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Pensacola, Escambia County Remove Confederate Flags

On orders from Mayor Ashton Hayward, city staff brought down the Confederate flag from all of the City of Pensacola’s Five Flags displays on Thursday. It was replaced by the State of Florida flag.

In a written statement, the Mayor concedes that while the Confederate flag represents a part of the city’s history, it also stands as a “painful symbol of racial hatred and ignorance.”

A spokesman for Hayward’s office said in an email that the Mayor would not be making any more statements on the matter.

Pensacola joins other cities, counties and states in removing the banners, whether they’re the battle flag or, in this case, one of the three national flags known as the “Stars and Bars,” after the shooting deaths of nine people inside Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina.

“The flag should have been taken down a long time and, and I’m glad they Mayor had the wisdom to do it,” said George Hawthorne, who has been a frequent critic of the Hayward administration. But today, he echoed the Mayor’s statement that “now is the time for us to turn our focus to our city's bright future.

“We need to bring our communities together, and we don’t need a divisive symbol standing between progress and our community,” Hawthorne added.

While Mayor Hayward acted unilaterally, City Council President Andy Terhaar applauds the flag’s removal.

“Not that I don’t want people to hear about the history….but I think we need to sit back and go ‘Listen, we live in America and we need to be proud we’re Americans,’” Terhaar said. “Let’s take this thing forward and keep growing.”

Also praising Hayward’s action is City Councilwoman Sherri Myers. She has been working on a proposed ordinance to take down the Confederate flag, along with the flags of Britain, Spain, and France – and replace them with the Stars and Stripes and the Florida state flag. She adds that Hayward’s action sends a message.

“We are a city that loves diversity,” Myers said. “We were built on diversity, we were founded on diversity. Removing the flag shows that we embrace all of our great diverse history, including those who were slaves.”

Soon after the Mayor’s announcement, the blowback started in online forums and on social media. Many claim that the Confederate flag, the battle flag more than the Stars and Bars, is a symbol of Southern heritage and pride and not hate. Myers, who grew up in civil rights era-Montgomery, finds those arguments “disturbing.”

“When you use that [the flag] as the only symbol of our Southern heritage,” said Myers, “Well, other people lived during that time, and what about their pride? What about their cultural heritage of suffering, discrimination and violence?”

Escambia County replaced the Confederate battle flag with the national flag at the Pensacola Bay Center earlier this year. But not long after Mayor Ashton Hayward’s order, County Administrator Jack Brown had his own announcement prior to the County Commission’s regular meeting.

“In accordance to our resolution passed March 5th, we fly the same flags as the City of Pensacola,” said Brown. “When I found out the city removed the Confederate flag and replaced it with the state flag, we followed suit at 3:25 p.m. this [Thursday] afternoon.”