Texas Gov. Rick Perry told the Bay News 9 while campaigning in Florida on Wednesday that he is against allowing the Lone Star state to feature license plates displaying the Confederate flag. This is considered an about-face to his past positions of defending the historical value of Confederacy symbols.
The license plates have been requested by the Sons of Confederate Veterans, a nonprofit organization comprised of male descendants of Confederate soldiers.
A Texas Department of Motor Vehicles board has to approve the license plate, so Perry cannot single-handedly decide the issue.
Perry’s campaign has not responded to calls for a statement but the Los Angeles Times reports that Lucy Nashed, a spokeswoman for the Perry campaign, emailed a clarification of his remarks:
"While the governor believes this is a decision for the DMV board, he personally does not support the Confederate plate.”
However, the nine board members are Perry’s appointees so his opinion could carry a lot of weight. The board voted on the issue in April, but with a member absent, ended up at a tied 4-4 vote. They plan to vote again next month, according to The Associated Press.
“I guess Perry wants to say he’s against free speech,” Michael Givens, commander-in-chief of the SCV, told The Christian Post. Givens said the flag is not about hate or racism but about history and pride in the South’s fending off of an illegal invasion.
“We are deeply disappointed that he would make this statement. We deserve the same rights to free speech as other organizations.”
This is not Perry’s first run-in with the Confederate flag. In 2000, the Texas State Supreme Court hosted two bronze plaques with symbols of the Confederacy and opposed efforts by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People to remove such symbolic monuments. The Associated Press reports that Perry wrote a letter to the SCV in March of 2000 expressing his frustration and opposition to removing the Confederate plaques.
“I also believe that communities should decide whether statues or other memorials are appropriate for their community,” Perry wrote. “I believe that Texans should remember the past and learn from it.”
The plaques were eventually removed by then Gov. George W. Bush during his run for the White House.
The NAACP lauds the governor’s new attitude.
“This is great news,” said Hilary Shelton, director of the NAACP’s Washington Bureau, according to AP. “Perry should be commended. With this kind of attitude, maybe we can actually see the healing of the wound he mentions.”
Givens says it is not about opening old wounds but rather about “revering our ancestors.” Givens admits that some groups have used the flag as a symbol of hatred. The Klu Klux Klan, he says, occasionally used the Confederate flag to spew their hate.
However, when they didn’t use the Confederate flag, they used the American flag.
“[The Confederate flag] reminds people of slavery? Does the American stars and stripes remind them of slavery too? It was legal to have slaves all across America. It was the American slave trade. Not the southern slave trade,” he commented.
“We are against hate groups. The flag represents the men and women that put their lives and their treasures on the line to protect themselves from invasion. We don’t separate by race.”
If the plate is denied, the SCV plans to take legal action in order to fight what they perceive as a violation of free speech.