Protesters who are picketing a Rock Hill convention of the South Carolina Sons of Confederate Veterans this weekend say they see the Confederate flag as an “emblem of division and fear.”
Around 35 protesters held signs, marched and chanted slogans Friday to oppose the SCV, which gathered for an annual convention at York Technical College’s Baxter M. Hood Center on Anderson Road. A second wave of protests is planned 8 a.m.-4 p.m. March 18, the protesters said.
Members with the Rock Hill and Western York County branches of the NAACP say they’re not protesting the SCV’s right to free speech. But they are protesting the Confederate flag, which the SCV uses as its symbol.
York Tech announced earlier this week that it was closing its campus to ensure its students’ safety.
“Our message is combating their message,” said Dorene Boular, president of the Rock Hill NAACP. “For us, this is about standing together in unity, black and white. From this, we grow stronger, and work for the same purposes.”
York Tech officials said in October they would honor a leasing agreement allowing the convention on campus, but pledged to minimize its presence and vowed no Confederate flags or similar symbols would be visible on campus.
Leland Summers, commander of the South Carolina Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, said his group agreed with those terms, and members are keeping their flags inside the Baxter Hood Center.
According to the SCV website, membership is open to all male descendants of any veteran who served honorably in the Confederate armed forces.
“This is my family,” said Summers, who said he is a descendent of seven Confederate veterans. “I’m proud of my family.”
Appearance of endorsement
Melanie Jones, vice president for college advancement at York Tech, told The Herald in October that the SCV has a legitimate right to lease space for the convention. Other groups, such as the NAACP and political candidates, have previously leased space at the Baxter Hood Center, college officials said.
However, the protesters say they believe the flag is offensive and hurtful. Some believe that holding the event at a public, tax-supported college like York Tech invites the appearance of an endorsement.
Jones told The Herald: “We are aware of their emblem as potentially controversial, but we are apolitical.”
Lesslie resident and Air Force veteran Tom Hawk called the SCV emblem “a racist symbol.”
“That’s not what I served for,” Hawk said. “People need to resist against that. It’s not American.”
Dr. Jacques Days, a member of the Rock Hill NAACP, denounced the flag as a symbol of division. He said the flag was “raised high” in the aftermath of the Civil War as well as during the civil rights era of the 1950s and 1960s.
“If everybody’s not prospering,” Days said, “all of us have fallen short of united happiness.”
A historical honor society
Summers said his group is a historical honor society which has as much right to meet as the NAACP does to protest.
He said he does not understand how the flag could “strike fear” in anyone, and he sees the flag merely as a memorial banner to those who fought for the South in the Civil War.
He said the group has met for several years in many different South Carolina cities, most recently in Charleston. Summers said a small executive council met Friday afternoon, and was to host a reception Friday night.
There are likely to be around 150-175 members at York Tech this weekend, according to Summers, who said the state SCV has 3,000 members.
“Why they’d want to protest against us is against sense,” Summers said. “The Confederate battle flag represents thousands of South Carolinians throughout this state. York Tech has been very cooperative with us, been very friendly with us. We have no intentions of putting a flag outside. All our flags will be inside.”
Maintaining a fair border
Protesters and Rock Hill police all say they came to an agreement with York Tech that protesters would be allowed to organize and march at the college’s parking lot off Anderson Road.
Members with the Rock Hill and Western York County NAACP chapters received approval from the South Carolina Department of Transportation to use Anderson Road for their protests, according to Rock Hill police spokesperson Cpt. Mark Bollinger.
However, the parties decided the parking lot was the best choice for all citizens, and kept a fair border between the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the protesters.
Summers said meetings between Confederate flag supporters and the anti-flag protesters would not come from his group.
He said there have been instances of such incidents at previous SCV events, though he says none of them turned violent.
“We’ve reached out to (the local NAACP chapters) more than once,” said Summers. “They’re exhibiting their First Amendment right, just the same as we are. We’d never show up at one of their rallies and protest. That’s not what we do.”