Orange County

Hundreds rally in Hillsborough for Confederate symbols

Hillsborough was abloom in Confederate flags on Saturday afternoon as hundreds rallied at town hall to show support for keeping the stars and bars and other Civil War monuments displayed in public spaces.

Children sported rebel caps, parents donned Confederate T-shirts, and a few were decked out in full Confederate battle regalia. They eee-yowed the rebel yell on cue and intoned Dixie in unison, proclaiming that Southern culture and their way of life are in dire peril. They organized through social media to stage the 2-hour rally and vowed to continue making public demonstrations.

“They’re gonna keep defacing our monuments,” Gary Williamson, a speaker from Snow Camp, told a cheering crowd. “They’re gonna race as fast as they can to erase us off the face of the Earth.”

Across the street, a smaller group of several dozen said they represented a more authentic Southern heritage. They pounded on 5-gallon buckets, held up signs declaring “Black Lives Matter” and denounced racism.

Their organizer, Craig Perrin, said his group spoke for the bygone patriots who resisted secession and supported the Union. Perrin, who moved here from California 11 years ago, said he felt compelled to stage a counter-rally to let the supporters of Confederate symbols know their views weren’t welcome.

“They represent a lie about the South,” Perrin said. “That lie served the purpose of white supremacy.”

Though police planned for a crowd of 1,500, only about 600 turned out on a mild, sunny afternoon as police officers and sheriff’s deputies kept watch over the crowd. Hillsborough Police Chief Duane Hampton, his voice crackling over police radio, assured his officers the situation was under tight control.

“All we have is a noise contest going on on two sides of the street,” Hampton announced about two hours into the rally.

Occasionally, a few Confederate supporters braved hostile stares, crossed the street and ambled into the opponents’ camp.

One rhetorical showdown involved retired contractor Timothy Blyston of Broadway and a member of the Sons of the Confederate Veterans organization who said he has “hundreds of black friends.” He asserted that the Civil War wasn’t fought over slavery and repeated a slogan visible on many signs: “It’s not hate, it’s heritage. And all lives matter.”

Donning a forward-tilting rebel cap, Blystone approached Russell Bassett, a retired credit manager from Cedar Grove. As their voices rose and their faces drew closer, another protester gently guided them apart.

“My great-grandparents were slaves,” Bassett said afterward. “I wouldn’t be an [expletive] and bring my Union outfit. But he’s gonna bring that [rebel cap] and put it in my face?”

Charleston killings

The Confederate advocates said they are alarmed by the mood sweeping through the nation to remove Southern symbols, particularly the Confederate battle flag, in the wake of the murders of nine African-American parishioners at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown Charleston, South Carolina. That state removed the battle flag from its Capitol grounds last month.

The participants also said they are concerned about a move in Hillsborough to remove the words “Confederate Monument” from the Orange County Historical Museum here.

One of the main speakers at the rally was H.K. Edgerton, a former president of the Asheville chapter of the NAACP who now denounces Abraham Lincoln and “Yankee carpetbaggers” and lends his full-throated support to the cause of Confederate heritage.

“The only people who ever cared for black folks is the Christian white folk from the Southern states of America,” Edgerton boomed, eliciting waves of cheers and applause.

Waving a Confederate flag, Edgerton dismissed the NAACP as the “foremost hate organization in the country today.” He said Black History Month is really “Beat Up on the White Folks of the South Month.” More cheers and applause.

“I’m naked without my flag,” Edgerton thundered into his microphone. “I have marched thousands of miles carrying this flag and I’ll tell you most of the black folks I met are proud of it.”

After his fiery performance, Edgerton was engulfed by a sea of supporters offering pats on the back, handshakes and hugs.

John Murawski: 919-829-8932, @johnmurawski