Confederate Heritage Billboards Create Backlash
By Bill Hughes
PADUCAH - Some local billboards are becoming a hot conversation topic in Paducah.

The local Sons of Confederate Veterans group has purchased two billboards to raise awareness for their group. Randy Beeler says they did it since they have been unable to get the County Judge-Executive's office to issue a proclamation declaring Confederate Heritage Month since 2010. But, once photos of the billboards were published on social media, some people, and at least one political group, have criticized their presence, especially with the AQS Quilt Show and Contest later this month in Paducah.

On the McCracken County Democrats Facebook page, a post on Saturday night referred to individuals calling Lamar Advertising, which sold the billboards, encouraging them to be respectful. The post added, "Hate has no home here. What an embarrassment to our city, just in time for the Quilt Show." As of Monday night, over 150 comments have been posted, and other social media posts on the topic have had similar responses.

"The billboards are simply to educate people," Beeler said, "We wasn't trying to do anything other than make people aware that we're here, and all we want to do is enjoy what we enjoy. We've never done anything to hurt anybody, we've never trashed anybody, we've never trashed any organizations, but every time we turn around somebody's jumping on us with both feet because it's politically correct."

The phone number connects callers to the headquarters of the Sons of Confederate Veterans in Columbia, Tennessee. The organizations' mission, as stated on their Facebook page, is "to encourage the preservation of history, perpetuate the hallowed memories of brave men, to assist in the observance of Memorial Day, to aid and support all members, widows and orphans, and to perpetuate the record of the services of every Southern soldier."

Beeler said, "When we celebrate our history, we simply celebrate the soldiers. We're not talking about the causes of the war."

He said his group would love for people to inquire what they do. In fact, Beeler and others from SCV have attended City Commission meetings each month to have conversations with city leaders after a resolution was in May 2017 limiting participation in the Veteran's Day parade to only those groups who represent veterans of the United States Armed Forces under the flag of the United States. The SCV had participated in the parade in previous years, and still participated in 2018, even though they couldn't carry the Confederate battle flag.

When asked to comment on the billboards, City Commissioner Richard Abraham, who attempted to rescind the parade resolution earlier this year, said it's not illegal to have a billboard, and if anyone doesn't like this expression of free speech, they shouldn't look at it.

Abraham said, "Here's the cool thing: we live in a country where you can put it up there, and you can voice your opinion for it or against it, so I like where we live."

Beeler added, "There's nothing on that billboard that is insulting to anybody. How politically correct do you have to get for the word, 'confederate,' to be an insult?"

Lisa Guill, General Manager for Lamar Advertising of Paducah, wouldn't give details about the length of the contract for the ads. She said their company has gotten numerous calls - both negative and positive - about the billboards. She elaborated with Lamar's corporate position, saying they support the First Amendment and the rights of advertisers to use their medium for messages. She said copy is not accepted or rejected based on its content, and the content is the viewpoint of SCV, not Lamar. 

Guill added, "We also required Sons of Confederate Veterans to remove the Battle Flag from the copy if they wanted to use it and for us to accept it."

She said customers can request specific billboard locations but that is based on availability. Beeler said they simply got two billboards that were available.

Abraham said he was glad the flag was not on the billboards, and said he knows the men are sensitive to how use of that imagery affects response from others, based on his conversations with SCV representatives. 

"I hope they continue to show more sensitivity than, possibly, they have received," Abraham said.

Confederate Heritage Month is a designated observance in seven states - Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, and Virginia - but not Kentucky. The Commonwealth was a border state that did not secede from the union, but declared its neutrality at the beginning of the Civil War. 

Published 09:00 AM, Monday Apr. 08, 2019
Updated 08:44 AM, Monday Apr. 15, 2019

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