The Mobile City Council voted 6-0 Tuesday to remove all but one of six flags from the city’s official seal. The move ends weeks of debate over the depiction of the Third National Flag of the Confederacy in the seal, which is used on official city documents and property, after the racially motivated murder of nine African-Americans at a church in Charleston, South Carolina.
After the vote, only the U.S. flag and the center emblem will remain on the seal. Councilwoman Bess Rich abstained. Councilors had originally suggested replacing the Confederate flag with the Alabama state flag, but the final vote represented a compromise.
The former seal included the flags of Britain, Spain, French Louisiana, the short-lived Alabama Republic, the Confederacy and the United States. The center emblem contains a cotton bale, a depiction of the First National Bank building, an airplane, a seagull and a ship.
“The first seal had no flags,” Council President Gina Gregory told the crowded Government Plaza auditorium. “It was just an emblem.”
City Clerk Lisa Lambert told councilors the seal had been changed three other times since its creation. In 2000, councilors voted to remove the Confederate battle flag from the seal and replace it with the Third National Flag. However, a large seal in the council’s auditorium was never changed and still depicts the battle flag.
Rich said during a pre-conference meeting the flags were added to the seal by City Commissioners in 1961 to commemorate the 250th anniversary of the city. Councilman Fred Richardson suggested the battle flag was added by the all-white, all-male commission in defiance of integration.
“Times have changed and it’s time to change the seal,” Richardson said. “City Hall is no place to display any heritage.”
Before the vote, several residents weighed in on both sides of the issue. Among those in opposition was Joe Ringhoffer, a Mobile resident and member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. Ringhoffer told councilors every flag on the seal, with the exception of the Confederate flag in question and the Alabama Republic flag, represents a country responsible for bringing African slaves to this nation.
Ringhoffer blamed the media and “opportunistic” politicians for turning the tragedy in Charleston into a debate about the Confederate flag. He asked councilors not to participate in the “farce.”
Thomas Root, of River Forest Drive, also spoke in opposition. Root told councilors the battle flag represents a call of duty, love of country and the ultimate sacrifice.
“This is what the flag depicts,” he said. “Nothing more, nothing less.”
Among those speaking in support of the amendment to remove the Confederate flag was the Rev. Ernest Scott. Scott said he hoped the move would bring the city closer to Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s oft-repeated call for “One Mobile.” He added that he also hoped to remove the hyphen before American, so that there would be “no African-Americans, Jewish-Americans or European-Americans,” but that we “all could be called Americans.”
Old Military Road resident Mary Walker told councilors the Confederate flag, in all of her 67 years, has represented hatred and needed to be removed from the seal.
During the regular meeting, Richardson claimed he was only the third generation of his family born free in the United States and argued that if the South had won the Civil War, his situation would have been different.
“If the Confederacy had won, I would’ve been relegated to property, like a cow, or a mule …,” he said.
For those who argued the flag was about heritage and not hate, Richardson relayed the contents of a note recently mailed to his council office.
“I got a note to my office, [it said] ‘if we have to live with you n*ggas, you have to live with our flag,’” he said. “Hate, I’m telling you, is what it represents.”
Councilman C.J. Small agreed with the move to take all the flags off the seal. He said the Confederate flag “keeps us divided.”
“Every time I look at the flag it reminds me of the struggles of my ancestors …,” he said.
Councilman Joel Daves also said he agreed with removing the Confederate flag and all flags from the city seal. He said the debate over the merits of removing the flag proves that it is a divisive symbol.
Councilman John Williams, who came out against replacing the Confederate flag with the state flag on the seal because of historical accuracy, voted in favor of removing all flags.
“I’m not completely thrilled with changing the seal, but I know it’s inevitable,” Williams said. “I’m troubled we’ve spent so much time on the issue and, like others, I wonder where it ends.”
Asked by Rich, Lambert said she would have to meet with a designer to amend the seal and until then, the seal with all the flags would continue to be used for official documents.
In other business
The council voted to hold over for one week a vote on an amended vehicle-for-hire ordinance to regulate Uber and other ride-booking services. The ordinance has been revised and was received Monday, but councilors wanted to give both sides a chance to review it.
The council authorized a $54,181 contract with American Tennis Courts Inc. for improvements to tennis courts at Crawford-Murphy Park. The council also authorized a $976,620 contract with McElhenny Construction Company for citywide drainage repairs.