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Rebel Yell: Dixie Days Are Here

A new chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans says it’s
having a difficult time getting its message across. So much so that
it’s pinning publicity hopes on a former Valentine Richmond
History Center board member and a former NAACP director. Grayson
Jennings, founder of the Edmund Ruffin Fire Eaters Camp No. 3,000
of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, says the group wants to oust
Waite Rawls, executive director of the Museum of the Confederacy,
and in his place install Allen Mead Ferguson. Ferguson had been
slated to become chairman of the Valentine Richmond History Center
in July. Style reported May 10 that he was proud to fly a Confederate
flag outside his home, to the dismay of some people who considered
it a conflict with the Valentine’s mission. Ferguson resigned
from the board later that day.Whether he wanted to or not, Ferguson
gained fans in Southern heritage boosters such as Jennings, who
call Ferguson’s actions heroic and who covet his fund-raising
skills. (Ferguson, former chief executive of Craigie Inc., raised
$5 million for the Valentine in 18 months.) Ferguson was out of
town and could not be reached by press time.

Meantime, Grayson is gearing up for his friend H.K. Edgerton’s
public debut during the Third Annual Dixie Days celebration June
10 and 11 at Hanover County’s Pole Green Park.

Edgerton, an African-American, is an unlikely rebel-rouser. A
native and resident of Asheville, N.C., he served as that city’s
head of the NAACP before ditching the group to embrace his Southern
roots. He’s taken up the Confederate flag and befriended
its fans.

In doing so Edgerton’s become something of a spectacle,
traveling from town to town trumpeting what he calls personal
freedoms — and what others call signs of oppression. He’s
slated to appear this week on Fox News’ Hannity & Colmes
talk show.

Being a black civil-rights proponent and a Confederate sympathizer
aren’t mutually exclusive, Edgerton says: “Me being
black, there are plenty of issues on the table — the likelihood
of being poor, dropping out of school, dealing drugs, getting
locked up. But my social mobility has got nothing to do with the
Confederate flag or the South.”

Jennings hopes Edgerton’s cachet and candor will draw crowds
at Dixie Days. Last year, in the wake of an angry parent’s
widely publicized protest, Hanover County officials decided against
co-sponsoring future events, rife with Civil War re-enactments
and Confederate displays. Jennings says county officials asked
him to change the name of the celebration but he refused, threatening
them with a lawsuit.

Earlier this year Jennings ran into a snag with Lamar Advertising
when the Sons of Confederate Veterans wanted a billboard near
Richmond International Raceway welcoming NASCAR fans, reading:
“Victory is great; honor is greater.”

Lamar turned down that request, says Claude Dorsey, the company’s
sales manager. Instead, it OK’d a billboard bearing only
the group’s name and phone number. Jennings says such responses
encroach on freedom of speech and expression. “They did
that gay stuff and abortion stuff,” Jennings says of other
billboard campaigns he considers narrowly focused, “while
we were welcoming everybody.”