The Virginia Flaggers have removed their large Confederate flag from its prominent location in Stafford County along Interstate 95 after the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) acquired the land for construction of the Rappahannock River Crossing project.
Measuring at 20-feet tall and 30-feet wide, the controversial flag flew attached to its 80-foot pole since May 2014, nearly six and a half years, and was almost impossible to miss from both sides of the highway.
In a statement sent to The Virginia Star, VDOT said they acquired 10 parcels of land adjacent to I-95 northbound for their project as well as to build a ramp and extend the highway’s express lanes, but the flag pole and its foundation are located on one of the parcels.
Last week, VDOT requested Virginia Flaggers take down the flag by Friday, when the project’s contractor will be granted right-of-entry to access the property, or the department would immediately remove and store it to be collected by the grass roots group, according to the statement.
VDOT says it hopes the river crossing project, which began construction this week, will help reduce highway congestion and delays in the Fredericksburg area, one of the busiest stretches of I-95 between Richmond and Washington D.C.
Barry Isenhour, spokesperson for the Virginia Flaggers, said a team of the group’s members retrieved the large flag in a brief ceremony Wednesday afternoon.
Isenhour said that the group was told construction would not start for a while, but was then notified on Wednesday that work was actually beginning Thursday and the flag must be removed by noon, contradicting the date provided by VDOT.
The Virginia Flaggers claimed the state obtained the property through eminent domain as a way to bypass their First Amendment rights of expression on private property. A VDOT official did not specify if they used eminent domain, instead saying that an agreement was reached with the owner of the property for the land.
Eminent domain is the federal and state governments’ power to take private property for public use, but requires just compensation in return.
Despite this specific flag coming down, Isenhour said the group plans to construct multiple flags around the state, specifically at sites where Confederate monuments have already been removed.
Much like any remaining symbol, flag or monument relating to the Confederacy, there are always people in support and in opposition.
State Delegate Joshua Cole (D-Stafford County) is one of those people who strongly opposes the flag and has worked with others to get it removed since as early as 2016. Cole told The Star that he and others are relieved the flag is coming down.
“The majority of the consensus that I got [from local residents] was, one, that they wanted it removed, or that they could care less,” said Cole, who is also president of the Stafford County NAACP branch. “There is a small contingency of people who’ve reached out and said [the flag] is history don’t take it down and this is First Amendment rights don’t take it down.”
Cole also said that many constituents called his office to thank him after news initially broke, but he was just as surprised and happy as the callers.
Albeit for different reasons, the large flag that used to demand a glance from passing drivers is one of the many Confederate symbols taken down across the Commonwealth and country in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death.
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