NEW: Commissioners in Greene County vote against raising Confederate flag
A commissioner proposed raising the Rebel banner to honor those who fought for the South
Critics said the gesture would be historically inaccurate and offensive to many
During the Civil War, it was a patch of the South so reviled by the Confederacy for its pro-Union leanings that it in 1862 it was declared “enemy territory” by the secessionist government.
The area’s most celebrated native, Andrew Johnson, was the only Southern senator to remain loyal to the Union. Johnson would go on to become president, succeeding Abraham Lincoln.
And on Monday, more than 150 years later, Greene County, Tennessee, once again found itself ruffling feathers on matters pertaining to the long-gone Confederacy.
County commissioners weighed whether to turn the historical tables and for the first time fly the Rebel flag above the courthouse there.
But the proposal didn’t pass muster at Monday’s meeting, with 20 votes against the measure and just one vote for it, CNN affiliate WJHL reported.
‘Just a part of history’
“Greene County recognizes and remembers those who fought for the South,” read the measure, sponsored by Commissioner Buddy Randolph. “These efforts of these men to persevere must not be forgotten and the Confederate Flag represents that heritage and history that our County should be proud of .”
Randolph, 67, was the only commissioner who voted in favor of the measure. He scoffed at critics before Monday’s vote.
“If people have a problem with it, it’s their problem,” Randolph told CNN affiliate WJHL “It’s just a part of history.”
It’s that “part of history” stuff that’s rankled historians like Richard Hood, a retired history professor living in Greene County who blasted Randolph for his “astoundingly distorted historical memory.”
“Greene County was profoundly anti-Confederate,” Hood wrote in a letter to the editor published last week in the Greeneville Sun. “Commissioner Randolph may not like this history, but it has the virtue of being factual. He should be celebrating Greene County’s heritage of resistance to the Confederacy, not propping up a grotesque distortion of ‘history’ that debases our true past and offends many, many of our own neighbors.”
Flag’s divisive power
The Confederate flag has long been a lightning rod, especially deep in the heart of Dixie, where the memory of Jim Crow and institutional racism still cuts deep in some quarters.
But in the wake of a hate-fueled mass murder of African-Americans in Charleston, South Carolina, in June, the Confederate flag has increasingly grown out of fashion, even below the Mason-Dixon line, as more and more institutions, retailers and state capitols distance themselves from a symbol that for so many symbolizes the very hatred embraced by the Dylann Roofs of the world.
But none of that seems to matter to Randolph, who told WJHL that his proposal “has nothing to do with race or anything.”
But several of Randolph’s 20 colleagues on the county commission seemed to disagree.
“I’m appalled,” Charles “Tim” White told CNN before the vote. “In the 14 years that I have worked as a commissioner, I have never seen the Confederate flag flown near our courthouse, and I don’t see any reason to all of the sudden fly it high now.”
Commissioner Jason Cobble said he was worried the flag would divide citizens.
“If this proposal passes, it would suggest issues of North versus South, whites against blacks, and that’s not what I’m voting for,” he said.
The vote on the Confederate flag was the first resolution on the agenda at Monday’s meeting, taken up shortly after the Greene County commissioners pledged their allegiance to another flag.
CNN’s Ashton Adams and Chandler Friedman contributed to this report