Battle Flag Raised in Bristol Tennessee
Published: June 7, 2009
BY CLAIRE GALOFARO BRISTOL
The Sons of Confederate Veterans raised a confederate battle flag Saturday evening in Bristol, Tenn. The 25-by-15-foot banner was hoisted on a 70-foot pole on a hillside in clear view of Interstate 81 – to serve as a monument and memory to those who fought on behalf of the South.
“You can’t get the real history from a text book,” said David Roberts, who organized Saturday’s event and spearheaded project to install the flag. “The ones that won got to write the book,” Roberts said. “But we know it’s different and that’s what we’ve got to teach our children. God bless Dixie and may this flag ever wave.”
About 200 people gathered for the ceremony, semi-circled around the pole on top of a hillside several hundred above the interstate. A dozen or so men dressed as confederate soldiers and among them was a black man named H.K. Edgerton. “The most discriminated against person in America is the Christian Southern white man,” said Edgerton, a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans and a former president of the NAACP’s Asheville, N.C. branch.
Edgerton also said he enjoys “whipping Yankees.”
“This place should be full of black folks,” Edgerton said. “I don’t know why [I’m the only one here]. Maybe your newspaper should have told them to come to celebrate and sing Dixie and salute our flag. It’s a shame white folks and black folks make people think this is an evil flag. This is a southern flag. You can’t attack this flag and call yourself a southerner. You can call yourself a traitor.” Edgerton delivered his comments with the conviction of a preacher, in an impromptu address to the crowd. His adoring fans reciprocated with hoots and thunderous applause.
The Sons of Confederate Veterans is an national organization dedicated to protecting the honor of their ancestors. All are great-great-somethings of a confederate soldier, and they look to the flag as a symbol of that fight. To many others the Confederate flag is America’s most contentious symbol, likened to a swastika in hateful significance.
“It’s been hijacked by hate groups,” Roberts said. “We are in no way aligned with anyone who uses the flag our ancestors fought and died for, for purposes of hate or intimidation. These groups have also denigrated the U.S. flag and the Christian flag and make it very hard at times for us to honor our relatives without a negative response from the general public who have no idea about our organization.”
The pre-raising ceremony Saturday included opening remarks and many who attended exchanged certificates of appreciation. Among the presenters was Sheila Hunt, director of the Sullivan County Archives and Tourism, who offered the gratitude of the mayor of Sullivan County. Fittingly, Roberts dedicated the rebel flag to those who resent it: teachers who don’t allow children to wear it on their clothing; politicians who disassociate themselves from it; and a man who removed one from an Alabama cemetery.
Edgerton, flanked by several young boys, unveiled the giant flag, and the onlookers – five rows deep – clapped and chanted as it made its way up the pole. It hung quietly for several seconds, with audible anticipation below. Then the wind blew. “There she goes!” Digital cameras buzzed open. “Oh, isn’t it beautiful,” one woman cried. “Another great day in Dixie,” shouted a man. “Thank you Jesus,” said another. Then everyone sang Dixie and caught a ride down the hill.
“I represent four and a half million black folks who’ve been beat down and would love to be here, too,” Edgerton said. “If they tell you they wouldn’t be, the first thing you ask is where they’re from. Then you tell them to go on back.”
John Harrison, the former head of the Kingsport chapter of the NAACP, does not share such enthusiasm for the Confederate flag. “I am not endeared by that flag,” Harrison said. “Sometimes people do these things to see a knee-jerk reaction. And I really wish they wouldn’t. When I see it, I ignore it the best I can. I don’t challenge, because that’s just what they want.”
A Friday call and an e-mail to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People were not returned. Saturday calls to other local chapters of the NAACP also were not immediately returned.
“I don’t plan to protest or write letters.” Harrison said. “That just moves their agenda to the forefront, like when three or four members of the Klan march they bring a lot of attention. I’m just going to go on past it. I’ve got better things to do. But that’s just me.”