Bryan Snyder / Reuters

Tennessee county commission votes down attempt to raise Confederate flag

Bid to raise rebel battle flag over courthouse in Greene County fails by overwhelming margin

Lawmakers in the Tennessee county of Greene on Monday overwhelmingly voted down a measure to raise the Confederate battle flag over their courthouse in Greeneville, according to local reports.

The ballot rejection — in which 20 members of the green County Commission voted against with only one commissioner in favor — came after weeks of debate on the issue. The measure’s sole supporter in the council vote, County Commissioner James Randolph, had argued the emblem serves as a reminder of their history, even though Tennessee was split during the Civil War with areas in the east remaining pro-Union after the state became part of the Confederacy.

“A military army had that flag in a war in the United States, and I think we should post that flag in memory of them,” Randolph told local television station WBIR on Oct. 13.

But many Americans and black rights advocacy groups like the NAACP hold the battle flag as a symbol of racism and white oppression in the South. They point to its resurrection by opponents of civil rights reforms in the 1960s as evidence of its racist meaning.

During the Civil War, rebel troops fighting to preserve the institution of slavery carried it into battle. Some of their descendants maintain it serves as a legitimate tribute to their heritage.

On Monday night, dozens of defenders of the emblem gathered outside the courthouse in Greeneville. Tensions between them and those opposed to the rebel flag were calmed by local law enforcement, CBS reported.

The anti-flag side erupted into applause and cheers when the vote came down. 

After his measure’s defeat, Randolph insisted the emblem did not have a racist meaning. 

"I didn't figure the resolution would pass," Randolph told CBS on Monday night.

"I wish it had went through because it is a part of history and it ain't got anything to do with race or anything like that."

The flag controversy came to the fore after the murder of nine black worshippers at a traditionally black church in Charleston, South Carolina on June 17. The 19-year-old suspect, Dylann Roof, had posed for pictures with the flag in photos posted online. Now in custody, he faces capital murder charges.

In the wake of the mass shooting, the South Carolina legislature voted to remove the flag from the grounds of the statehouse in Columbia. The flag came down July 10 before a cheering crowd. 

During the Civil War, Greene County in eastern Tennessee was disputed territory. It changed hands between Union and Confederacy troops multiple times over the course of the war.

"When you'd get up in the morning you'd look out the window and see what flag was flying," Betty Fletcher, director of the Greene County History Museum, told WBIR. "That's how you'd know which troops was occupying the town."

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