The General Lee and its Confederate flag aren’t going anywhere.
That’s the message from the LeMay Family Collection, the automobile museum in Spanaway that owns the car.
The General Lee — an orange 1969 Dodge Charger emblazoned with a Confederate flag on its roof — was the centerpiece of the popular 1980s television show “The Dukes of Hazzard.”
The car was practically a co-star on the Georgia-set “Dukes,” which had Bo and Luke Duke outwitting or outrunning “Boss” Hogg and his bumbling sheriff, Rosco P. Coltrane, in nearly every episode.
Now it’s become part of a nationwide controversy over the flag of the Confederacy, reignited after nine black churchgoers were shot to death in a Charleston church June 17.
The alleged killer, a white man named Dylann Roof, 21, made photographic self-portraits of himself holding the flag before the shootings.
The national reckoning of the Confederate flag, which many associate with slavery and resistance to racial integration, led to its removal from South Carolina’s Statehouse July 10. The flag began flying there in 1962 during the civil rights movement.
Supporters of the flag say it’s a symbol of the South’s heritage. The ensuing backlash against removing the flag has led to complaints of overzealous political correctness. One wag suggested changing the car’s name to “Generally.”
Retailers from Amazon to Walmart have announced they will stop selling items depicting the flag.
The controversy has spread into pop culture as well.
Cable network TV Land has dropped “Dukes” reruns. Warner Bros. announced it no longer will license toy models of the car and owners of the few surviving General Lees are being forced to take a long, hard look at the car.
Or at least its roof.
“We feel that it is history and it is the original prop from the show so we wouldn’t change that,” said Trudy Cofchin, executive director of the LeMay Family Collection. “It is a very popular vehicle that a lot of (visitors) will ask for.”
Doug LeMay acquired the collection’s General Lee in January 2013 at a car auction in Scottsdale, Arizona.
LeMay is the secretary-treasurer and curator of the foundation and the son of founders Harold and Nancy LeMay. At one point Harold LeMay had the largest automobile collection in the world.
Nancy and Doug LeMay own about 95 percent of the almost 2,000 cars in the collection, including the General Lee. Doug LeMay bought the General Lee for several reasons, Cofchin said.
“He thought it was a popular show, he thought it would bring people to the museum and it was a good deal,” she said.
The LeMay General Lee originally was owned by Warner Bros., the show’s creator. It was sold in 1986 and had several owners before Lemay bought it for $42,000.
The General Lee — whose horn plays “Dixie” — was taken to two recent local events, the Greenwood Car Show on June 27 and the SOVREN vintage racing event at Pacific Raceways in Kent on July 3-5.
LeMay volunteers at the events reported positive responses.
Volunteer Dennis Blowers, who leads tours at the collection, said he’s gotten only one negative comment from a museum visitor.
“(The visitor) said, in light of what’s going on you guys shouldn’t be displaying this, and I told her it was part of history, part of the show, and she accepted that ... kind of,” Blowers said.
Blowers said the General Lee generates a lot of interest and questions from visitors. It’s on display with more than 200 other cars in one of the collection’s buildings.
The museum has several other movie prop vehicles including the DeSoto from 1970s sitcom “Happy Days” and a presidential limousine used in the Clint Eastwood film “In the Line of Fire.”
Through TV magic, viewers were led to believe the General Lee survived each episode of “Dukes” despite extreme jumps and crashes.
In actuality, the stunts would virtually destroy the car. Hollywood vehicle makers Renaud and Andre Veluzat built 229 General Lees for the series, according to their website.
On July 2, pro golfer Bubba Watson announced he will paint over the Confederate flag on his General Lee, reportedly the first made for the show. Watson bought the car in 2012 for $110,000.
At the time he wrote a tweet, “Sorry to all that are offended by my car “General Lee 1” but car is #Awesome.”
Since then, Watson has had a change of heart tweeting, “All men ARE created equal, I believe that so I will be painting the American flag over the roof of the General Lee #USA.”
LeMay volunteer Blowers said altering any aspect of a car changes its historical significance.
“When you change the original configuration of the car you’re not only changing the history you’re changing the value of it,” Blowers said. “Once you paint them over you can’t go back.”
In January, Watson had his car signed by actor John Schneider, who played main character Bo Duke on the show alongside co-stars Tom Wopat and Catherine Bach.
The LeMay General Lee has its engine signed by “Dukes” cast member Ben Jones, who played Cooter. Jones has been in the news lately for his vigorous defense of the Confederate flag.
“Dukes” ran from 1979 to 1985. On July 1, cable network TV Land, which trades in classic TV reruns, confirmed it would stop running the show.
Schneider is defensive about the show and its use of the Confederate flag. In a YouTube video he lambasted TV Land for its decision.
“Do I think taking ‘Dukes’ off TV Land is silly? Yeah, of course I do,” Schneider said. “I think it’s an error because ‘Dukes of Hazzard’ was one of the most beloved shows ever, ever, ever, ever. And now it’s being cast in a terrible light that it does not deserve.”
He urged viewers to focus on the lives lost in Charleston.
Schneider also criticized Warner Bros. ending its licensing of toy replicas of the General Lee. Round2, the licensee that make the toy, is still selling the General Lee on its website — minus the Confederate flag decal.
LeMay is not the only car museum with a General Lee. The Volo Auto Museum in Illinois said it will keep its version on display.
“Our take is, it’s part of history,” Brian Grams, director of the museum, told The Chicago Tribune. “Taking the car off display or painting over the flag doesn’t change the facts. The flag was always there.”
Schneider and Wopat recently reprised their roles in a series of ads for Auto Trader. The commercials avoided any angles that would show the roof of the General Lee.
LeMay Family Collection
Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday; noon to 5 p.m. Sunday.
Address: 325 152nd St. E., Tacoma.