NASHVILLE, Tenn., (WKRN) — The Confederate flag is a symbol brought under the microscope recently. It has caused a close examination of American values and beliefs. It’s a symbol Tennesseans can also choose to get on their license plates.
These plates have generated hundreds of thousands of dollars for the Sons of Confederate Veterans, or SCV. However, the fight to ban them in the state is far from over.
For some, the flag is a symbol of heritage.
“It represents our family,” said Walter D. “Donnie” Kennedy, Chief of Heritage Operations, National Sons of Confederate Veterans. “My great grandfather served on that flag. It represents him. When you attack that flag, you’re attacking him.”
For others, it represents hurt.
“We certainly should not have state-sponsored endorsements of a group that was not only traitorous to the United States, but the crimes of slavery,” Rep. G.A. Hardaway, D-Memphis said. “And slavery is what that war was about. Make no doubt about it.”
The Confederate flag has now been banned from NASCAR, state capitols, and even the military. But not from specialty Tennessee license plates.
“We’re on the cusp of not only the racial reckoning, but we’re on the verge of the racial reconciliation,” Rep. Hardaway said. “It can’t be done. It will never be complete if we continue to promote white supremacy by state-sponsored white supremacy.”
The SCV believes the symbol is not divisive for them.
“You name the color, you name the ethnicity, and we have them in our organization,” said Kennedy. “If you go back in history and look at the old photographs of the Confederate Veterans reunion you’ll see Black, Native American, Hispanic, White. They’re all together as one individual group.” He added, “They were together — brothers in arms. So, you can’t be a racist if you believe in that type of togetherness.”
In 2004, the SCV introduced the novelty plates, which can be purchased for $61.50. Of that, $35 goes back to the SCV.
Since their inception, 30,866 plates have sold. That brings the total up to $741,981.28 for the organization.
“In the last 15 years, we’ve donated over a quarter-million dollars for medical research, scholarship awards, and things of this nature just to help people out,” Kennedy said. “So we’re more than a “Civil War organization… We are an organization based in history, obviously, and it’s the history of the war between states.”
Others want the symbol off state-issued plates.
“I would say that if anyone wants to put that flag on their chest or on their underwear, they’re more than free to do it,” Rep. Hardaway said. “I’m not going to interfere with that, but when it’s on state property, I’ve got a problem with it.”
Last year, Rep. Hardaway introduced a bill to ban these plates. The bill ultimately failed. However, he plans to reintroduce legislation if they don’t go away soon.
“We should accommodate the new information that we have to make use of it to make better decisions about what we put before the public and use tax dollars to sponsor the same,” Rep. Hardaway said.
Even though Rep. Hardaway and Kennedy may never see eye-to-eye on these plates, perhaps there are certain values they do share.
“Let us cooperate, let us understand,” said Kennedy. “I don’t like some license plates that I see, but I believe that you have a right to express your view. I extend to you that right, and I expect the courtesy of you extending to me the right to express my view.”
Both believe strongly in certain rights our nation stands for.
“We might often compromise on how we get to certain places, but we don’t compromise on where we’re trying to go when we talk about the pursuit of life, liberty and pursuit of happiness in America. That we don’t compromise on,” Rep. Hardaway said.
These plates are still generating a lot of interest among Tennessee drivers. Last year marked the top-selling year for these plates, with more than 3,300 sold and generating just over $61,000 for the SCV.
News 2 takes a closer look at the debate surrounding Confederate monuments and statues in Tennessee. As debate intensifies over their place in history, we dig deeper into how communities are re-evaluating what they represent and what they are doing about it. Watch our special reports “Monuments and Middle Ground” all day Thursday in every newscast.