A row has erupted in Virginia over a proposal to fly a huge Confederate flag outside the state capital, Richmond. One hundred and fifty years after the Civil War, the flag can still be seen flying from homes and cars in the South. Why?
For millions of young Britons growing up in the early 1980s, one particular image of the Confederate flag was beamed into living rooms across the UK every Saturday evening.
The flag emblazoned the roof of the General Lee, becoming a blur of white stars on a blue cross when at breathtaking speed, the Dodge Charger took the two heroes, Bo and Luke Duke, out of the clutches of the hapless police in The Dukes of Hazzard.
Thousands of miles from the fictional county of Hazzard in Georgia, it seemed like an innocent motif but in the US, the flag taken into battle by the Confederate states in the Civil War is politically charged – not a week goes by without its appearance sparking upset.
Recently, there’s been a row in Texas over car licence plates bearing the flag, a man arrested after shouting abuse while waving it at a country music concert, and the ongoing fallout from South Carolina flying the flag in front of the State House.
Now plans by a heritage group, the Virginia Flaggers, to erect a large Confederate flag on a major road outside Richmond has drawn considerable fire from critics who say it’s a symbol of hate.
That’s not true, says Barry Isenhour, a member of the group, who says it’s really about honouring the Confederate soldiers who gave their lives. For him, the war was not primarily about slavery but standing up to being over-taxed, and he says many southerners abhorred slavery.
“They fought for the family and fought for the state. We are tired of people saying they did something wrong. They were freedom-loving Americans who stood up to the tyranny of the North. They seceded from the US government not from the American idea.”
He displays a flag on his car but lives in a street where the flying of any flags is not permitted. They are a dwindling sight these days, he thinks, because people are less inclined to fly them in the face of hostility – monuments honouring southern Civil War generals are, he says, regularly vandalised.
Denouncing the “hateful” groups like the Ku Klux Klan who he says have dishonoured the flag, he adds that people should be just as offended by the Union Jack, the Dutch flag or the Stars and Stripes, because they all flew for nations practising slavery.