"Rebel" flag causes stir in Waynesville

By DeeAnna Haney | Aug 08, 2012
Photo by: DeeAnna Haney H.K. Edgerton, immediate past president of the NAACP and chairman of the Board of Advisors of the Southern Legal Resource Center, was among those waving a Confederate flag Tuesday.

A group of people were proudly waving Confederate flags on Main Street Tuesday protesting the removal the flags from government property.

Several small Confederate flags were placed in front of the Confederate memorial on the old courthouse lawn, as well as in graveyards across the county to commemorate fallen Civil War soldiers.

But the flags garnered some negative attention.

An e-mail from Waynesville Attorney Bob Clark to the Haywood County commissioners requested that the flags be taken down.

“Will you please take action quietly and effectively to stop the display of this divisive symbol or issue a statement that the Haywood County government does not support the flying of this symbol?” he wrote.

Haywood County Manager Marty Stamey consulted the commissioners and directed the county maintenance staff to remove the flags, an action that was an insult to some who said they simply wanted to honor their ancestors who were killed in the Civil War.

H.K. Edgerton, immediate past president of the NAACP, was among five protestors waving a Confederate flag in protest of the county’s decision.

“I’m highly offended that a lawyer who should be defending First Amendment rights would be offended by this,” Edgerton said, whose Confederate flag adorned shirt read, “If this flag offends you, you need a history lesson.”

He said much of society is misinformed about the flag, which makes people perceive it as a symbol of hatred. Instead, he said it’s a symbol of southern heritage.

“People don’t understand the meaning of this flag. It’s a Christian symbol of Saint Andrew that has been used to fight tyranny,” Edgerton said.

Harold Frank, a Haywood County native with relatives who died in the Civil War, said although slavery was a key issue in the Civil War, the main issue was about state's rights to self govern.

Fellow protestor Thomas Shephard agreed.

“All we’re trying to do is honor our fallen Confederate soldiers,” Shephard said.

In an e-mail response to the debate,  Aileen Ezell, president of the N.C. Division of the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) requested the protestors “let the matter die a natural death.”

“You are free to use the marker, to place a wreath there at any time and to hold any observances you wish, but the N.C. Division UDC asks that you do not engage our organization in uneeded publicity over a flag issue,” Ezell said.

“The marker by itself stands for our heritage and any distraction, such as a flag issue, is a distraction from our intention of recognizing and honoring our Confederate ancestors,” she said in closing.

But Edgerton, as chairman of the board of advisors for the Southern Legal Resource Center, said he would be raising the issue at their next meeting.

Jule Morrow, member of the N.C. Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) and captain of the 25th N.C. Infantry Inc., said the SCV was given permission in 1993 to fly the Stars and Bars flag during May in Haywood County. The appearance of the recent flags were actions of individuals rather than the organization, he said, stressing those wanted to change the appearance of the memorial should have first consulted the county.

Stamey said the permission to fly the flag in 1993 was only for two days, according to records of minutes.

A 2011 Pew Research study found that 58 percent of Americans have no particular reaction to the Confederate flag. Among those who said they did have a reaction to the symbol of the South, 30 percent were negative.