Story from: Jacksonville.com
States from Alabama to South Carolina and retailers from Amazon to Walmart are folding their Confederate flags in the wake of the June 17 deaths of nine worshipers at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston.
But Dewey Barber is sticking with the image on the T-shirts and vehicle tags his workers turn out at Dixie Outfitters in Odum, and that kept everyone busy filling a surge in orders and fielding calls Tuesday.
“It is good for business,” said Barber, owner of the company he founded in 1997 with three people. “We’ve seen a surge in orders.”
Civil rights groups have long condemned the official displays of the Confederate battle flag on license plates, on state flags and on statehouse grounds as a symbol of racism. Their case was buoyed by images of Dylann Roof, who is charged with murder in the shootings at Emanuel, as he held the flag in white supremacists rants.
Barber said he had talked to Time magazine, the Wall Street Journal, CNBC and others Wednesday explaining his stand that his use of the flag is a defense of personal liberties. His office workers have also fielded calls from supporters and assured them they weren’t about to quit.
Barber compared the resulting binge buying of Confederate flag items to the early days of the Obama administration, when fears of new gun control measures prompted a run of firearms.
“When people believe government is encroaching on their liberties, there’s a backlash,” he said.
Barber said he could see the surge coming when he first heard that Amazon and other big retailers announced they would no longer stock items with the Confederate battle flag.
Barber said he thinks it’s irrational to go after the Confederate flag because of Roof’s views.
“It doesn’t make rational sense to look at the views of a crazy person” and react in a way that legitimizes them, he said.
He also said that he and others at Dixie Outfitters have a heartfelt interest in the battle emblem and those who fought under it.
“This was a soldier’s flag. This was not the flag of the Confederate government,” he said.
The average rebel soldier was not a slaveholder and was fighting only because the north had invaded his homeland, Barber said.
“He was fighting for his family and his home against invaders. His motives were honest and true and honorable,” and the Confederate soldiers fought and often won against enormous odds, he said.
Barber was an engineer until he got tired of working in the pulp mill and opened his own business and, 12 years into it, turned his fascination with the Civil War into a theme for apparel.
His office is decorated with high quality paintings of Civil War scenes including the procession of Stonewall Jackson’s flag-draped casket along a dark canal. Another shows Confederate brass with several of the original battle emblems and a small painting of Confederate government flags.
‘SWEET AS SUGAR’
That said, a lot of Dixie Outfitter’s business has little to do with the Civil War. Some of the T-shirts feature cardinals and hummingbirds and basset hound puppies. A Dixie Girls shirt has two dachshund puppies and the message “Sweet as Sugar.”
There are also designs with roses, kittens, ponies and beautiful Walker hounds.
The company turns out a lot of shirts to customers’ specifications and Barber and Co. was in business before the Dixie Outfitters line was created, he said.
“For 18 years, Dixie Outfitters has been a viable clothing line,” and most don’t last that long, Barber said. “We understand fads come and go.”
And they do it all in house from the original art to the slogans to making die transfer shirts.
“Just us country boys and girls out here trying to figure it out,” he said.
It is not the first surge in business. In 2008, a number of school systems banned Dixie Outfitters T-shirts because students found some of the messages offensive. Barber said then he didn’t think banning the shirts was good for business but it had drawn attention to the company and prompted some reactionary buying.
At the time, Dixie Outfitters had 35 employees. There are 20 now, but that doesn’t mean business has fallen off.
“We try to keep up with technology,” he said. “We’ve become more efficient.
“We’re just grateful we can provide a place for our family and other people to work and make a living.”
He could probably be making a better living this week if could fill requests for Confederate flags.
“We’ve never sold flags,” he said, smiling. “I wish I had a bunch of them right now.”