Virginia governor orders Confederate flag removed from license plates

By Gary Robertson
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Virginia Gov McAuliffe attends National Governors Assoc discussion on Growth and Jobs in America during its Winter Meetings in Washington

Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe of Virginia makes remarks during a "Growth and Jobs in America" discussion at the National Governors Association Winter Meeting in Washington, February 23, 2014. REUTERS/Mike Theiler

By Gary Robertson

RICHMOND, Va. (Reuters) - Virginia will phase out vehicle license plates featuring the Confederate battle flag, the state's governor said on Tuesday, following the fatal shootings of nine black worshipers at a historic South Carolina church, allegedly by a white gunman.

The state, which was part of the pro-slavery Confederacy in the U.S. Civil War, will no longer allow specialty license plates for the Sons of Confederate Veterans group that feature the flag, said Governor Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat.

Georgia Governor Nathan Deal also said Tuesday that he will seek a redesign of Georgia’s state-issued Sons of Confederate Veterans license plates, which is set on a Confederate battle flag background.

Supporters of the flag describe it as a symbol of the South's history and culture as well a memorial to the roughly 480,000 Confederate Civil War casualties, but detractors see it as a symbol of racism.

"Its display on state issued license tags is, in my view, unnecessarily divisive and hurtful to too many of our people," McAuliffe said in a statement.

On Monday, the governor of South Carolina called for the Confederate flag to be removed from the grounds of the capitol after a racist manifesto apparently written by accused gunman Dylann Roof, 21, emerged online, accompanied by photos of Roof posing with the flag.

McAuliffe noted that a 1999 state law required the state to issue Sons of Confederate Veterans license plates, but that following a U.S. Supreme Court decision last week it was no longer required to issue plates featuring the flag.

The Virginia Flaggers, an activist group known for displaying huge Confederate flags on private property along major highways, condemned the move, saying their displays had gone on without incident.

"Sadly, this is likely to change almost immediately with Governor McAuliffe’s decision to stir up this controversy," said Grayson Jennings, a spokesman for the group.

Georgia's governor said that while he respected the right of groups to express personal views, including the Sons of Confederate Veterans, "I believe we can reach a resolution agreeable to all sides through a redesign of the plate."

Of the 9 million license plates used in Georgia today, 3,500 of them are Sons of Confederate Veterans specialty plates.

Deal's office did not elaborate on what kind of license plate solution was being considered, and if it involved removing the confederate flag as background.

(Reporting by Gary Robertson. Additional reporting by David Beasley in Atlanta.; Writing by Scott Malone and David Adams; Editing by James Dalgleish, Bernard Orr)