By OMAR FORD, Gazette staff writer
Despite sporadic rain showers, more than 50 people gathered under the pavilion at Henry C. Chamber’s Waterfront Park on Saturday morning to celebrate their Southern heritage at a Confederate Flag rally. The event was organized by FreeSouth.org, said John Cripps, its chairman, of Wiggins, Miss. He said it was spurred by the Beaufort County School District’s decision to ban T-shirts bearing Confederate flags.
"I heard about the (T-shirt ban) on Tuesday (March 18) when the news broke and by Friday (March 21) I was here to take part in the protest outside of the district," Cripps said.
This was a chance for young people to celebrate their heritage in a peaceful manner, he said.
Four Beaufort High School students were suspended on March 17 for wearing T-shirts they said honor their heritage, but school officials called offensive and distracting.
Students then held a protest outside of Beaufort High School and there was a rally later that week outside of the school district’s office on King Street.
"Today is for the students," Cripps said Saturday. "In this day and age it’s something for young people to stand up for something they believe in."
As a precaution a little more than 20 Beaufort Police Department officers were surveying the area. But no incidents were reported.
Nick Ashton, from Fort Meyers, Fla., was on hand for the rally. He brought copies of his song, "Now You’ve Got Yourself a Fight," made, he said, in response to the T-shirt ban.
The event even brought Maurice Bessinger, owner of Maurice’s Barbecue in Columbia, which has been at the center of the Confederate flag controversy in South Carolina for years. He said rally organizers asked him to attend.
Bessinger was selling copies of his autobiography, "Defending My Heritage, The Maurice Bessinger Story."
"I’m out here to help preserve our Southern cause," Bessinger said. "There’s a group of people in this country trying to take away our heritage. Our heritage comes from God almighty. It’s Satanic to try and destroy our heritage."
Cripps said he hopes the rally gets the attention of the Beaufort County Board of Education.
"The students are planning to wear the shirts again," he said. "Even if it means suspension."
Copyright © 2003, The Beaufort Gazette