Hundreds gathered Saturday in freshly cleared woods along Interstate 95 to celebrate the raising of a Confederate battle flag, an event that stirred strong opposition from those who view the flag as a symbol of division. Those who attended the raising of the 15-by-15-foot flag from the Army of Northern Virginia said the ceremony was not intended to offend, but to honor the South’s war dead in the Civil War. Since the Virginia Flaggers, the group behind the flag-raising, announced this past June that a flag would rise along the heavily traveled interstate, many residents of Richmond have protested, saying the banner is a symbol of slavery and bigotry.
The opponents have been hard at work, gathering nearly 25,000 signatures for an online petition and encouraging fellow Richmonders to display American flags outside their homes. "United RVA," the group behind the American flag campaign, purchased a flag approximately 60 feet wide and displayed it at a construction site downtown near City Hall about noon Saturday. Representing the "Flaggers," spokeswoman Susan Hathaway said the flag "will serve to welcome visitors and commuters to Richmond, and remind them of our honorable Confederate history and heritage." For many Richmonders though, the Confederate flag is not what they want "welcoming" visitors.
Richmond has an immense amount of history to be proud of, including having the first successful electrically powered trolley system in the United States as well as being home to the oldest surviving African-American founded bank in the country. Richmond history also has a dark chapter. A time when human beings were bought, sold and beaten. A time when Richmond was the capital of the movement to separate from the United States and keep the practice of slavery alive. It is these moments that are associated with the Confederate flag, moments that Richmond wants to move past, not glorify.