Newly approved Confederate license plate proves popular in Virginia

Published 12:00 am Monday, July 8, 2002

Lee Hart has had his new, Confederate license plate on his green and white pickup for about four weeks now, and it’s attracted plenty of attention.

Positive attention, that is.

&uot;I’ve had people riding by giving me the this,&uot; Hart said, gesturing with his thumb in the air. The pickup is Hart’s work truck. He also has a set on his family car.

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The Associated Press reported Monday that applications for membership in the Virginia chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans have more than tripled since the group won the right to display the rebel flag on specialty state license plates this spring, organization says. Only members of the group, who are descendants of Confederate veterans, are eligible to display the plates.

Anyone requesting the plates at the Department of Motor Vehicles must produce their Sons of Confederate Veterans identification card, Hart noted.

&uot;They are proud of their heritage and they want to display the flag,&uot; said Michael D. Kendrick, a recruiter for the group’s Virginia chapter, who has received 40 to 50 application requests a week since the plates began appearing.

According to Hart, a past commander of Tom Smith Camp 1702 in Suffolk, the local Sons of Confederate Veterans has also seen a surge in interest since the plates became available.

&uot;We swore in four new members last month and seven or eight so far this month,&uot; he said. &uot;Whole families – fathers, sons, grandfathers – are coming in at one time.&uot;

He said the Tom Smith Camp has close to 80 members. The group has about 3,200 members in Virginia. A spokeswoman with the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles said the agency had issued 550 such plates as of July 2.

Frank Earnest, quartermaster of the SCV’s Virginia Division, said the new plates also are an added incentive for potential applicants who must dig through old records to produce proof of their ancestry.

&uot;The ones who have to do more research get motivated by the fact that they can get the plates,&uot; Earnest said.

The group’s state commander, Brag Bowling, said the flurry of applications also is typical of every time the Sons of Confederate Veterans is involved in a public squabble over what they consider to be their rights.

&uot;Because people don’t like to hear that their heritage is less meaningful than anyone else’s,&uot; Bowling said. &uot;It makes people mad, and that helps our organization grow.&uot;

Virginia’s decision this spring not to fight the courts ended its three-year legal battle to stop the Sons of Confederate Veterans from displaying its logo on license plates.

Maria Sanminiatelli of the Associated Press contributed to this report.