The Sons of Confederate Veterans removed its flag from the Chattooga County courthouse lawn Tuesday night.
Commissioner Jason Winters, who allowed members of the local Sons chapter to plant a monument and a flagpole outside the courthouse last year, told the group to take it down after the markers stirred complaints. With Winters' initial approval, the Sons planned to fly six different flags at different points throughout the year.
But other local leaders and the head of the Georgia chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People spoke out against the monument and flags in April, when the Sons flew a battle flag. That emblem is the one most associated with the Confederate Army. It is also the one that Confederate veterans voted to recognize as their official flag after the Civil War.
The Confederate battle flag has been the subject of national debate in the wake of a racially motivated mass killing in Charleston, S.C., in which a white man shot and killed nine black people during a June 17 prayer service. Since then, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley has asked state legislators to vote to remove the battle flag from the state Capitol, and Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley ordered a state employee to remove the flag from that Capitol.
In Chattooga County, though, the removal was not motivated by the Charleston shootings.
Winters said he decided in April that the county needed to lower the Confederate flag after receiving several complaints. He gave the Sons two months to move it.
"I wish I had put more time and thought into the repercussions of placing a monument and marker at our courthouse," Winters said Wednesday morning. "At the time, we were proud to do it. We definitely have seen some negative come from that."
Stan Hammond, the commander of the local Sons chapter, said members of his group don't know where they are going to fly their flags now. He declined to comment when asked if he had any ideas for a new location or what they are going to do about the 7-foot-tall granite monument that sat next to the flag on the courthouse lawn.
Winters said the Sons could decide on their own whether to move that monument. In part, it reads, "the efforts of these [Confederate soldiers] to preserve freedom and liberty must not be forgotten."
Winters said the county also will reimburse the Sons for its purchase of the flagpole that is still outside the courthouse. He didn't know the exact price, and Hammond couldn't remember how much his group paid.
Jim Day, a local historian, said 900-1,100 Chattooga County men fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War. They served in the Army of Tennessee and the Army of Northern Virginia.
Winters originally gave the Sons permission to fly the flag and plant the monument on county property in 2013, when the group was trying to raise $10,000 for the markers. The Tillotson-Menlo Foundation, which promotes culture in Chattooga County, offered the group $5,000 at the time — if they could say where they would put their monument.
In addition to the battle flag, which it flew in April, the Sons planned to fly five other Confederate emblems, including the "Bonnie Blue" flag, the first national Confederate flag, the second national Confederate flag, the third national Confederate flag and the Georgia state flag of 1860.
Francys Johnson, the president of the Georgia chapter of the NAACP, called for the battle flag's removal in April.
In Summerville, the city's first black mayor and police chief also said they wanted the flag to be removed. Mayor Harry Harvey said it belongs in a museum, not on property where government officials still administer law enforcement.
Police Chief Stan Mosley, meanwhile, said he is friends with some of the current members of the Sons. He understands their argument that the flag represents family history.
"But," he added Wednesday, "I understand the flag is used for a lot of hate groups also. What else can I say about that? It's just wrong. It's time to let that go."
Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6476.