LEXINGTON, Va. – A rural Virginia city where Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson are buried on Thursday limited the flying of the Confederate flag on poles on several downtown streets.
After 2 1/2 hours of heated debate, the Lexington City Council voted 4-1 to allow only the Virginia, U.S. and city flags to be displayed. Personal displays of the Confederate flag are not affected.
About 100 people led by the Sons of Confederate Veterans rallied before the vote and then showed up in force to speak to the council to dissuade them from enacting the ordinance. Other residents complained that the flag is a divisive symbol of the South’s history of slavery and shouldn’t be endorsed by the city.
Afterward the group said they would legally challenge the ban in the city of 7,000.
“I am a firm believer in the freedom to express our individual rights, which include flying the flag that we decide to fly,” said Philip Way, a Civil War re-enactor who turned out for the late-summer rally clad in a Confederate wool uniform. “That’s freedom to me.”
City officials insist the limits are not aimed at the Confederate flag.
“They can carry their flags anywhere they want,” City Manager T. Jon Ellestad said. The city received hundreds of complaints the last time Confederate flags were planted in holders on light poles in January to mark Lee-Jackson Day, a state holiday.
People complained “that displaying the Confederate flag is very hurtful to groups of people,” Ellestad said. “In their mind, it stands for the defense of slavery.”
The complaints convinced city leaders they should have clear guidelines governing the flying of flags and banners on light poles.