Confederate flag to fly over I-95 near Richmond

Photo: Associated Press

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - A heritage group's plan to fly a large Confederate flag along Interstate 95 outside Richmond is drawing criticism from the head of the NAACP's Virginia chapter.

The Virginia Flaggers plans to fly the 10-by-15-foot flag on a 50-foot pole just south of Richmond. It's tentatively scheduled to go up Sept. 28 and will be visible from the northbound lanes of the interstate, although organizers haven't said exactly where it will be located.

Virginia NAACP Executive Director King Salim Khalfani told the Richmond Times-Dispatch that the flag would make Richmond look like a "backwater, trailer park, hick town."

Virginia Flaggers founder Susan Hathaway said her group doesn't want to offend anyone, but that the flag is intended to honor the area's Confederate heritage.

Richmond was the Confederate capital during the Civil War.

"Basically, the flag is being erected as a memorial to the memory and the honor of the Confederate soldiers who sacrificed, bled and died to defend Virginia from invasion," Hathaway said.

"This is in no way, in no shape, in no form to aggravate anyone," she said. "There's no intention to stick anything in anybody's face. . The sole intention of this is to honor our ancestors."

Khalfani rejected arguments that the flag is intended merely to honor the memory of those who served.

"If they had been successful, I'd still be in chains," he said.

Khalfani said the flag would be "an embarrassment" and would be detrimental to efforts to attract tourism to Richmond.

Hathaway disagreed.

"This will tell people that everyone is welcome," Hathaway said. "Why do we have to be a place where Southerners who are proud of our heritage are not welcome?"

Hathaway said Richmond and state officials have excluded Confederate history from their celebration of the Civil War's sesquicentennial.

Her group also has demonstrated frequently outside of the Virginia Museum of Fine Art and the Museum of the Confederacy. Supporters are upset that the Confederate flag isn't flown from the Confederate Memorial Chapel, which is overseen by the fine arts museum, and isn't flown outside the Museum of the Confederacy. Both have the flags inside.

"The Virginia Flaggers basically are a group of people who have come together to defend our ancestors, and their symbols and their memorials against attacks by people who want to eliminate them," Hathaway said.

The group also plans to work toward changing legislation regarding the use of the flag. Members also attend memorials carrying Confederate flags and puts stick flags on graves.