Noticeably absent from this year’s Flowertown Festival was the H.L. Hunley display, which drew fire from a local group claiming racism issues, as well as its connection to the local chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
The H.L. Hunley Camp No. 143 chapter of the SCV, which featured several large Confederate flags, was set up on private property in front of John Couch Tax Service on Main Street. Members of the chapter were providing information about the organization as well as passing out flags to passing visitors.
Flying the Confederate flag has become more controversial since July 2015, when a flag that had flown over the South Carolina statehouse grounds for 54 years was removed in response to protests claiming it was a symbol of hate and racism.
Gary Lukridge, chief executive officer of the Flowertown Family YMCA, which runs the annual festival, said the exhibit wasn’t part of the festival this year because organizers did not turn in an application.
But the leader of the local SCV chapter said he thought festival organizers bowed to pressure from the local black community, which threatened to protest if the Hunley submarine exhibit participated this year.
The replica submarine has traditionally been located in the middle of the street in the first block of the festival adjacent to the H.L. Hunley Camp 143 tent, requiring it to have a permit.
“We’ve had the Hunley here the last six years,” said Ben Bunting, commander of the local SCV chapter. “We have never been approached about having a permit.”
Bunting said the submarine display actually arrived in Summerville as usual prior to the festival but was turned away because it lacked the permit required by all vendors.
“By all appearances what went on this (festival) year appears to be collusion in my opinion…to satisfy a problem with a community organizer,” Bunting said.
Louis Smith, founder of the Community Resource Center, which works to promote opportunities for the black community, appeared to confirm that claim.
“If that exhibit had been approved, we were going to protest by putting black people in chains,” Smith said Sunday at the festival. Smith said the display was a tool to spread hate toward the black community and could not believe that it was allowed at a family event.
Lukridge confirmed that he spoke to Smith “a couple of weeks” before the festival and relayed the information that the Hunley exhibit would not be coming. After learning that the exhibit would be barred from the festival, Smith celebrated the news on his Facebook page.
“This is an amazing win for the minority citizens in the Low Country,” Smith stated on March 11. “We have sunk the Hunley! My ancestors are dancing in their graves and singing glory hallelujah!”
On Sunday he said he felt the display of Confederate flags should not be allowed.
“After the shooting at Mother Emanuel, it’s just too soon,” Smith said referencing the June 17, 2015 slaying of nine people at Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston.
Although the Hunley exhibit was absent, members of the SCV continued with their demonstration and provided information about their organization, which assists families looking for information about relatives who may fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War.
“The citizen-soldiers who fought for the Confederacy personified the best qualities of America,” states the organization’s website.
Bunting said the local SCV chapter holds military funeral services for new graves of confederate soldiers that are found – even those belonging to African-Americans.
“It’s a shame,” Bunting said. “We are not here because ‘the South is going to rise again;’ we’re not para-military; we’re not white supremacists. …We are not a radical group. We’re sympathetic and empathetic to all….issues. We don’t want any problems.”
The H.L. Hunley Traveling Exhibit visits schools festivals and other public events regularly throughout the U.S. to tell the story of the first submarine used as military vessel to sink an enemy ship.
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