Given the present, often ill-tempered, discussion about the display of Confederate symbols in North Carolina, in particular the formally approved Sons of the Confederate Veterans custom license plate, we believe it is important to correct certain misapprehensions and misstatements of fact that have appeared in the news media recently and that have been made by some political leaders.
In recent days our cemeteries have been desecrated (Durham’s Maplewood Cemetery) and our monuments defaced (in Asheville). Calls have been issued by Governor Pat McCrory to in effect punish thousands of Tar Heels who have no connection whatsoever to the dastardly event that occurred in Charleston, South Carolina. Their only “sin” is to have had Southern ancestors who fought for the Confederacy, whom they memorialize with a custom license tag.
The Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) is like other civic groups that have customized North Carolina plates. We were founded in 1896 by the sons (and descendants) of those Tar Heel soldiers who left their homes and families to go fight for their states in a long, very brutal and bloody war between the states. We are a civic, not-for-profit, and charitable organization, an organization dedicated to conserving the heritage of our state.
We do considerable work in supporting the preservation of North Carolina’s history, including significant support for historic restoration, through participation in the activities of our historic sites, and by our contributions to artifact preservation. We have contributed more than $100,000 for these projects, plus countless man-hours of our time. Paramount for the SCV is our mission to commemorate our ancestor soldiers. We believe that by our civic activities, we honor our ancestors.
Fifteen years ago, after a long court case and after a favorable decision by the Court of Appeals, the SCV legally won the right to have the North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles issue custom license plates for our members. The SCV’s specialized license plates bear the exact registered seal of the organization, as is normal for those civic groups that possess the right to custom plates. Since that time until the past week or two, there has been no controversy about our licenses.
The registered emblem of the SCV is the square Battle Flag, with the historic Cross of St. Andrew (the cross of the Scots who settled in the Southern colonies prior to the American Revolution) emblazoned and surrounded by our name. The Battle Flag was carried by soldiers in 1861-65, and historically it was a soldiers’ flag. Of course, regrettably, it has been misused and abused on occasion during the past 150 years by a very few deranged individuals and hate groups. The SCV has repeatedly condemned in the strongest terms this misuse by such groups as the KKK, which we feel dishonors our ancestors and the flag they carried.
But consider: the United States flag has been misused as well, and even more so. For eighty-eight (1788-1866) years the US flag flew over slavery, even worse, over the legal buying, selling, and brutal importation of slaves. Do we ban it because of that history?
The US flag flew over the concentration camps where our government imprisoned the Nisei Japanese civilians during World War II, it flew at the Sand Creek massacre of peaceful Indians in 1864 and at Wounded Knee. Are we ready to say that the US flag represents “hate” and “racism” because it was badly misused on those occasions?
We don’t think so. Rather, we believe that Americans of good will can distinguish between a few misguided and hateful individuals and instances in our past, and the symbols of what is true and good and honorable in our nation. It is just so with the SCV emblem which is as American as the Maryland flag with the historic arms of Lord Baltimore, the California Republic Bear in the California flag, or the Algonquian Native American in the Massachusetts banner.
In North Carolina there are license plates that commemorate the NRA, that honor tobacco, that declare “In God We Trust.” And just like the NRA and other organizations, the fact that we have custom North Carolina DMV tags in no way indicates an endorsement by the state.
These symbols are for some people controversial and perhaps objectionable. Which license plate is next on the chopping block? Is the state of North Carolina going to censor groups that some people may not agree with? Suppose you are a UNC grad and hate North Carolina State: are we going to deny NC State grads a license plate? Just how far into political correctness are we willing to go? Is this truly the American spirit of liberty and mutual respect? Does this bring us together as a nation; or rather only sow increased division? Does dishonoring our ancestors of over a century and a half ago who had absolutely nothing to do with the very sad events in Charleston do anything to prevent in the future a deranged and misguided young man, a loner, truly intent on killing innocent people? Does stigmatizing the ancestors of one, very large group of North Carolinians help heal and resolve the issues affecting all Tar Heels today?
We of the North Carolina Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans, ask our political leaders, including Governor McCrory, and our fellow citizens, not to give in and react unreasonably to the deranged, hateful actions of one crazed gunman by punishing and stigmatizing thousands of law-abiding Tar Heel citizens who only wish to honor the bravery of their ancestors. The attempts to ban our symbols could well become a slippery slope for an agenda that seems to be developing to ban other symbols and incriminate other portions of our nation’s diverse population, when what is sorely needed today is mutual respect and toleration.
If a rabid fox comes out of the woods and bites someone, the solution is not to burn the woods down, but to stop the rabid fox.
We urge our fellow citizens to check us out, access our web site and contact us: www.ncscv.org.
On July 2, 2015, CNN released the result of a comprehensive national poll revealing the views of Americans on the Confederate Battle Flag. 57% nationally see it as a symbol of Southern pride, and only 33% see it as in any way “racist.” And certainly here in North Carolina that favorability rating is much higher. The thousands of members of the North Carolina Division of the SCV, their families and friends, and many others who honor our heritage, urge the governor not to sow anger and discord. Remember, we also vote.
J. Daniel Bolick
Commander, North Carolina Division,
Sons of Confederate Veterans