The full five flag display will soon be flapping outside the Pensacola Bay Center again, but this time the Confederate battle flag will not be included.
Instead, Escambia County Commissioners voted to keep the five flag display consistent with the historic display used by the City of Pensacola, one that includes the National Confederate flag.
Commissioner Grover Robinson made a motion to amend the board’s Dec. 11 decision removing all but the American and state flags from the display. He asked the board to consider his reworked, “historical flag resolution,” that allows commissioners to have the option of using a historical five flag display as the city does.
“We have over 250 years of colonial history that is Spanish, English, French,” Robinson said. “Many people have asked why we did away with celebrating that heritage, why we took the decision we did, and it became so much about one issue, and it’s unfortunate.”
People have been lining up to talk to commissioners about the controversial flag and their decision to break up the five flag display. Most wanted to see it gone, but many wanted to keep a historic version. Robinson made the original motion in December, but the discussion that night took an unexpected turn.
“I realized right away when I heard that we had a battle flag, we needed to change that, and I brought that forward,” Robinson said. “And I apologize on Dec. 11, my thoughts perhaps were not as organized as what I put down today.”
Retired U.S. Marine Col. Jim Smith also asked commissioners to make the display consistent with the city’s version. He often walked past the battle flag when attending his Civitan meetings at the Pensacola Bay Center.
Smith says he’s glad it’s gone, but understands the emotion of so many speakers took the board in an unexpected direction that night.
“It reminded me of something we used to say in the Marine Corps,” Smith told commissioners Thursday. “When you’re up to your neck in alligators it’s easy to forget that your initial objective was to drain the swamp.”
Most speakers asked the board to stick with their decision and leave only the two flags.
“We have a city that just talked about desegregating our jails in 2012,” said Escambia resident, Katrina Ramos. “In 2001, Jeb Bush had the Confederate flag taken down that was flown over the state capitol. Why can we not do the same? If we voted to keep it down in December, why can we not keep it down now? It creates more division.”
Others said a historically accurate five flag display should remain.
“If we don’t fully recognize all of our historical assets it’s a flagrant, marketing mistake,” said Escambia resident Ken Daniel.
Commissioner Wilson Robertson supported Robinson motion.
“I’m proud to be a Southerner,” Robertson said, “born and raised here. I lost a lot of ancestors in the battles of the Civil War and I’m not going to stain their blood by running down the Confederate flag.
“I know the battle flag has been used by a lot of hate groups and unfortunately that symbol has been tied to them.”
Commissioners Doug Underhill and Lumon May stuck by their decision to fly only the U.S. and state flags, a motion they made. When it became clear the board planned to pass Robinson’s motion, May pointed out the flag debate is opportunity to address more serious community problems.
“It has opened up the big white elephant in the room,” said May, “to have that discussion on race and why there is poverty.”
“Why do you only graduate 50 percent of African American children in Escambia County? Why is our jailhouse incarcerated with 80 percent African Americans?” May asked. “Because it’s a systemic problem that we don’t want to talk about, but we’ll have a five hour debate over a flag that brings no real solutions to the ills that plague this community.”
Commission Chair Steven Barry voted with Robinson and Robertson to pass the historical flags resolution, but he agreed with May that the county has bigger problems, like multigenerational poverty, that need their time and attention.
“We have very serious issues as a county,” said Barry. “We have very serious issues as a community and it’s difficult to feel like this is one of those paramount issues.”