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Some groups want more Confederate flags in N.C. — here's how Orange County is reacting


Confederate heritage supporters rallied in McCorkle Place to defend the statue of Silent Sam in 2015. Confederacy-related controversy has plagued UNC since, the latest of which came last week when the UNC System and Board of Governors settled a lawsuit with the Sons of Confederate Veterans under controversial circumstances.

Two Southern heritage groups — North Carolina Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans and Alamance County Taking Back Alamance County— have announced separate plans to raise multiple Confederate flags along highways across North Carolina. 

The ACTBAC is primarily focused on raising Confederate flags on four sites in the Orange County region, including areas along U.S. 70 in Hillsborough, NC-54 outside of Chapel Hill and Interstates 40 and 85. 

The Southern Poverty Law Center has identified ACTBAC as a neo-Confederate group, but the group's founder Gary Williamson told the Durham Herald-Sun that it honors and preserves Southern heritage — and he denied claims that the group supports white supremacy. 

Meanwhile, the Sons of Confederate Veterans aims to raise a Confederate flag in all 100 counties in North Carolina in an initiative called “Flags Across the Carolinas.” The initiative hopes to raise “mega-sized,” 20 feet by 30 feet Confederate battle flags across the state by placing them on private properties with the consent of the property owners. 

During an Orange County Board of Commissioners meeting last month, many residents voiced their concerns to the board over the ACTBAC's plans to raise a Confederate flag on private property near the N.C. Highway Patrol Station, west of Hillsborough. 

The plan's opponents cited specific evidence from the county’s Unified Development Ordinance, claiming the proposed flag would be in violation of county regulations. 

Latarndra Strong is the founder of the Hate-Free Schools Coalition, a group that pressured the Orange County school district to adopt a new dress code banning the Confederate flag, Ku Klux Klan symbols and swastikas from all district schools in 2017. The group currently works to ban the flag and hate symbols in schools districts across North Carolina.

Strong said to her, the Confederate flag represents “hatred and bigotry,” but she acknowledged other people may view it differently. 

“There are people who sport the Confederate flag strictly on heritage issues,” Strong said. “But, the problem is that there are also a large number of people who use to the Confederate flag to signal their racial hatred, and because of that, it leads the onlooker guessing what its for.”

Orange County Commissioner Penny Rich said the Board of Commissioners has received strong, emotional responses from many residents on the issue. 

“People are very, very upset about this," Rich said. "They don’t want their county to be known as hate county. “Those flags are just hateful — that’s all there is to it — they are just hateful.”

Commissioner Rich said the board has asked the county planning department, as well as the county attorney to evaluate the permissibility of the flag proposed west of Hillsborough. A public Board of Commissioners meeting on the issue will likely take place in the coming weeks. 


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