Orange County Approves Regulations For Flags, Including Confederate Flags

May 16, 2018

Many Confederate flags were waved during an October 2015 demonstration and counter-protest at UNC Chapel Hill, over Confederate statue, 'Silent Sam.'
Credit Leoneda Inge

The Orange County Board of Commissioners say they can't do anything about messages on a raised flag waving on a flagpole on private property.

But, they can decide the size of the flag and the height of the flagpole.

That ruling came down from commissioners on Tuesday night, and some say the vote was a referendum on the Confederate flag.

About 20 people signed up to address the board. A huge 20-by-20-foot Confederate battle flag, hoisted on a flagpole 60 feet in the air, was the topic of discussion.

Kathy Arab lives in Orange County. She said she's against trying to erase history by tearing down statues and trying to restrict certain flags.

"As a southerner I would never display a Confederate flag," said Arab. "Much of our past is shameful, but our society has overcome the sins of the past in many, many ways and we're not getting credit for it."

Billy Holloway has lived on Highway 70 his entire life. And he just happens to live across from where an extra-large confederate flag flies.

"And now ya'll are trying to change the rules to suit other people that don't even live there. They don't have to travel that road. It's a public road," said Holloway. "If you don't really look, you don't see the flag."

But Hillsborough resident Latarndra Strong said she sees the flag.

"I have had people of color tell me that they pass by and they go, 'What is that?'" said Strong. "I have been in places and seen the Confederate flag and have had to wonder what is going to be next and if I am in a safe environment."

The comments made before the board were about evenly split for and against revising Orange County's Unified Development Ordinance (UDC) to include stipulations on how flag lovers can fly their flags. The board voted yes, to revise the ordinance.

"All those in favor, I," said Penny Rich, board Vice Chair. "All those opposed. … OK and that passes unanimously."

Orange County Commission Vice Chair Penny Rich speaks to 'HBO Vice' about decision to approve new regulations for flags and flagpoles.
Credit Leoneda Inge

The new rules do not apply to Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Hillsborough. But, rural county residents can now fly flags only that are 4 feet by 6 feet, and the flagpole can't be higher than 24 feet. And, only a maximum of three flags may be displayed on a single pole. The rules are similar to regulations in place in Durham County.

Strong said she was pleased with the outcome of the vote.

"I've had a number of people even call me that don't live here that are passing through that say, 'Why are you living there? Why would you live there?'" said Strong. "It's because I am not going to let them tell me I have to move. I am not going to let this intimidation trigger me to move. And it's incumbent upon our commissioners to do the right thing and ensure that all people are safe."

Strong was referring to safety from racist acts because of how history has connected the Confederate flag to white supremacy. Orange County Planning Board officials said their recommendation also has to do with safety of nearby residents and property if a heavy wind blows down a 60 foot flagpole like the one on Robert Hall Jr.'s property.

Commissioner Penny Rich officiated Tuesday night's meeting and the vote. She said the ordinance does not stop anyone from putting up a Confederate flag. What happens to the huge 20-by-20-foot Confederate flag? Rich said it will not have to come down, yet.

"So it has a year to come in compliance. So we will see that flag here for one year," said Rich.

There might not be any more mega-sized Confederate flags flying in Orange County anytime soon, but the Sons of Confederate Veterans have started a campaign to raise confederate flags across all 100 North Carolina counties.