Fight over Rebel battle flag drags on in Ringgold

Fight over Rebel battle flag drags on in Ringgold

July 24th, 2014 by Tyler Jett in Local Regional News

The Ringgold Depot is on Nashville Street in Ringgold, Ga.

Photo by Angela Lewis Foster/Times Free Press.

A fight longer than the Civil War itself continues to drag on between Ringgold, Ga., and a Confederate advocacy group.

Superior Court Judge Kristina Cooke Graham was supposed to hear a civil lawsuit between the city and the Sons of Confederate Veterans today, but last week she pushed the case back to Nov. 4. The Sons group, which filed the lawsuit in 2008, wants Ringgold officials to display the "stars and bars" Confederate battle flag within a local monument.

Attorneys from both sides won't say why this case has gathered dust for six years, but an SCV leader hinted that the two sides might reach a settlement before trial. Ray McBarry, the SCV's Georgia division commander, said a leader from the group's Ringgold camp will drop the lawsuit if the city agrees to fly the Confederates' Second National Flag.

That flag is different from the Confederate battle flag in that the "stars and bars" portion is contained within the top left corner. The rest of the flag is white.

"This offer by the local commander is only a temporary offer," McBarry said. "Once we go to court, that will not be an offer and we will not agree to settle for anything less than the battle flag."

The fight between the SCV and Ringgold officials began in 2004, when the city added a memorial platform outside the Ringgold Depot. According to court filings, members of the SCV gave the city a list of names of Confederate soldiers and paid the cost of adding those names to the memorial.

The memorial originally was supposed to contain four flags: The current U.S. flag, the current Georgia flag, the 1863 U.S. flag that represented the Union, and the Confederate battle flag, which veterans of the Southern side voted to make their recognized flag after the Civil War.

According to court filings, the city flew the Confederate battle flag during the memorial's dedication. But at a February 2005 City Council meeting, some residents and members of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People complained to the council about the flag.

The city later voted to take it down, replacing it with a blue and white flag flown by one particular unit of the Confederacy.

The SCV filed a lawsuit in 2008, claiming city officials broke Georgia law for two reasons: They removed a monument, and they altered a monument. The SCV wants a judge to force city officials to put the flag back up and never take it down again.

In its defense, city attorneys say Ringgold officials have not broken Georgia law. They say the SCV people don't really understand that law.

City attorneys say the officials didn't remove the monument because the flags are not the monument. The flags are just things that stick out of the monument. Also, city attorneys argue, Georgia law allows Ringgold officials to change a monument so long as the state doesn't own it.

In this case, they say, Georgia does not own this monument, so city officials are free to change it if they want.

Ringgold Mayor Joe Barger declined to comment for this article. Likewise, City Attorney Jonathan Bledsoe would not say why the case has not been resolved after six years.

"I don't want to comment on the litigation itself," he said.

Kirk Lyons, an attorney for the Southern Legal Resource Center, which is dedicated to protecting the Confederate flag, says Ringgold attorneys have dragged their feet since 2008.

"The longer it goes, that's how many more days the current flag can fly," said Lyons, who is consulting with the SCV's attorneys in this case. "Fall on the ball, run out the clock: That is a legal tactic."

For his part, McBarry objected to the argument that the Confederate battle flag carries racial baggage.

"The South didn't leave the Union because of anything to do with slavery," he said. "That issue was fabricated by President Lincoln as a political measure after the war was half over. ... But it has nothing to do with the fact that federal law and Georgia law makes no differentiation between the U.S. flag and the Confederate flags."

He added: "Everyone is going to abide by it whether they like it or not."

Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at tjett@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6476.