Neo-Confederate ‘History Saturday’ at 127th ‘Soldiers Reunion’ in Newton, N.C.

H.K. Edgerton at “Hickory Saturday” in Newton. Image Credit: Observer News Enterprise
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
 — George Santayana

The “oldest remaining militia rally in North Carolina” began in 1889 as a way to honor the Lost Cause of the Confederacy, but over the years it has essentially evolved into a European street festival due to the influence of German Palatine immigrants to the Catawba River Valley. That’s according to Gary Freeze, the official historian for Catawba County, who spoke at the library in Claremont, North Carolina last week.

One year after the mass shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown Charleston, South Carolina, the local chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans decided to kick this year’s events off with a neo-Confederate “history” lesson “focusing on the role of minorities in the Confederate army and addressing…misconceptions about the Confederacy” (Hickory Daily Record) — and lot’s of Confederate flags.

The “educational” event was held in the historic 1924 courthouse in downtown Newton, N.C. Now home to the Catawba County Museum of History, the courthouse is owned by the town and county and includes a large Confederate war memorial on its grounds. The 127th Old Soldiers Reunion also included the parade (as usual), a softball tournament, a fish fry, horseshoe and cornhole tournaments, and gospel, country, and beach music nights.

I haven’t attended the events in a few years, but I marched in the parade with my high school band during the 1970s. And I don’t recall the Confederate flag ever being a big part of the events. Before this year’s festival the Catawba County Museum of History posted photos from previous years on their Facebook page, and I have yet to see a Confederate flag in any of their images— including ones from the late 1890s, the early 1900s, the 1920s, 1949, 1952, and 1956.

Back in the “good old days” of my own youth, the confederate flag was seldom seen unless accompanied by a hood. Today it is seen all too often flying locally over a minority of my neighbors lawns, on the back of pickup trucks, and even atop some trees.

Flying the Confederate flag in downtown Conover, NC

The “Virginia Flaggers” recently raised “one of the largest confederate flags in the country” (30-by-50 feet) in Danville, Virginia, and the South Carolina Secessionist Party has launched “Operation Retaliation” to raise money to put Confederate flags on private property in South Carolina. In North Carolina, a group in Alamance County is raising funds to line Interstate 40 with Confederate flags. “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

According to a recent report by the Southern Poverty Law Center “at least 1,500 symbols of the Confederacy can be found in public spaces across the country, mostly in the Deep South,” and “most were put in place during the early decades of Jim Crow or in reaction to the civil rights movement.” Whether you call it the Confederate flag, the Second Confederate Navy Jack, the Battle Flag of Northern Virginia, the “rebel flag”, “Dixie flag”, or “Southern cross”, this history cannot be ignored any more than can the flag’s roots in the Lost Cause to defend slavery.

Flying flags in Lincolnton, NC

Among those who still call it the “War of Southern Independence” (or perhaps the “War of North Aggression” or the “The Late Unpleasantness”), the Civil War was not fought primarily over slavery and African Americans willingly and patriotically participated in large numbers. This is the “heritage” they want us to “remember” in the wake of the murder of nine African Americans in downtown Charleston last year.

After some local African American residents expressed concerns about displaying the Confederate flag at the Old Soldier's Reunion, a “compromise” was reached in which the local chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans were allowed to hold their neo-Confederate “educational” event at the old Courthouse in downtown Newton. One of the featured speakers was the black neo-Confederate H.K. Edgerton who threatened to sue a city councilman in Asheville in 2009 over his lack of belief in God. For reference, here’s what the organizers of “History Saturday” have to say about the origins of the Ku Klux Klan in their article on how its members received “unfair treatment at the hands of Federal authorities”:

“The Ku Klux Klan…was designed in an effort to combat Northern secret organizations in the South, to ‘put the Negro in his place,’ to regain control of government, and to protect Southern womanhood.”
 — Catawba Sons of Confederate Veterans

This backlash to the removal of the Confederate flag from public and private places has also helped fuel the political rise of Donald Trump. In fact, according to the Post & Courier in Charleston, the “seeds of Trump’s populist uprising, and his eventual victory over his mainstream Republican rivals, are embedded in many of the more than 10,000 emails received by [S.C. Governor] Haley’s office” in response to the debate over the flag in Charleston last year.

While the display of the Confederate flag itself may stir up racist attitudes among whites and propagate itself in the form of thousands of micro-aggressive racist acts, it is also still used by extremists to brainwash poor, uneducated white Americans. We should all remember that history. But the organizers of “History Saturday” would do well to remember these words from “The Conquered Banner” by Abram Joseph Ryan, the “Poet-Priest of the Confederacy.”

Furl that banner…
Touch it not — unfold it never…
Local cemetery where my German Palatine immigrant ancestors buried their family and slaves in the Catawba Valley.