Group flies Confederate flag over Marion bypass

Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 7, 2004

A rebel flag flying over Marion’s bypass means different things to different people.

Members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, who raised it Saturday, say the display honors their ancestors who fought for the South in the Civil War – and who got a "bum rap."

Some black citizens see it as a symbol of hatred and racism.

Hugh Avery Sr. lives near the ridge where the SCV put up the flag Saturday, although he can’t see it from his house on California Avenue. He is confused about why one of his neighbors opted to display the inflammatory banner, especially in West Marion, home to a substantial black community.

"I thought Marion was better than that," said Avery.

Jeff Cordell, who heads up the local SCV chapter, insists racism has nothing to do with flying the flag. He said his group passed a resolution two months ago saying the SCV regards it as an historical symbol and condemns the use of the rebel flag by racist organizations.

"When we raise the Confederate flag, we’re honoring the black Confederate soldiers, as well, along with the English, Irish, Scottish," he said "… We don’t have anything to do with the Klan or anything like that."

City Councilman Billy Martin understands that point. But he said even if the SCV doesn’t mean to stir up anger or hurt feelings, that’s what erecting the flag over one of the most heavily traveled corridors in the county will do.

The historical argument doesn’t make Avery feel any better about a rebel flag whipping in the wind so close to the home where he’s lived for more than 30 years.

He said to black people, it stopped standing for the Confederacy and took on racist connotations long ago. For a man who remembers drinking from the "colored only" water fountain on Main Street, the unfair treatment of blacks is too recent to overlook.

"It is about history," he said. "Our history. What black people were put under."

Avery also wondered what tourists and people passing through would think about the obvious Confederate flag, waving high on a ridge just south of the Visitors Center.

Martin thinks it will put a damper on the city.

Cordell hopes seeing the flag will encourage people to "read a book and find out what it’s all about." He also said the SCV would welcome conversations with people who are offended.

The flag is on property owned by Wesley Gurley of California Avenue, according to Cordell. He said the group hopes to keep it up permanently. They are planning to install a spotlight so the flag is visible at night.