News-5/Strategy Poll shows a majority of Alabamians disagree with Governor Robert Bentley’s decision to remove Confederate flags from the capitol grounds in Montgomery. Opinions fall heavily on racial lines.
Confederate Flags have been removed from public places, governmental documents, and large retailers this week following the racially motivated murders of nine black people by an alleged white supremacist in South Carolina. In Alabama on Wednesday, Bentley took down four flags from a Confederate memorial on the north lawn of the capitol.
“I’m the first Governor that has removed a confederate flag,” said Bentley while in Mobile Thursday.
The move angered Joe Ringhoffer who heads the Raphael Semmes Camp of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
“Those monuments and that statehouse belong to the people of Alabama,” said Ringhoffer. “I think if he wanted to be a true governor he would poll the people of Alabama and ask them what they want to do.”
An exclusive News-5 Strategy Poll shows 54-percent of Alabamians say let the flag fly at the capitol. 46-percent support the Governor taking it down.
“It’s as if they want to erase an entire vestige of history,” said Ringhoffer.
Bentley says he admires the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
“I sign their proclamation every year,” said the governor. “It’s a great group of people. I understand their feeling about the significance, about the history, and I respect that. But they have to respect the fact that I’m trying to create jobs for this state. I’m trying to present an image for the State of Alabama that’s different from George Wallace’s image.”
Wallace had the Confederate Battle Flag flown on the capitol dome in 1963. It stayed there for 30 years, until it was ordered down by the courts.
“When the Battle Flag went up in 1963, I was a junior at Central High School in the midst of segregation,” remembered local Civil Rights leader Robert Battles. He is pleased with the Governor’s decision, as are most African-Americans.
The news-5/Strategy Poll shows a sharp racial divide on the issue. Only 17-percent of blacks say fly the flag, compared to 74-percent of white Alabamians.
“No those numbers are not surprising,” said Battles. “I’m 70 years old. I’ve come thru the whole gamut.”
“I don’t think you can erase any part of history, for any reason,” countered Ringhoffer. He says the state’s history, good, bad, or indifferent, is under attack.
“The whole issue is most disturbing because you have Confederate memorial on the grounds of the statehouse. It’s not like the flag was flying over the statehouse or any part of government.”
Both Ringhoffer and Battles say there’s likely no turning back on governments moving away from confederate flags. Ringhoffer says it is a shame. Battles says it’s only a symbolic victory.
“I don’t give a damn about that flag,” said Battles. “The flag is a negative symbol, but so are the internal problems that we have as a race of people.”
Battles was among the first black students to integrate the University of South Alabama. He has been heavily involved in the Africatown historic area, and last year was elected a board member of the Mobile County Public School System.\
2,400 registered voters statewide participated in the telephone survey. It has a margin of error of three percent.