One Man’s Battle
By James Brooks
Press Staff Writer
H.K. Edgerton marched through Johnson City and across the campus of East Tennessee
State University, his stars and bars held aloft on a bamboo pole,
stepping smartly to the cadence of some distant drummer.
He was there to do battle with the history department, and considering
that he is a black man upholding the heritage of black Confederate
soldiers, Edgerton certainly marches to the beat of a different
According to him, assistant professor of history Andrew Slap
once asked a black student named T.K. what the Confederate battle
flag meant to him, and he replied he was reminded of his great-great-grandfather
who was a Confederate soldier.
“Slap denied this and said he had his family history wrong
and that the Sons of the Confederate Veterans perpetrated the
myth of blacks fighting for the South in order to shore up their
image, even though he had his (great-)great-grandfather’s
pension papers,” Edgerton said.
He sought to lodge a complaint with Department Chairman Colin
Baxter, but learned he was out of town. Slap was not due in his
office until late in the afternoon, following a class.
Edgerton next marched on the administration building and was
directed to the office of academic affairs, where he was told
to first contact Baxter, and if not satisfied to next talk with
Dean Gordon Anderson, and finally with Provost Bert Bach.
“I find you have to work to the top before you get anything
done,” Edgerton said. By this time three white students
from Maryville were following him. “He’s already a
legend in Maryville,” one said.
Edgerton is from Asheville, N.C., where he says he is a past
president of the NAACP and chairman of the board of advisers of
the Southern Legal Resource Center, which he said is the legal
arm of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
“I’m using Johnson City as my training ground for
my march from Lynchburg, Va., to Washington, D.C., where I’m
going to talk with the president about the kind of treatment we
are getting. For now I’m staying at ETSU until somebody
tells me something,” he said.
When reached for comment later in the day, Slap said he remembered
the incident occurring in his class more than a year ago.
“The individual talked to me about it outside of class
and said his great-great-grandfather was honored by a Confederate
regiment and gave a Web site, but in checking it I discovered
he was listed as a cook. The Confederates did use blacks as cooks
and teamsters, but did not regard them as soldiers,” Slap
“Later, in the late 19th century Confederate groups said
that blacks fought for the South in order to take the racial issue
out of their desire to fly Confederate flags over state capitols.
Research shows that the Confederate congress tried unsuccessfully
to enlist black regiments, but these men agreed among themselves
that if exposed to battle they would switch to the Union,”
Slap said. “We have records of Confederate senators opposing
any use of black troops because they said it would destroy what
they were fighting for, which was slavery.”