Six-year flag dispute in Ringgold to be heard in court
By Adam Cook
A six-year tug-of-war between the city of Ringgold and the Sons of Confederate Veterans over the flag display at the historic Ringgold Depot could come to some sort of resolution soon.
The case is scheduled to be heard Friday in Catoosa County Civil Court.
On March 28, 2008, Ringgold city council voted 3-2 to take down the Confederate Battle flag that had been flying high above the Depot to honor soldiers who had fought in or were from Catoosa County.
The decision to remove the flag came after numerous citizens in the city’s black community urged the council to remove the flag, as they felt it was a symbol of hate.
The flag was then replaced by the blue and white Hardee-Cleburne flag, a regimental flag of Gen. Patrick Cleburne, who defended Ringgold Gap in 1863.
That decision sparked a new battle for many citizens, especially those belonging to the group known as the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV).
Tom Poteet, a Catoosa County citizen since 1942, filed a suit against the city on behalf of the SCV stating that city was wrong in removing a piece of history, and that it is discrediting a number of soldiers who fought for the country.
With the case on the docket to be heard by judge Kristina Cook Graham on Friday, July 25, Poteet and several members of the SCV made one last attempt at a compromise at the most recent Ringgold city council meeting on Monday, July 14.
“I’m here again to ask about the flag issue and controversy,” Poteet said when he addressed the council. “We’ve got the United States flag at the Depot, and the Hardee flag up there now, but only represents about four percent of Confederate soldiers. We’ve got the court stuff coming up, and I don’t want to see the national news crawling all over town about this controversy. We don’t want to see this go on. …. It’s not right to not let those soldiers have the right flag up there.”
Ray McBerry, who serves as commander of the Georgia SCV, also attended the meeting and after a brief history lesson, offered a compromise to the council.
McBerry explained that that since the city is against having the actual battle flag up, the group would appreciate at least having the second national flag flying in its place, and asked that the council vote to honor that request and put an end to the pending lawsuit.
“This has been a six-year legal battle, and it’s becoming expensive for both parties,” McBerry said. “In the spirit of reconciliation, we would consider it an honorable compromise to have the Second National flag raised above the Hardee Corps (Hardee-Cleburne) flag. We’re all wanting to win this battle for the soldiers, and we would love to see the second national flag up at the Depot.”
Lt. Cmdr. Ronald Eslinger also spoke, asking the city to honor the memory of the soldiers themselves, and added that members of his own family, Isaac and James Eslinger, fought alongside Gen. Cleburne.
After representatives from the SCV spoke their peace during the meeting, long-time mayor Joe Barger read a statement saying that the city had “no comment” on the pending legal proceedings, following the advise of the city attorney Jim Bisson.
In the days since the meeting, Poteet and Eslinger say they have accepted that they’re still in an ongoing battle, and that they’re just trying to “do right” by the soldiers.
“We just want to honor those soldiers the right way,” Eslinger said. “People just look at things the wrong way. That flag has been misinterpreted over the years, and folks have the wrong perception of it.”
“We’ve been at this to try to get the right flag flying up there,” Poteet added. “We can’t change history.”
The case is on the calendar for 9 a.m. on Friday morning, July 25.
According to Eslinger, the SCV camp is expected to be well-represented with hundreds of members planning to make their way to Ringgold in support of the effort.