RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe announced Tuesday that he is taking steps to have the Confederate battle flag removed from Virginia license plates.
McAuliffe made the announcement after growing national debate over the Confederate battle flag on state grounds in South Carolina, following the tragic shooting at a Charleston church.
"First and foremost, I want to express, on behalf of all Virginians, our heartfelt sympathies to all members of the Emanuel Church Community, as well as the larger community in the City of Charleston," said McAuliffe. "Although the battle flag is not flown here on Capitol Square, it has been the subject of considerable controversy, and it divides many of our people. Even its display on state issued license tags is, in my view, unnecessarily divisive and hurtful to too many of our people."
A recent U.S. Supreme Court decision allows for states to restrict license plate designs.
"I asked the Attorney General's office to take steps to reverse the prior Court ruling that requires the Confederate flag be placed on state license plates," said McAuliffe. "I have directed Secretary of Transportation Aubrey Layne to develop a plan for replacing the currently-issued plates as quickly as possible."
"It's past time to move beyond this divisive symbol, which for so many represents oppression and injustice," said Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring. "I applaud Governor McAuliffe for his leadership and will work with him and his team to take the steps necessary to remove the Confederate battle flag from Virginia's license plates."
Not all approve of the governor's decision, however.
"I don't agree with the Supreme Court ruling and I don't agree with Governor McAuliffe taking the SCV emblem from the license plate," said Dexter Oliver, a member of Virginia's Sons of Confederate Veterans.
Oliver said he understands that some people might see the flag as a symbol of hatred, but acknowledges that it is part of history. Oliver said people like South Carolina Church shooting suspect Dylann Roof -- who used the flag for hatred -- are wrong.
"I do not agree that he would hide behind that flag. To me it represents the heritage of people, but I understand that it divides people and that some people don't agree," Oliver said
Take Richmond Mayor Dwight Jones, for example. He applauded the governor for his move to remove the Confederate flag from state license plates.
"I think that we have come to a point and time and history that we need to do everything that we can to bring people together, and anything that pulls people apart, we need to get rid of it," Mayor Jones said.
Virginia Flaggers, a group that supports the use of the Confederate flag, issued the following statement after Governor McAuliffe's announcement:
The Virginia Flaggers strongly condemn the announcement by Governor Terry McAuliffe that he plans to attempt to eliminate the Sons of Confederate Veterans state sponsored vanity license plate, because it includes an image of the Battle Flag of the Army of Northern Virginia.
The license plates were made available at the request of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, and have been in use with no issues for twelve years. The organization is made up of citizens of the Commonwealth who can trace their lineage directly to an ancestor who was a Veteran of the Confederate Armed Forces. Members work, live, and worship every day alongside men and women of every race, creed, and color, and there have been no reported incidents of anyone being harmed by the license plates, or any disturbances caused by their use.
Sadly, is likely to change almost immediately with Governor McAuliffe's decision to stir up this controversy, and his insistence on exploiting the tragedy in South Carolina for his own political aspirations, which will serve to divide the Commonwealth, and create strife and dissension where none existed. The governor's pandering follows a wave of similar attacks against the history and heritage of the Confederacy that have cropped up across the South in the wake of the announcement by South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley to completely reverse her pre-election position, and suddenly support removal of the Battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia from the soldiers' memorial in Columbia.
Since that announcement, emails, phone calls, and messages of support for the Virginia Flaggers, along with offers of assistance and have been pouring in, and we are in the process of mobilizing to meet what looks like will be a huge demand for flag installations in the coming days, weeks, and months. Across the South, her citizens see these continued attacks as an organized attempt to eradicate our history and heritage, and we are ready to stand and defend the honor of our Veterans who paid the ultimate sacrifice for their country.
We call on the Governor to retract this divisive proposal, end the discriminatory assault against Virginia's rich Confederate history and heritage, and allow all of the Commonwealth's citizens the opportunity to honor their ancestors, heritage, and celebrate their culture without prejudice.
Right now, the State Department of Transportation is working quickly to come up with a plan to replace nearly 1,600 currently-issued plates.