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State officials say there was no marching order to yank Confederate battle flags from gift shop shelves at North Carolina’s Civil War battlefields, but they don’t deny reports of a gradual phase-out.
Michelle Walker, a spokeswoman for the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, said the agency overseeing state historic sites “does not currently have a written policy that addresses the issue of the sale of Confederate battle flag merchandise.”
The rebel banner is reportedly unavailable at several state-maintained sites, including the Bentonville Battlefield southeast of Four Oaks in Johnston County. Jake Sullivan, chief of staff for the Sons of Confederate Veterans’ North Carolina Division, said his group has received numerous reports that the merchandise is disappearing.
Walker said the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources approves all program materials and merchandise for sale at state historic sites. A written statement suggests previously available Confederate flag products may no longer be offered.
“With regard to the Confederate battle flag merchandise, we are not selling or providing any materials that are not consistent with the department’s vision, resources and programs,” Walker wrote.
Controversy over the flag stems from both the Confederacy’s defense of slavery and the banner’s use by hate groups including the Ku Klux Klan.
Confederate heritage groups say the flag can be displayed appropriately to honor ancestors who fought in the Civil War.
“Generally, Confederate heritage and history are under attack from many different angles right now, and this is but one issue in a larger fight,” Sullivan said in a statement.
“However, we have great concerns about this policy and the effect it has on those who visit state historic sites. Where does such unnecessary censorship end? Can you tell the full story of a historical event if you omit key details?”
South Carolina removed the Confederate flag from its statehouse in 2015 following the Charleston church massacre.
Shooter Dylann Roof used the flag as a white supremacist symbol. The same year, Congress curtailed national parks’ sale of products bearing the banner.
In the Tar Heel State, Confederate monuments remain a flashpoint following the toppling of a Confederate soldier statute in Durham in August 2017 and demonstrators’ removal of the Silent Sam statue at the University of North Carolina last August.
While not all state historic sites sold items with Confederate insignia, Civil War battlefields’ gift shops have long offered reproductions of Union and Confederate artifacts.
North Carolina was the second-to-last Southern state to secede from the United States, leaving the Union in May 1861.
State historic sites commemorating the Civil War include the Bentonville Battlefield, Fort Anderson in Winnabow, Fort Fisher in Kure Beach, Fort Macon in Atlantic Beach, Fort Raleigh in Manteo and the Bennett Place in Durham.
“We strive to ensure that all of the programming materials, including merchandise in our gift shops, fosters awareness, understanding and appreciation, as well as the appropriate interpretation of our programs and resources,” Walker said.
Sullivan counters that Confederate history is North Carolina history and says choosing not to offer merchandise bearing the flag under which North Carolinians fought is revisionism.
“The Department of Cultural Resources is actively re-interpreting North Carolina’s history to fit its left-wing political agenda,” Sullivan said. “Pretty soon they will only have Yankee soldiers left as they will have erased all things Confederate. It is absurd and the result of political correctness run amok.”