Palatka, festival spar over selling Battle Flag T-shirts

A fairly civil war is fixin’ to fire up in crabby Palatka this weekend over the sale of T-shirts showing a Confederate battle flag painted on the shell of a blue crab.

Jaydee Ritchie, co-owner of Dixie Outfitters on St. Johns Avenue, said Friday that despite opposition from the leadership of this weekend’s Blue Crab Festival, she will continue to sell flag T-shirts.

"People who know us know we aren’t racist," Ritchie said. "This is about selling a shirt. That’s all."

Ritchie owns the store with her husband, Randall. She’s asked the local Sons of Confederate Veterans and North Carolina resident H.K. Edgerton, a self-proclaimed "Black Confederate," to come to town and help counter negative propaganda about the Confederate flag.

"(The festival) brought in the NAACP," Ritchie said. "But this isn’t about the flag. It’s about us and our direct competition with them."

Marshall Fulghum, chairman of the festival committee, said the festival didn’t bring in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, but that organization did make comments about the squabble in a news story.

Fulghum said the owners are trying to create controversy.

"We’re not happy they’re selling festival T-shirts, but it’s a free country," Fulghum said. "We’re not trying to put them out of business."

Both sides differ on the details but essentially the Ritchies had reserved two festival booths to sell 1,500 of their special flag T-shirts. But when organizers saw that the Dixie Outfitters shirts would be in direct competition with a vendor already granted the right to sell festival shirts, they returned the Ritchies’ money.

Fulghum said the Ritchies may sell all the shirts they want from their store.

"We’re not blocking them off (with booths). The booths are in the street," he said.

"We had a 12-year relationship with the former Dixie Outfitter representative with no problem. These folks are new distributors and decided to do things differently."

Not a racial issue

John J. Masters of St. Augustine, a retired U.S. Army colonel, said he flies a Confederate flag from his home every day.

"When black people ask me why I’m flying that flag, I say it’s to honor the 70,000 to 100,000 blacks who fought for the Confederacy," Masters said. "The black soldiers from Florida fought with Company B, 3rd Florida Infantry Regiment. Some were slave and some were free. There were a quarter-million free blacks in the South at that time."

Confederates believe their flag is a worldwide symbol of resistance to unconstitutional authority as well as for liberty and self-determination. Others, however, see it as a symbol of a "nation," the Confederate States of America, which made slavery part of its economy and constitution.

Masters has made it his life’s work to document the graves of black Confederates so they are not forgotten.

Three soldiers — Emanuel Osborn, Anthony Welters and Isaac Papino — are buried in St. Augustine’s San Lorenzo Cemetery on U.S. 1, half of the only six black Civil War graves in Florida.

All three survived the war.

Osborn was not a Confederate, having served with Company D, 33rd U.S. Colored Troops.

"Graves of black Confederates are as scarce as hen’s teeth," Masters said.

St. Augustine’s war memorial on the Plaza de la Constitucion, raised in 1872 by the Ladies Memorial Association of St. Augustine, also lists the names of 46 white St. Augustine residents who fought and died for the Confederacy.

Randy Bender, camp commander of the Gen. William Wing Loring Camp 1316 Sons of Confederate Veterans, said the flap in Palatka seems to be getting personal.

"But it’s not a ban on Dixie Outfitter shirts," Bender said. "The flag on the shirt is only about 3 inches on a side. This is not really a heritage violation. It’s business."

Masters said black leaders today don’t want to recognize the contributions of their own soldiers.

"These men existed. Some were armed, some drove ambulance and ammunition wagons," he said. "Only one state, Arkansas, granted black troops Civil War pensions. In 1890, there were 278 pensions granted. It’s a politically correct world now, but we have to defend our heritage."

The weekend looms

Ralph Dallas Jr., president of the Putnam County NAACP, could not be reached for comment about his organization’s plans for the weekend.

Dallas has been quoted in the Palatka Daily News as saying the Confederate flag preaches "separation, not unity."

However, H.K. Edgerton, the black Confederate, said he will hold a Confederate flag at the festival Monday, hoping to answer questions about southern heritage.

"What happened to the free-enterprise system?" he asked about limiting the T-shirt sales. "This is a snub at our southern heritage. I intend to address that NAACP president."

Edgerton, son of a preacher, is a former president of the Asheville, N.C., chapter of the NAACP. In 2002, he began a 1,385-mile march from North Carolina to Texas to promote "heritage, not hate."

He receives criticism from other blacks and has been called "the darling of the white supremacist movement" by the Southern Poverty Law Center, but he is unrepentant about his mission: education.

"If you call yourself southern, then you have a responsibility to know something about the history of where you are," he said, adding that his black critics have "bought into the northern rhetoric."

Ritchie said she doesn’t know what is going to happen this weekend, but feels she is on firm legal ground. The festival has never trademarked its name, so she is within her right to sell T-shirts, she said.

She said they’ve hired an attorney anyway — a black man.

"We’ve never had anyone complain (about Confederate flag gear)," she said. "But if you were born in the South, it’s your heritage, too."

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