SUFFOLK, Va. — Roughly 9 in 10 drivers with Virginia’s Confederate battle flag license plates have refused so far to send their plates back to the state as part of a program to swap out a symbol that many consider racist.
The Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles mailed new plates without the emblem in early September to 1,600 members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans who pay an annual $10 premium for the specialty plates but so far has received only 163 back. The DMV requires a copy of a current membership card to be eligible to buy the plates.
Kevin Collier of Suffolk, Va., said he won’t change his car’s license plates even though state officials said they expired Oct. 4.
“I have a great-great-great grandfather who fought and died with the 5th Georgia Infantry,” Collier said. “And his four brothers all died with him in the name of that flag.”
The decision freed all 50 states to police their specialty license plate programs as they see fit. And officials in Virginia, where Richmond was once the Confederacy’s capital, decided to cancel the battle-flag plates, sending those who have the plates a new version without the design and a postage-paid envelope so they could return old tags for recycling.
Before the Supreme Court decision, nine states — Alabama, Georgia, Virginia, Louisiana, South Carolina, Maryland, North Carolina, Mississippi and Tennessee — had specialty plates with some sort of Confederate emblem. In upholding Texas’ refusal to issue Sons of Confederate Veterans plates, the justices called states’ specialty plate programs a form of government speech.
It is a class 2 misdemeanor to operate a vehicle with inactive plates, according to the Virginia DMV.
“I will go to jail before I change those tags,” Collier said.