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One of Tennessee’s largest newspapers has sparked an ugly debate over a specialty license plate styled after the historic “Gadsden Flag.”
The yellow license plate features a coiled snake with the words, “Don’t Tread on Me.”
The flag was meant as a symbol of unity for the 13 colonies and was a battle cry for freedom-loving patriots during the Revolutionary War.
And the “Don’t Tread on Me” license plate also happens to be the most popular specialty plate in the Volunteer State – even more popular than Dolly Parton.
A columnist for The Tennessean, a newspaper owned by the Gannett chain, says the flag has been seen by some as racist – tied to the Confederacy and slavery. The writer also noted that extremists carried the flag on J6 and in Charlottesville, Virginia.
“This image is now synonymous with anti-government, anti-democracy, insurrection, racism, and gun-toting militias,” Jim Bellar wrote in a letter to the editor. “Of course, not everyone who displays this plate subscribes to these beliefs, but stressed-out drivers tend to form quick opinions — whether to let someone merge into their lane or to help someone after a car accident. Unfortunately, the deciding factor may be who we think they are according to what’s on their license plate.”
The column sparked a furious debate in the newspaper’s letters to the editor section.
“I display that tag proudly, as a free citizen of this state. I am not anti-democracy, government. I am against many government policies that restrict my freedoms, which are becoming increasingly forced upon us. That is what that tag represents to me, which by the way, is the original meaning of the quote,” Bob Cornwell, of Elizabethton wrote.
“I have a “Don’t Tread On Me” specialty license plate and it’s not because I’m “anti-government, anti-democracy, an insurrectionist, racist” or a member of a “gun toting militia.”
Duncan Bosley, of Sevierville, correctly summed up the non-controversy controversy by calling for more mutual respect and understanding.
“So when you write, ‘But some plates, authorized by the State, serve as yet another way to divide us on our increasingly tense and dangerous highways,’ I believe your opinion is incorrect and letters like this are responsible for increasing division, tension and prejudice in this state and the country,” he noted.
Money raised through the sale of the plate benefits a state park near Johnson City – Sycamore Shoals – a key battle in the Revolutionary War.
There’s nothing racist or extreme about that.
It seems to me if you get triggered by the presence of a Gadsden Flag license plate, just purchase another plate. It’s a free country — thanks in large part to the men who took the Gadsden flag into battle.