Kiley Mangum has Confederate flag shirts and a Confederate flag beach towel. Her boyfriend has a Confederate flag on his truck.
“It’s just a normal thing for us out here,” said Mangum, 25, one of the organizers of a pro Confederate flag rally planned for 2 to 4 p.m. Saturday at Hillsborough Town Hall, 101 E. Orange St.
Mangum said she expects at least 1,000 people at the rally, which will start as a Southern Heritage Ride out of Burlington at 11 a.m. before ending up in the Orange County seat.
As of Tuesday, the rally’s Facebook page, “Orange County Taking Back Orange County,” had 750 likes and 263 people going to the rally.
“This is a page to grow and support our rights as SOUTHERNERS!” it says. “Let’s take a stand yall!”
Saturday’s rally follows a July 18 rally in nearby Graham where about 1,500 people demonstrated to support a statue that shows a Confederate soldier. The group Alamance County Taking Back Alamance County organized it after another group announced it would ask the county to remove the statue because it represented slavery, The Burlington Times-News reported.
Mangum doesn’t see the flag as representing slavery.
“Really we want to spread the message the Confederate flag is not about hatred and racism,” she said. “This is getting out of hand.”
“It’s my heritage as well,” said Mangum, who grew up in Durham and lives in Hillsborough. “I’m from the South. I’m from North Carolina. We all consider it part of our heritage.”
That heritage, however, has come under fire before and especially since the killing of nine people in a Charleston church. Photos of the shooter, Dylann Roof, 21, posing with the Confederate flag, or more specifically the Army of Northern Virginia battle flag, surfaced soon after the shootings.
Local and state NAACP leaders and others will hold their own rally at 11 a.m. Thursday in Hillsborough outside the Old Orange County Courthouse to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of 1965 Voting Rights Act
The group plans to “frame the discussion around the Confederate flag and take a stand against racist lies about Southern history then and now,” according to a release. State NAACP President The Rev. Dr. William J. Barber and author Tim B. Tyson, NAACP state conference educational chair, are among those slated to speak.
“A lot of North Carolinians don’t understand Southern history,” said Lucy Lewis, one of the participants, said Wednesday. “A lot of the flags and monuments were resurrected when white supremacy was on the rise again.”
North Carolina just passed legislation protecting Confederate monuments on public property, when states like South Carolina are taking steps in the opposite direction, Lewis said. “The actions of the General Assembly and Governor McCrory are basically giving the green light to Confederate flag wavers,” she said.
Black and white
Surveys have found sharp differences in how blacks and whites view the flag.
A CNN/ORC poll of 1,017 adults conducted June 26-28, a week and a half after the Charleston shootings, found 57 percent of people see the Confederate flag as a symbol of Southern pride and 33 percent see it as a symbol of racism.
Among whites, 66 percent equated the flag with Southern pride, 25 percent with racism. Three percent said both.
Among blacks, 17 percent equated it with Southern pride, while 72 percent said racism. Seven percent said both.
A UNC expert on Southern culture said it’s only relatively recently that the flag has been taken up as a symbol of Southern heritage.
“This flag did not represent heritage when it flew over Chickamauga, when it flew over Antietam,” said William Ferris, senior associate director of the Center for the Study of the American South. “It was (representing) blood being lost over the issue of slavery.”
He likened it to Nazis’ swastika, which the German government now prohibits displaying in public.
“People have a right to protest, but history is not on their side,” Ferris said. “Blacks are just as Southern and just as American as whites. All of us should be concerned and sensitive to that. The American flag is the flag under which we live.”
Bikefest same day
Hillsborough Mayor Tom Stevens said he is concerned Saturday’s rally will take place the same day as the Carolina Tarwheels Bicycle Club’s 2015 Bikefest, which will bring 850 cyclists to the town of about 6,300 people earlier in the day.
“We want the public to be safe,” Stevens said. “We want to accommodate people who want to do things in our town like the Tarwheels.”
The Hillsborough police, with 27 sworn officers, will have help with traffic, parking and security Saturday from the Orange County Sheriff’s Office and State Highway Patrol.
“We are asking counterprotesters to stay away from the rally if at all possible,” said police spokesman Lt. Davis Trimmer.
Mangum said the flag supporters don’t plan to engage with opponents.
“If somebody walks up yelling we’re not going to do anything about it,” she said. “Everybody has free speech.”
“We don’t want any conflict,” she added. “We want to hold an educational rally.”
Rally route and parking
Participants of the Southern Heritage Ride will enter town from U.S. 70 and take Revere Road to Corbin Street. The Hillsborough Police Department will coordinate the parking for ride participants as they arrive.
Parking at Town Hall, 101 E. Orange St., will be limited to emergency management vehicles and vehicles with an appropriate handicap parking permit.
Citizens attending only the rally are encouraged to use the town’s other public parking options in the downtown and to walk to the Town Hall campus.
After the event, ride participants will leave town traveling south on Churton Street through the downtown district.