Senate candidate Oliver North has said that the Confederate battle flag should be permitted to fly {Metro, Sept. 23}.

I feel qualified to comment on Mr. North's statements as a first generation Virginian descended from Confederate soldiers from Georgia. I have reverence for things Southern and for Confederate history, and I devote a great deal of time to studying the Civil War from both Northern and Southern perspectives -- including those of black Americans, past and present.

The Confederacy and the battle flag are an important part of American history for us all. According to James McPherson of Princeton University, in his book "What They Fought For," one-third of soldiers fighting for the Confederacy were slave holders or from slave-holding families. Even considering that some nonslave holders had vested interest in seeing slavery perpetuated, that leaves thousands of soldiers who fought for the South under the Confederate flag for a great many other reasons.

No one looking truthfully at the facts will deny that the Civil War probably would not have been fought without the slavery issue. It was the major cause of the rift between North and South. However, we also know that individuals fight for dramatically different reasons, as is so well demonstrated in Mr. McPherson's book.

One might expect me to agree with Oliver North's statements, but I do not. Because so many racist, white supremacist groups have adopted the flag as their standard (which they have not right to, in my opinion), I can understand the feelings of black Americans who feel the flag to be symbolic of continuing racism. While I advocate the flying of the flag at museums, historic sites and monuments, I feel it to be insensitive to many to fly it on public buildings and sites. I myself have discontinued displaying the flag because the feelings of other people are much more important to me than my right to display it.

Mr. North is neither a native Virginian nor a Southerner. I cannot help feeling that he made his statements to advance his political ambitions rather than in support of Virginians and that he is in Virginia because it is an avenue to the U.S. Senate. If he thought he could be elected from some other state, he might just as easily be there.