennial birthday of Lee on the same day
they honored a longtime a black community activist.

The license plate is not meant to polarize, said Doug Guetzloe, the head of
Advantage Consultants in Winter Park who is helping usher the plate through
the Legislature.

To begin with, the $25 per plate fee that would go to the Sons of Confederate
Veterans would be used to maintain graveyards of men on both sides of the conflict.
Another portion would go to education.

The goal is to celebrate the state’s “Confederate heritage,”
not to insult people by displaying the battle flag.

“The design actually minimizes the Confederate battle flag,” Guetzloe
said. “It’s a very tastefully done representation of the Confederate
flags that flew over Florida.”

The proposed plate shows four flags surrounding a center emblem of the battle
flag. Two of the flags are the battle flag.

Warning of message

The group’s good intentions do not matter, Joyner said. Nor does the plate’s

“You can dress it up and say it’s for this purpose, but it still
has the concept of … racism,” Joyner said. “It’s the
message we send to the nation that racism is alive and well in Florida.”

If people want to display the Confederate battle flag, they can do so without
a state-sponsored tag, she said. Confederate plates can be placed on the front
of the vehicle.

Meanwhile, the group is shopping for a lawmaker to sponsor the plate.

Several legislators have been consulted, but none have signed on, Guetzloe said.

However, he was confident that someone would be named in the next few days.

© 2007 • All Rights Reserved • St. Petersburg Times

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