By Anthony DeMatteo
A black man who once marched from North Carolina to Texas wearing the Confederate flag will be at Dixie Outfitters this weekend.
H.K. Edgerton, the former president and vice president of the Asheville, N.C. chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, chairs the board of advisers for the Southern Legal Resource Center, a North Carolina advocacy group for the flag.
Randall Ritchie owns Dixie Outfitters, a St. Johns Avenue “Southern heritage” store, with his wife. He said Edgerton will be at his store Sunday and Monday to help dispel myths about the rebel flag’s association with the Civil War.
“The war had nothing to do with owning slaves,” Ritchie said. “A lot of people misunderstand. He’s coming here to fight for our right to celebrate our heritage. Look at all these people celebrating Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, but let one person fly the Confederate flag and they are criticized.”
Ritchie said he was bothered by a comment by Marshall Fulghum, the tri-county festival chairman, saying he did not want to ignore black residents’ concerns over the flag’s depiction on T-shirts Dixie Outfitters had printed with the festival name.
On Wednesday, Ritchie said festival officials returned money that the Ritchies paid to rent two booths, saying they were not permitted to sell the shirts. Fulghum said the store’s T-shirt sales would have taken revenue from the nonprofit event by decreasing sales of official Blue Crab shirts. The Ritchies said they will sue the festival.
Edgerton: Not a tool of racists
Edgerton said he does not think celebrating the old South and the flag aligns him with people who practice racism.
“I would never be a trader to my Southern family,” he said. “Southern white folks believe in one thing — live and let live.”
Edgerton said the Civil War was fought after President Abraham Lincoln took blacks off their “course for greatness” by waging an illegal war against the South. He said the flag is an “honorable symbol” and that many whites in the antebellum South treated slaves well.
“Uncle Tom’s Cabin bastardized every good thing white folks did for black folks back then,” he said. “What kind of fool would spend $1,000 on a person, then turn around and beat him? If I spent that money, am I going to mistreat anyone? I want that person out in the field picking cotton and beats and sugar.”
Edgerton was suspended by the NAACP after a 1998 picture showing him and the man who incorporated the SLRC, Kirk Lyons, wearing napkins in the shape of hoods on their heads appeared in The Asheville Citizen-Times. Lyons is the SLRC’s chief trial counsel.
Lyons has been quoted in newspapers and television programs supporting the Ku Klux Klan and the segregation of the races in America. Incorporated in 1996, the SLRC has filed more than 400 lawsuits, representing clients including students banned from wearing the Confederate flag in schools. In 1988, Lyons defended a Texas man named Louis Beam against charges of sedition for attempting to set up a white nation in the Pacific Northwest.
Putnam NAACP President criticizes visit
Ralph Dallas, the president of the Putnam County NAACP, said he thought it was not appropriate for Dixie Outfitters to associate itself with the SLRC.
“I think it’s disrespectful,” Dallas said. “To me, it’s no different than the KKK. They are preaching separation instead of unity. We are trying to promote togetherness in this county and this is not the time for stuff like this.”
Dallas said Edgerton and Ritchie are attempting to redefine an era that included the denial of rights to black people in America, and that the confederate flag is a symbol of that time.
“If slaves were treated so well, why was there an Underground Railroad?” Dallas said. “The rebel flag is not something close to many black people’s hearts. I see him (Edgerton) as a sell out.”
Edgerton, who plans to sell T-Shirts with his likeness at the store, said black people have been fooled into thinking they should rally against displays of the flag.
“When most people who look just like me say something about the flag, they’ve usually been told to say something very bad,” Edgerton said. “Most of these people with their degrees and their doctorates don’t know a thing about the war or themselves.”