From the Editor’s Desk: I still don’t understand this flag fight

Published 8:11 pm Thursday, August 10, 2023

I’ve been trying to wrap my head around something for a while now and it still just doesn’t make sense. Now by the time I showed up in Farmville, this whole flag issue, with the lawsuits and whatnot, was already going strong. But I think I’ve covered enough meetings of both the Prince Edward planning commission and supervisors to at least get the basics. And yet, there’s still one thing I don’t grasp. 

First, let’s talk about what we all agree on. As of Tuesday, the county flag ordinance allows for three flags of no more than 120 combined square feet for each parcel of land. We can agree on that. Supervisors and staff also made it clear Tuesday night the flag ordinance was aimed at getting Mrs. Carolyn Bowman to take down the Confederate flag she has on her property. And yes, I understand people have very strong feelings about taking it down, just as others feel strongly about keeping it up. That’s not what I’m writing about today.

No matter what you think of it, neither Prince Edward nor any county can single out one type of flag and stop it from being flown on private property. We can agree on that too. So if they can’t single out one type with a rule, then a rule has to apply to all flags in the county. And that’s how we ended up with this situation that now involves American flags, as well as POW flags, county flags or any other type you can imagine. 

Flag size isn’t the issue here 

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I just wanted to get the stuff we can agree on out of the way first, so that I can mention what I still don’t grasp. The size of the flag isn’t the issue here. I think it’s fair to say if someone has a problem with a flag being flown, that doesn’t magically change if the width and the size of the flagpole shrinks. If you want a Confederate flag removed, that doesn’t change if it’s a couple feet smaller. If your neighbor plants an immature, bordering on obscene South Park flag on his property facing your window, you still have to look at it, even if it’s not as tall. Or say you’re one of those heathen New York Yankees fans and for some reason disapprove of my Baltimore Orioles flag, the pain of seeing the Birds in first place isn’t going away just because I bought a shorter edition. 

So humor me for a second. Let’s say everyone, even Mrs. Bowman, were to follow the ordinance as it’s currently written and take their flags down. I mean everyone takes everything down willingly, all the flags that have been found in violation of the current ordinance just get put away. (Bear with me a minute, I’m getting to my point). We’ve already all agreed that the county can’t control content, right? So what is stopping each and every person from going and buying all new flags of the same subject? South Park goes back up, a new Confederate flag goes up and yes, I would proudly display a new Orioles flag. 

Now if that were to happen, what’s actually been accomplished with the flag ordinance, besides simply reducing everything in size? I’m just not seeing how the community has been helped in any meaningful way. A 20 ft. flagpole and the flag on it can still be seen by the nearby road. The same goes for a 19 ft. or 18 ft. flag, so nothing changes there. The actual content of the flag itself hasn’t changed, so anyone offended by it before will still be offended by it now. In that case, nobody’s achieved relief there either. To me, it honestly doesn’t sound like anybody wins in this scenario. 

This is it. This is the thing I still struggle to understand. I’ve struggled to understand it ever since I first heard of the original emergency flag ordinance and things haven’t changed in the multiple versions I’ve seen since then. Even in a situation where everything goes the county’s way, nothing really changes. 

Smaller flags mean more business?

Now supervisors Tuesday said a smaller flag in this case would be enough for companies to move in. In other words, they’re saying the only reason some businesses aren’t relocating to Prince Edward is because of the Confederate controversy. All I can do for this is look back on what I’ve seen previously. 

Let’s take Danville, for example, site of the new $455 million Caesar’s casino. Even before the public vote to bring the casino in took place, the company had identified a couple areas it wanted to build in. One of those had a rather large Confederate flag on private property, less than 30 feet from the highway. Unable to reach a deal to buy the land or to get the owner to take down their flag, the casino company simply chose another site on the other side of the city, one where the flag wasn’t in view.

The same thing happened in neighboring Pittsylvania County, where a Confederate flag exists on property roughly 100 feet back from Highway 221, near the North Carolina border. A company expressed concern and so they worked with the county to find another piece of property to build on. Time and time again, I’ve seen it in Virginia and North Carolina. If a company truly wants to move in, they’ll work with a city or county to find alternative sites if they find something wrong with the first option. 

Using a flag as an excuse as to why companies don’t come sounds like just that: an excuse. What happens if the offending flag shrinks, for whatever reason, and the companies still don’t move in? Then who or what’s at fault?

BRIAN CARLTON is the editor for The Farmville Herald and Farmville Newsmedia, LLC. He can be reached at