After South Carolina last week evicted the Confederate flag from its state Capitol grounds amid a fierce national debate over the banner's symbolic links to racism and slavery, some states and their residents have come to the beleaguered flag's defense.
In Florida on Sunday, thousands of residents and out-of-towners converged to form an eight mile-long convoy of cars, pick-up trucks, and motorcycles that ran through the central town of Ocala on a so-called "Florida Southern Pride Ride."
More than 4,500 people and some 1,500 cars reportedly partook in the event, according to Reuters, honking their horns and waving Confederate flags.
"That flag has a lot of different meanings to a lot of different people," said the event's organizer, David Stone. "It doesn't symbolize hate unless you think it's hate — and that's your problem, not mine."
The battle flag of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia, which became an emblem of the Civil War South and was taken up as a symbol of white supremacy, came under attack in recent weeks following the racially motivated shooting of nine black church congregants in South Carolina by 21-year-old Dylann Roof.
Many lawmakers who had defended the flag as a symbol of "heritage, not hate" reversed their views on the issue in the wake of the massacre, and the South Carolina State Assembly later passed a bill to remove the flag from the State Capitol, where it had flown for more than 50 years. It was removed on Friday and taken to an interior relic room for display.
Many conservative lawmakers and Americans, particularly in the South, have continued to resist the nationwide movement calling for the rebel flag to be taken down elsewhere, including from government property, businesses, and homes. Some maintain that the flag honors the Southern soldiers who died in the Civil War, while others claim that the flag is an expression of free speech that should not be curtailed.
In Mississippi, which incorporates the banner in a corner of its flag, the community is divided. In the city of Hattiesburg, officials have removed all state flags from city buildings, but the town of Petal, authorities have decided to put the state flag up at all government-owned buildings. The state's Republican Gov. Phil Bryant has so far resisted calls for a special legislative session to debate whether the flag should be amended.
But other Southern leaders have followed South Carolina's call to banish the flag for good. New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu has proposed a comprehensive plan to remove historic statues dedicated to key Confederate figures such as Lee and Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy. The proposal includes rebranding a parkway named after Jefferson Davis in honor of Dr. Norman C. Francis, the president of Xavier University, a historically black institution.
"This is about more than the men represented in these statues," Landrieu remarked in a statement last week. "This discussion is about whether these monuments, built to reinforce the false valor of a war fought over slavery, ever really belonged in a city as great as New Orleans whose lifeblood flows from our diversity and inclusiveness."
"It would be better for all our children, black and white, to see symbols in prominent places in our city that make them feel proud of their city and inspire them to greatness," he added. "We should do our part to remove these symbols of supremacy from places of reverence that no longer, if ever, reflect who we are. The moral arc of the history bends as it usually does, towards justice. But it does not bend on its own. That is left to us."