Southern governments at the state and local level have been reassessing the confederate battle flag. Tuesday Walton County took a middle path, replacing the current flag with an earlier version.
It was one of those days at the Walton County commission. Dozens of people gathered in DeFuniak Springs Tuesday to lobby for and against taking down the Confederate flag—it flies over a monument on the grounds of the county courthouse. The conversation opened with a proposal from Commissioner Sara Comander.
“I make the motion that we—and I have copies, it’s the one with 13 stars on it,” Comander says, “This is the original—well the original had seven stars and then they moved it to 13—and that we retire the one that is presently flying and donate it to the heritage museum.”
But this did little to mollify speakers calling for the flag’s removal.
“I learned about that flag before I learned about this one,” Walton County resident James Huffman says, pointing at the American flag. “I learned who the imperial wizard of the Ku Klux Klan was before I knew who the governor was.”
“To me and the people where I live, this flag meant terror,” Huffman finishes, “total absolute terror.”
But fellow resident Casey Nelson says the flag isn’t about racial hatred.
“I have a petition here, the biggest one online, we have 2,370 signatures,” Nelson says, “We are wanting to keep the flag, if you change it we’re fine with that. We need to honor our ancestors—they can’t nobody say it’s race.”
And this is how the argument typically shakes out. Supporters argue the flag represents their heritage, while opponents point to its connection with anti-black violence—particularly as a reactionary political symbol after passage of the Civil Rights Act.
But Dave Rauschkolb has a different perspective. The owner of a handful of restaurants in Seaside and the founder of Hands Across the Sand begins listing off the things Walton County is known for.
“We’re known for great beaches, we’re known for natural beauty, we’re known for great hospitality, we’re known as a world class destination,” Rauschkolb says. “If you leave this flag flying we’ll be known for something very different nationally and internationally—and that’s not good for business.”
And Rauschkolb may have put his finger on the divide. In an ironic reversal, the wealthy southern end of Walton County is at odds with its rural northern neighbors.
After the commission waded through three hours of testimony, Commissioner Bill Chapman brought a motion to remove the flag completely. But in the end the commission voted unanimously to approve Commissioner Comander’s flag switch.