The Confederate flag came down in South Carolina on Friday -- a movement that has swept the country after a tragic shooting at a Charleston church. In our area, we have seen people challenging the Confederate flag and other southern Civil War generals in schools, roads and stores.
The mayor of Alexandria has been fighting since he was in high school to get the Confederate flag off every pole in this southern city. It is only flown twice a year on public grounds, but he is calling for that to end too.
When Mayor Bill Euille was a high school senior in 1968, he led a protest to take down the Confederate flags that were flown on major holidays along King Street and other spots. Almost 50 years later, he wants the final battle flags taken down.
"When the flag is flown, it just reminds people of the Confederacy and the hatred and slavery, and again, we are past that,” he said. “So all these many years later, I think the time has come for the flag to be stored. It can be in a museum for people to see, but it doesn’t need to be on public display.”
The Confederate flags are put up on the poles at the corner of Washington and Prince Streets twice a year on General Robert E. Lee’s birthday in January and Confederate Memorial Day in May.
In the center is the Confederate Statue of a soldier and the names of Alexandria citizens who died in Civil War are written on the monument.
The mayor wants the statue removed too. He interprets the soldier’s expression as sad for losing the Civil War.
"The statue -- the soldier is there without a smile, somewhat sad-faced, looking down south towards Richmond,” said Euille.
But Katie Fike, a citizen and history buff, sees the statue differently.
“I think it epitomizes the feeling of the south after the Civil War,” she said. “[The statue] is sadly looking south remembering his comrades who died.”
She said the mayor needs to slow down.
“I would hate to see this be a knee-jerk reaction because South Carolina took their flag down and Alexandria has to take their flag down,” said Fike.
Other Alexandria citizens are split on the debate.
“The Confederate flag is like a symbol of white supremacy over black people,” said Brett Eagle. “I think it’s good they finally made the decision to take it down.”
“I understand the issues around the battle flag, but I think the Confederacy is a part of history,” said Toni Turk. “We shouldn't forget history.”
Alexandria is a diverse city. The mayor said the population is half white and half black, Hispanic and other races. He said the city council is united in ending the Confederate symbols.
"We are getting broad-based support,” said Euille. “The city council [has received] emails, faxes, phone calls from a lot of our citizens saying the time has come to address this and it's a national issue that's out there. Let's take a look at it and make a decision."
The mayor said that there will be a public meeting in September when the city council is back in session. He said citizens on both sides of the issue will be allowed to air their opinions. The decisions will be brought to a vote by the council.