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Confederate flag controversy spreading in Charlotte region

Small Confederate flags lined the Confederate memorial at the Old County Courthouse in Monroe in April. Confederate flags were removed from the site this week by the county, which said it had not given approval for the flags to be on its property.
Small Confederate flags lined the Confederate memorial at the Old County Courthouse in Monroe in April. Confederate flags were removed from the site this week by the county, which said it had not given approval for the flags to be on its property. abell@charlotteobserver.com

The Confederate flag controversy is spreading to communities around the Charlotte region.

Union County officials removed small Confederate flags at the base of a Confederate monument in Monroe this week after they were put up without county approval. But a county commissioner may seek designation of the old courthouse grounds as a museum, which could allow the flag to fly under certain circumstances.

And in Gastonia, local Sons of Confederate Veterans chapters are planning a rally Saturday afternoon at the county courthouse in defense of the Confederate flag.

Monroe and Gastonia find themselves in the midst of a growing debate throughout the South over the fate of Confederate flags after last week’s massacre at a Charleston church. Nine black people were killed, allegedly by a young white supremacist who appears in photos waving the Confederate battle flag.

Sons of Confederate Veterans plans to rally Saturday at the Gaston County courthouse near a Confederate soldier monument that has a Confederate flag on the front of the marker.

S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley urged the legislature to remove the flag from the capitol grounds. In North Carolina, Gov. Pat McCrory wants to end the use of the flag on state license plates.

And Mecklenburg County leaders disagree over what to do with an obscure memorial on county property that includes the Confederate battle flag.

In Gastonia, the courthouse rally will be held near a Confederate soldier monument that has a Confederate flag on the front of the marker.

A local SCV leader could not be reached for comment Friday.

But Bill Starnes, commander of the SCV’s Major Charles Q. Petty Camp, told the Gaston Gazette the “Save the Flag Rally” is meant to counter anti-flag sentiment. “Our heritage is important to us,” he told the paper, “(The Confederate flag) has been attacked unfairly and unreasonably.”

Talk of a museum designation

In Monroe, county officials are unsure who placed small, hand-held flags at the foot of the 1910 Confederate memorial in front of the Old County Courthouse, County Manager Cindy Coto said.

The area is county property and no one had sought permission to put the flags there, Coto said. Confederate flags are not there all the time, she added.

County staff removed the flags Tuesday. The county also had received a request from a citizen to have the flags removed.

Commissioners vice chair Stony Rushing said he plans to introduce a proposal designating the old courthouse grounds as a museum, both inside and outside. The county has talked for years about turning the site into a museum.

Such a designation would allow, through an approval process, the Confederate flag to fly outside the courthouse on certain occasions, Rushing said. “I don’t have a problem with the flag or our history,” he said.

A historical designation would provide context for its use and for other items at the complex, Rushing said.

In front of the monument is a granite marker to 10 Union County men, nine of whom were slaves, who served willingly or not in the Confederate Army and later received small state pensions. At the monument’s 2012 unveiling, several Confederate flags lined the courthouse balcony next to the United States flag.

Rushing noted there is one other piece of Union County history tied to a Confederate flag icon.

The “General Lee” car from the “Dukes of Hazzard” TV show sported the flag on its hood, and the show was loosely based on the oral memoirs of a Union County moonshine runner named Jerry Rushing.

But Warner Bros., the studio behind the show, said this week it is ending the licensing of die-cast replicas and model kits featuring the Confederate flag on the car’s hood, the entertainment website Vulture reported.

Rushing said all the focus on the flag is taking away from a more important story: how the people of Charleston are coming together in the face of a tragedy.

Bell: 704-358-5696;

Twitter: @abell

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