A former member of the confederacy may be one step closer to joining the 21st century. Tennessee is considering removing the confederate flag from vanity license plates, a move that would be the latest in the fight to eradicate the symbol of hate and oppression from the contemporary United States. A proposed law now under debate in the state legislature would end the issuing of “Sons of the Confederacy” license plates in Tennessee.
Tennessee is one of nine states that still allowed confederate flags on some of its license plates as of last year, when popular outrage following the Charleston terror attack resulted in the repeal of laws and ordinances allowing the display of the flag in areas across the south. All the states still issuing these plates do so at the behest of the confederate veterans’ descendants’ organization. Proceeds from purchase of the license plates actually goes to Sons of Confederate Veterans, though it isn’t specified what the organization does with the money.
The bill to remove the plates came after the Tennessee’s governor spoke out against continued state endorsement of the flag last year. But despite momentum building in favor of removing the plates, the defunct veterans’ organization isn’t going down without a fight.
Michael Landree, executive director of Tennessee’s chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, believes removal of the flag from a small metal plate on the back of his car is a violation of his first amendment rights. But the Supreme Court already ruled last year in a Texas case that license plates didn’t constitute a form of private speech protected under the first amendment.
The first amendment logic persists, however, among the unofficial “army” of Tennessee neo-Confederates and sympathizers doing everything they can to resist losing the small picture on the back of their license plates. The “Army of Tennessee” Facebook group has had made some of the strongest statements against the flag, at one point accusing anti-racists, progressives, and anyone else offended by the flag of “Southern cleansing.”
In the wake of awakenings and calls to remove the flag across the South, Tennessee included, the group has been organizing to defend their symbol of racism in an incredibly coordinated manner (their Tennessee division even has a switchboard number–(800) 380-1896 ext 207–in case one wanted to inform them where they can put their flag). They scored a victory in Mississippi when Mississippi decided against getting rid of the rebel emblem on the flag last month.
Pro-license plate activists are already losing, though, in states across the south. The Virginia DMV has already recalled the plates, even though some drivers held out for months before they followed in the footsteps of their Confederate ancestors by once again surrendering. Maryland recalled their plates as well, but progressive anger over the fact that the plates ever even existed is so potent an online petition demanding Maryland recall the plates is still getting signatures.
Will Tennessee go the way of Virginia, or that of Mississippi? The outrage over the continued acceptance of racist and oppressive symbols like the flag in mainstream society might no longer be splayed across front pages across the country, but it still very present. And after their setback in Mississippi, it is very unlikely progressive groups stay silent if Tennessee chooses to deny progress.
Featured image courtesy of Flickr