Those Offensive Maryland License Plates!

Tyler [TX] Morning Telegraph, December 28, 1996

Confederate Tag on Some License Plates Draws Fire

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) -- The battle over the Confederate flag has moved into Union territory.

Maryland's motor-vehicle department has issued special license plates with the flag to about 70 members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, offending black leaders.

"Maryland doesn't need to go backwards with this Jim Crow mess," said state Sen. Larry Young, a Baltimore Democrat and chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus.

Young and Hanley Norment, president of the state chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said they will ask the state Motor Vehicle Administration to stop issuing the special plates.

"We in the NAACP are surprised and disappointed that a state agency would cooperate in perpetuating such symbols as this one," Norment said. Patrick J. Griffin III, a Maryland member of the Sons of the Confederacy, said his organization is not racist and abhors the activities of groups such as the Ku Klux Klan.

"There is no intention whatsoever to offend anyone," he said. Griffin, whose great-great-grandfather fought in the Confederate Army, said the license plates are "a symbol of pride in our heritage."

The plates display a small Confederate battle flag on the left side and "Sons Confederate Veterans" written under the license numbers. Sons of Confederate Veterans is among about 170 nonprofit organizations that have gotten special plates.

The plates were approved two years ago and the agency received no complaints until this week, perhaps because only 70 sets of plates out of 3.7 million issued in Maryland carry the battle flag logo, said Motor Vehicle Administration spokesman Jim Lang.

"Now that we are aware of its being offensive, we certainly are going to take a look at it," Lang said.

Similar controversies have cropped up in the South over the Confederate flag. Despite political opposition the governor of South Carolina recently proposed removing it from atop the last Statehouse to fly it. But Maryland, a border state that remained in the Union during the Civil War, has usually steered clear of such disputes.

Sons of Confederate Veterans has about 25,000 members in the United States, Europe, and Brazil, said Maureen Poole, office manager in the organization's Columbia, Tenn., headquarters. Membership is limited to men who can prove an ancestor was a Confederate veteran.

Griffin said the Maryland chapter meets monthly and usually has a program centering on a war-related topic, Confederate cemeteries or monuments or an issue such as state's rights.

And Maryland, predictably, caves in

Maryland to recall license plates featuring Confederate flag

Associated Press Writer

BALTIMORE (AP) - Confronted with complaints from black leaders, Maryland agreed Thursday to recall 78 special license plates featuring the Confederate battle flag.

"It has become obvious that the logo on the plates is offensive to a large segment of Maryland's population,'' said Motor Vehicle Administrator Ronald Freeland. "We're not involved in polarizing people.''

The state will offer free regular tags to all members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans who were issued the special plates. Members have 60 days to return them, or investigators will confiscate them.

"I'm really outraged over the decision,'' said Patrick J. Griffin III, lieutenant commander of the group, one of about 215 nonprofit organizations that have gotten special plates in Maryland.

The motor vehicle agency received its first complaints about the flag last week, even though the plates have been made for nearly two years.

"Symbols are significant and important. Ask a Jewish person about the significance of the swastika,'' state Delegate Clarence Mitchell IV, a member of the Legislative Black Caucus, said Wednesday.

Freeland said he would meet with the group's leaders Friday and the agency would consider a new design for the plates, adding: "Anything that resembles a Confederate battle flag is not going to be acceptable to us.''

From now on, special plates will be subject to approval by a diverse panel of agency employees, he said.

Members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans said the organization is dedicated to genealogy and history, is not racist, and abhors the activities of groups like the Ku Klux Klan.

"What they object to is people who misuse the Confederate flag, and we object to that just as strongly as they do,'' Griffin said of the plates' critics.

Politicians in several Southern states have dealt with the issue of the rebel flag. In South Carolina last month, the Republican governor upset fellow conservatives when he proposed removing the Confederate battle flag from atop the last Statehouse to fly it. In Georgia, a lawsuit has been filed to force the state to remove the Confederate emblem from the state flag.

Although Maryland, a border state, remained in the Union during the Civil War, it lies below the Mason-Dixon line and was heavily divided in its sympathies. Baltimore was for a time occupied by Union troops to control Confederate sympathizers.

[They're obviously not working for the Department of Motor Vehicles these days. - Jonah]