November may bring some changes to the Walton County Courthouse.
After past disputes, the county will offer a referendum on the ballot in November to remove the Confederate flag from the courthouse. According to Louis Svehla, Walton County public information manager, the binding ballot was unanimously approved by County Commissioners. If the removal is approved by a simple majority, it will go into effect immediately after the vote is certified.
"I will say that both sides are extremely passionate," Svehla said.
Svehla said that before July 2015, the Confederate battle flag flew at the courthouse, but after previous discussions between commissioners and the public — and in an attempt to compromise with residents on both sides of the issue — that flag was replaced with the seven-star flag of the Confederacy.
"The onus behind that was the fact that there are a lot of people who believe that (the) battle flag is a symbol of racism, mostly due to the perpetuation of that flag being (being used) by so many different hate groups," Svehla said.
He added that the county acknowledges some citizens will be upset either way, and that they will take the necessary steps to ease any potential protesting.
"If you don't study history, you're doomed to repeat it," said Danny Glidewell, who is running for county commissioner. "So, we need to study history and try to learn from our mistakes and it's important to make sure that our children know what's happening in the past."
Glidewell said he believes the flag is a symbol of southern heritage and that in the past, the county has leaned in favor of continuing to let the Confederate flag fly.
However, other citizens like Mike Bowden, the co-chair of the Democratic Executive Committee of Walton County, think supporting any form of the Confederate flag keeps racial prejudices alive.
"Studies have shown that the mere presence of a Confederate flag flying over a courthouse has an impact on the decisions of jurists who enter that courthouse," Bowden said on behalf of the Committee on Justice, Equality and Fairness of Walton County. "We would remind those citizens (who oppose the flag's removal on the basis of heritage) that the heritage is one of racial discrimination, white supremacy and support of slavery. The heritage of those oppressed is not represented."
Bowden added that he wasn't sure what the ballot's results would be, but that the committee believes racially discriminating attitudes of the 1960s have changed, and that continuing to fly the Confederate flag hinders the rights of people of color today.
"Well, I mean we're going to allow the people of the county to decide what they want to do," said Glidewell, who shared he's anxious to see how the votes will turn out. "I think it's the first such ballot initiative I think in the country, so we'll know exactly what the citizens of Walton County want to do, and then we'll go from there."