AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - The Texas Department of Motor Vehicles Board on Thursday voted unanimously to reject license plates featuring the Confederate flag.
The vote followed two hours of emotional public testimony that invoked everything from Civil War history to modern racism.
Supporters of the specialty plates, including Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, argued they would honor Confederate soldiers and not be an endorsement of the Confederate government.
“Tens of thousands of Texans marched into battle behind that flag, and we are here to commemorate the soldiers, not the politicians,” Patterson told the board on Thursday.
Ray James, past commander of the Texas division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, pointed out that the issue was up for consideration on the day before Veterans Day.
“These veterans need to be honored, too,” James, whose organization requested the plate, told the board.
Opponents, including several lawmakers, pastors and members of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, passionately argued that the flag is offensive.
Some of the opponents, who outnumbered those at the meeting who spoke in favor of the plates, talked of personal experiences with racism, saying it lingers in Texas today and the Confederate flag represents that state of mind.
“We know that flag is a true symbol of people that hate,” said Gary Bledsoe, Texas State NAACP Conference president.
Congressman Lloyd Doggett, a Texas Democrat whose great-great grandfather was a Confederate veteran, also urged the board to reject the plates.
“I can honor that past as the great-great-grandson of a Confederate veteran without doing something that is divisive and hurtful to many of our neighbors,” Doggett said.
Texas Governor Rick Perry, a Republican presidential candidate, said last month he does not support the plates.
“We don’t need to be scraping old wounds,” Perry said while in Florida, according to the St. Petersburg Times.
A spokeswoman for the governor has said Perry, who appoints the DMV board members, believed the decision was up to the board.
When the nine-member board met earlier this year to decide whether to approve the plates, one member was absent and the vote was a 4-4 tie. Another ballot, set for June, was canceled when a member died unexpectedly.
Thursday’s vote was 8-0. One member was absent. After the vote, some members of the audience applauded and cheered.
State law allows the board to deny a specialty plate design if it is offensive to any member of the public, board chairman Victor Vandergriff said just before the vote.
The license plate would have had an image of the Sons of Confederate Veterans logo, which features a Confederate flag.
Granvel Block, Texas division commander of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, said after the vote that the emotional testimony opposing the plates didn’t have anything to do with his organization’s logo.
Texans may choose from 276 different specialty license plates, including those honoring universities, professional sports teams and organizations such as the Boy Scouts of America.
Additional reporting by Jim Forsyth; Editing by Peter Bohan and Jerry Norton