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A 120-foot flagpole flying a 30-by-50-foot Confederate flag along heavily traveled Interstate 85 in Spartanburg County is in violation of the land use ordinance and has been ordered to be taken down, county officials said Friday.
The flag was raised last Saturday by members of in the Adam Washington Ballenger Sons of Confederate Veterans Camp 68 on a parcel they own near I-85, Business 85 and U.S. 221.
An estimated 80,400 vehicles on I-85 pass by the flag every day.
“It sends an unwelcoming message to a large group of people,” said Monier Abusaft, Spartanburg County councilman. “In a county like ours, it does not have a place.”
County spokeswoman Scottie Kay Blackwell said the landowner was cited this week and has 20 days to remove the flagpole.
“According to our 1999 land use ordinance, flags and flagpoles are considered an accessory activity and can only be located on a parcel which has a principal activity, such as a residence or business,” she said.
“Because this property does not have a residence, business or other principal activity, the owner has violated our ordinance. The owner was notified of this violation last week and has 20 days to either remove the flagpole or obtain a permit for a principal use of the property.”
Britt said the content of the flag “doesn’t matter.”
“This doesn’t have to do with the flag at all,” Britt said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s the American flag or the flag of Sweden. A law is a law, you can’t just look the other way.”
But the fact that it is the Confederate Naval Jack flag does matter to Abusaft and to Rev. Eddie Parks, president of the NAACP West Spartanburg.
“For many groups, especially African-Americans, the Confederate flag symbolizes hate, racism, exclusion, oppression and violence,” Parks said in a Facebook post in response to the flag along I-85. “Its symbolism and history are directly linked to millions of African Americans’ enslavement, torture and death.”
Robert Merting, attorney for Sons of Confederate Veterans Camp 68, declined to say whether the flagpole will be taken down.
But he shared a statement from the group, saying the “The Adam Washington Ballenger Camp 68 of the Sons Of Confederate Veterans recently erected a large flag pole on its property along I-85 for the purpose of remembering and honoring those soldiers who answered the call of South Carolina during the War Between the States and never returned.”
Confederate flag has long stirred emotions
The Confederate flag has stirred up controversy over many years in South Carolina.
For flag supporters, it represents cultural heritage and a tribute to Southerners who fought and died during the Civil War.
“These soldiers, killed in action or missing in action, gave all to their beloved state. We remember and honor them by flying a variety of historical flags under which they fought,” the statement from the Adam Washington Ballenger Camp 68 also stated.
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For others, it represents a reminder of South Carolina’s slave-owning past, and its use by white supremacist groups like the KKK that terrorized Black communities.
The flag that flew atop the Statehouse dome in Columbia was removed in 2000 and a smaller version ordered by lawmakers to be placed in a less prominent site on the Capitol grounds.
Then in 2015, after the murders of nine Black parishioners by white supremacist Dylann Roof at a church in Charleston in 2015, lawmakers voted to remove the flag altogether from the Capitol grounds.
Abusaft said while flag supporters have their reasons, the majority of people are offended and it is bad business for Spartanburg County.
“We would never discriminate against a symbol based on its content,” he said of the county’s land use ordinance. “But I just don’t understand people who want to have a community with a $1.7 billion investment from an international car-making giant (BMW) but then go out of their way to make people feel unwelcome.
“Nobody moves their corporate headquarters to Hicksville. It is Spartanburg County Council’s job to create the economic environment where the county thrives,” Abusaft added.
Britt said when flagpoles were addressed in the 1999 ordinance, the height and number of billboards along the interstate were as well.
“We did not want I-85 to look like I-95 going to South of the Border,” he said of the billboards along miles of the interstate approaching the South Carolina tourist stop.
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