Battle lines drawn over Confederate flag near I-95
By Blake Belden, Staff Writer
Oct 2, 2013, 12:50
JAMES PEACEMAKER JR./HOPEWELL NEWS/NEWS-PATRIOT A 15-foot Confederate battle flag can be seen through the trees on the southbound side of Interstate 95, just south of the Old Bermuda Hundred Road overpass in Chester.
CHESTERFIELD — As the wind blows through a small grove of trees off Interstate 95 South just beyond the Old Bermuda Hundred Road overpass, ripples course through the threads of a 15-foot Confederate battle flag, likewise sending ripples through the threads of the community.
On Saturday, a group of Condeferate flag preservationists, the Virginia Flaggers, hoisted a flag on a 50-foot pole in Chester in honor of Confederate soldiers, drawing the ire of many who believe the flag is a divisive symbol rooted in hatred and slavery.
Kristen Konate, who started a MoveOn petition during August in opposition to the mounting of the flag, said that the Confederate flag propagates the ideology of acceptable forced slavery.
“When I see it, I see a history of brutality, treason, pain. I see that as being an insult to the Africans that were forcibly brought here and tortured. ... They weren’t living, they had no lives. ... They were hobbled so they couldn’t run away, raped, beaten, lynched, no medical attention. It was horrendous,” Konate said.
However, Barry Isenhour, a member of the Virginia Flaggers, argued that the flag does not represent a call for slavery, and those who see it that way are hindered by a “mixed history.”
“First of all, the flag has nothing to do with slavery. It was the soldiers’ flag designed only to be used in battle by the soldiers. Second of all, when you talk about slavery, the United States flag had slavery legal under the constitution for 87 years in this country. There was never ever, ever, ever, ever, ever a Confederate flag of any form ... on a slave ship coming into this country. However, there were United States flags, British flags, Dutch flags, Spanish flags. But not a Confederate flag,” Isenhour said.
Isenhour stated that approximately 300 supporters showed up on Saturday not to promote slavery, but to proudly commemorate fallen soldiers from the Civil War South, in an area home to the Bermuda Campaign and an area that Virginia Flaggers believe is home to many unmarked Confederate graves.
“It was very inspirational. Not only was it a moment where we all came together and felt we were doing the right thing honoring our Confederate soldiers. We had bagpipes going, we had prayers going. Talking ... about the soldiers who had been in the area, so it was a very emotional service that we gave,” Isenhour said.
Situated on private property, the flag is actually difficult to spot at first glance along the side of the interstate, buried among trees and shadowed by the overpass heading south, but the Flaggers intend to further landscape and cut down trees to make the flag more visible from the northbound lane, according to Backsass, an online blog created by Flagger member Connie Chastain.
As of Tuesday afternoon, the ‘Say “NO” to the I-95 Confederate Flag’ petition had garnered 23,966 signatures from people stretching from Oregon to Florida.
Many who signed the petition left a comment online to voice their opinions about the flag.
“It’s not about the history of the flag. It’s about [what] the flag symbolizes today. Most people will see the flag as unwelcoming regardless of what the Virginia Flaggers think,” wrote Chester resident Shawn Huff.
Gisele Cazedamont, from Richmond, agrees that the flag does not belong on the side of the road.
“This was a horrific war for both the North and South [and] for all races and genders!! We don’t want to commemorate on I-95 or anywhere. I can understand that some people find it interesting to visit historical sites (i.e. Holocaust museum, war memorials), but let’s not make it a part of who we stand for now. KEEP IT IN A MUSEUM!!!” Cazedamont wrote.
Konate emphasized that this opposition is not based on restricting constitutional liberties, but promoting ethical responsibilities.
“This is not about freedom of speech. Everybody’s aware of the First Amendment. This is about the right thing to do. Just because somebody has the right to do something, doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do,” Konate said.
Konate said that she has received an abundance of supercilious feedback in response to the petition, including an email that stated: “I hope you walk into a knife.”
Looking forward, Konate said she will shift her primary focus on the efforts of United RVA, a group established to counter the actions of the Virginia Flaggers by erecting the largest American flag in the commonwealth in downtown Richmond as a way “to make [the Richmond region] a more welcoming and inclusive environment.”
Susan Hathaway, the founder of the Virginia Flaggers, issued a statement in regards to the scorn and personal attacks by oppositional groups and individuals.
“In my humble opinion, the best thing we can do to neutralize those who attack us with no provocation is to stay focused on our Cause and continue the good work that has been started. With every flag that has been raised, returned, or added to the landscape, we win a victory for the Confederate veterans who fought and died under them ... and when they are not the focus of our efforts, our efforts truly are in vain,” Hathaway said, according to an article posted by the Marble Hill Constitution-News.
The Virginia Flaggers have grown from an isolated group in September 2011 to more than 500 members today, a community of devoted southerners who protest against heritage offenses with specific regards to the Confederate flag.
Since October of 2011, the Virginia Flaggers have persisted in their campaign to return the battle flags to the Pelham Chapel - Confederate War Memorial in Richmond after the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts banned their presence by standing outside on the sidewalk adjacent to the museum holding up Confederate flags.
“Our weapon is the Confederate battle flag. Our enemies are those who worship ignorance, historical revisionism and political correctness,” as stated in a Virginia Flaggers promotional flyer.