“The racism and bigotry and separatism is a national issue that just keeps getting bigger every day, and Walton County certainly isn't immune to that.”
DEFUNIAK SPRINGS — Local democratic, NAACP and Democratic Black Caucus of Florida leaders are renewing their push for the removal of a Confederate flag flown at the Walton County Courthouse after nationwide protests following violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, over the weekend.
Margie Jordan, chairwoman of the Walton County Democratic Party, said members would meet in September to discuss a renewed effort to persuade Walton County commissioners to revisit the issue, which was last addressed in 2015.
“We can’t continue to take the position of side-stepping and ignoring this, because it’s a national issue,” Jordan said. “The racism and bigotry and separatism is a national issue that just keeps getting bigger every day, and Walton County certainly isn’t immune to that.”
Party leaders last tackled the flag issue in 2015 when they asked commissioners to remove the controversial Stars and Bars flag, a battle flag first flown by the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia. Commissioners voted to instead replace the Stars and Bars with the first national flag of Confederate States of America, which features two red stripes divided by a white stripe and 13 white stars on a blue background.
Jordan said the violence in Charlottesville over the weekend, in which white nationalists and neo-Nazis marched and clashed with counter protesters, leaving one dead and dozens injured, makes the removal of Walton's flag “more pressing.”
“I think (the need to remove the flag) is stronger now,” she said. “Somebody is dead and people were beaten.”
Lewis Jennings, area director of the Northwest Florida NAACP, said he believes the flag represents a power structure that negatively affects non-whites and should be taken down, especially in the wake of the Charlottesville violence.
“I think the idea of the flag flying on a public square where all people are confronted with that is just inappropriate,” Jennings said. “If it’s put into a museum or place of honor for people who want to have that flag, that’s fine, I have no problem with that, so I’m not saying it should be destroyed.”
Stephen McBroom, a fourth generation Walton County resident and member of the group Save Southern Heritage, said he is adamantly opposed to the removal of the flag.
“History, whether it’s good or bad, should not be removed,” said McBroom, who also volunteers at the Walton County Heritage Museum. “It’s not about hate or trying to belittle people. It’s about preserving our heritage and preserving history.”
McBroom said he and fellow members of Save Southern Heritage are ready to protest the removal of the flag if commissioners revisit the issue.
“We will do whatever it takes to keep that flag flying,” he said.
Messages were left for each county commissioner Wednesday. None of them returned requests for comment as of press time. District 5 state Rep. Brad Drake also did not return a request for comment.
Several places in Florida have removed or announced plans to remove Confederate statues in the wake of the Charlottesville violence. On Monday, a 113-year-old Confederate statue in Gainesville was brought down by workers and moved to a nearby cemetery. In Tampa, a monument honoring Confederate soldiers is scheduled to be removed from the county courthouse. And in Pensacola, Mayor Ashton Hayward issued a statement saying he "wants the (Confederate) monument at Lee Square on North Palafox Street to come down and possibly put in a museum where it can be presented in proper context."
Walton county is one of only four counties in Florida that still flies the Confederate flag on courthouse property.