Months of talk, rumor and gossip turned to action this weekend when a Confederate battle flag rose above Orange County.
The mammoth flag flies high over U.S. 70 – a well-traveled highway through this liberal county, home to UNC-Chapel Hill, 10 yoga studios, three Weaver Street Market natural food stores and an alpaca farm.
Whether the flag will be allowed to remain may be determined by the Orange County Board of Commissioners. The board is set to hear the public's comments regarding proposed changes to sign rules May 15 at the Southern Human Services Center at 2501 Homestead Road in Chapel Hill.
The amendment to the unified development ordinance could prohibit flags over 24 square feet, flagpoles over 24 feet in height or flagpoles taller than a property owner's main roof.
Additionally, flagpoles on residential property might be required to be set back at least 50 feet from property lines in Orange County.
County Attorney John Roberts has urged county leaders to approach the issue carefully. Rules that address the content of a flag or single out a particular flag could lead to a lawsuit.
A change would not immediately affect existing flags, Roberts has said, but those flags would have to comply with the rules later.
"The UDO amendment process being undertaken by the county will ensure that residents' First Amendment protections are upheld while addressing the concerns of many in the community regarding our county continuing to be a welcoming and inclusive place for all people," Hillsborough Town Commissioner Matt Hughes said Sunday.
The flag now flying is roughly 100 yards to the east, down U.S. 70, from the Division of Motor Vehicles office at 1201 Cornelius St. in Hillsborough.
The battle flag of the long-ago-defeated Confederate States of America looked brand new Sunday in a morning breeze, its red, blue and white colors bright and unstained by wear.
Some drivers slowed as they passed it. Two turned around to take second and third glances.
“It's up, it's flying, it's on private property, legal permit, and we followed all rules and regulations. Simple as that," the group Alamance County Taking Back Alamance County (ACTBAC NC) said in a statement.
The flag can be seen from vehicles traveling eastward, while still west of the flag's placement. A thin patch of trees partially blocks the Confederate flag from view of drivers approaching it from the east.
An ACTBAC NC Facebook post on Saturday night indicated that the flag was raised earlier that day.
Unlike the Confederate flags that the N.C. Sons of Confederate Veterans said they planned to raise across all 100 North Carolina counties earlier this year, the flag on U.S. 70 does not measure 30 feet in dimension.
ACTBAC NC wrote, “No it is only 20 X 20."
“A property owner has the right to fly whatever flag on his own property as he pleases. There are no flag pole height restrictions in the Orange County code of ordinance. Specifically related to flag poles or flags,” ACTBAC NC wrote.
Mothers and the flag
The Orange County Schools banned the Confederate flag and other divisive symbols in its dress code last summer after months of debate and the deadly clash between white supremacists and counterprotesters in Charlottesville, Virginia.
The local push was initiated by an Orange High mother after she kept seeing a Confederate flag in a truck at the school as she dropped her daughter off.
On Sunday, another mother, Robbyn “Yaya” Ellison, said she felt sick when she spotted the flag over the horizon over the weekend.
Ellison, who is African-American, corresponded via text message.
“Driving home from Mebane after a beautiful day, car was filled with my children of all races,” she wrote. “We laughed and danced and talked about all the beautiful spring sights.
“Until we rode up on something that flew high like a kite,” Ellison wrote.
The closer the car neared the flag, the quieter its passengers grew.
“It’s currently being flown high in our town honored and protected by outdated lies,” she wrote. “I couldn’t contain my anger as I drove by, feeling sick.”
Ellison moved to Hillsborough eight years ago because it “boasted” about being an open-minded and liberal place to live.
But Ellison said, years of “racism against [her]” and the sight of the Confederate flag made her momentarily doubt whether she and her family would remain in Hillsborough.
Until, a change of heart occurred.
“This flag like the countless racist statutes will one day come down,” Ellison wrote. “I know one day my family, friends and countless others will be even prouder to live in this small beautiful town!!!”
Meeting Monday night
The Orange County Human Relations Commission will hold a community conversation about proposed changes in local rules for flags and flagpoles at 6:30 p.m. Monday, April 30, at the Whitted Building, 300 W. Tryon St. in Hillsborough.