To commemorate the 150th anniversary of the rebellion of South, the massive Confederate battle flag that has flown over Interstate 75 for three years has been replaced by a flag of the Confederate government.
The battle flag, the blue cross emblazoned with white stars over a red background, is the symbol most people associate with the Confederacy, though it "was really the soldiers' flag," said Marion Lambert, member of the local camp of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
The group built the Confederate memorial on U.S. 92 in the shade of Interstate 75 just south of Interstate 4.
The 30-by-60-foot battle flag can't be missed by interstate motorists. The government flag is a mere 30-by-15.
"The flag that's up there now is the third national flag of the Confederacy," Lambert said. "It was the one that flew over courthouses, over the Confederacy's government buildings. Being the sesquicentennial, it's certainly appropriate that we put this flag up."
The massive battle flag is in need of repair, he said, and this banner may be up until the other one is properly hemmed.
The local camp has three flags, including the "Betsy Ross" flag, which resembles the American flag with just 13 stars in a circle on the field of blue, he said.
"Every Fourth of July," Lambert said, "the Betsy Ross flag goes up."
The towering flagpole is based in the Confederate memorial, termed an educational marker, on property owned by Lambert, which is donated to the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
When the battle flag was first raised in June 2008, it came amid a swirl of controversy sparked by those who view the Confederate flag as a symbol of slavery and racism. Opponents asked the Hillsborough County Commission to block the raising of the flag, but since it was on private property and all within the legal height and size limits, the commission could do nothing.
"When the controversy was going on," Lambert said, "there were 16 days straight we were in the national news. All the naysayers were saying this was going to cause all kinds of racial division; that this was going to divide the country. I was declared the most divisive man in Hillsborough County.
"It turned out to be nothing. The only impact is on drivers who see it, and they have one of three reactions: What is it? I hate it or I love it."
The controversy subsided within weeks, Lambert said. Few raise objections anymore, and the site has never been a victim of vandalism.
The battle flag costs about $1,000. Lambert said the government flag costs about a third as much.
"The meat of the thing is that it's an educational tactic," he said. "People need to know what the symbols are out there and what they mean, regardless of how they feel about them."