Proposed KY license plate spurs debate over controversial symbol

The Sons of Confederate Veterans group in Kentucky is looking to add a new license plate to the list of special plates available throughout the state. The new plate has been designed with the confederate flag sitting prominently on the left hand side of the plate, a symbol that continues to spur debate.

"If we have to be controversial to honor our ancestors, we'll be controversial," said Don Shelton, spokesperson for the Sons of Confederate Veterans in Kentucky. "I few can do it quietly and nobody cares we'll do it that way too, but the bottom line is we will honor our ancestors."

Don Shelton believes a special license plate is a great way to do just that.

"It's one of the best ways that you can do fundraising and its one of the best ways you can express yourself," Shelton said.

The symbolic expression of the flag, however, is one that continues to still emotions.

"It tends to ignite racial issues because obviously African Americans have an issue with the confederacy," Eric Jackson said.

Jackson teaches history at Northern Kentucky University and says from that perspective he can understand why people choose to use the flag to celebrate their heritage.

"Sure, but I'm a historian, I'm supposed to understand," Jackson said.

On a personal level though, he cannot.

"Probably not. No, no, not at all," Jackson said.

"If they look at us and talk to us they will see very quickly that this is about heritage, it's about family, and this is about American soldiers," Shelton said.

Jackson says the history is not that simple, however.

"[Kentucky] was a border state so it didn't have an official alliance to the confederacy nor did it have an official alliance to the free-state north," Jackson said. "Understand the history of Kentucky, understand the complexities. It's not that black and white, literally. And this issue turns it into a black and white issue real quick."

Both agree that an open dialog could create a learning opportunity in the midst of controversy.

"We have nothing but love an appreciation for their concerns," Shelton said.  "If this opens a dialog then that could be a good thing."

"In the most positive way you can understand where people are coming from," Jackson said.  "I'm not saying celebrate it or support it, but understand where folks are coming from."