Drenching rains may have put a damper on much of the Hanover Tomato Festival last weekend, but children were grabbing Confederate flags like hotcakes.
As many as six Southern heritage groups, taking advantage of the national wave of controversy over Confederate flags and memorials, were out in force July 11 at Pole Green Park.
They also made a big show in Dinwiddie County, where about 145 vehicles bearing Confederate battle flags motored in a convoy to Chester to show their defense of such icons.
“I think we are wrongly being persecuted,” Frannie Kellison says, sitting under a tent to keep dry at the tomato festival. She’s a member of the Virginia State Society of the Order of the Confederate Rose, a heritage support group named after Rose O’Neal Greenhow, a Confederate spy who died in 1864.
The Sons of Confederate Veterans fielded three separate vending slots. One was next to Dixie Outfitters, a retail outlet that was busy stamping Confederate flag images onto T-shirts. “If this flag offends you,” one says, “it has made my day.”
Over at the stand for the Army of Northern Virginia Mechanized Cavalry Stonewall 1st Brigade, Willie Earl Wells III holds the fort. He’s dressed in a gray, military-style jumpsuit and sports a .357-caliber Glock semi-automatic pistol in a hip holster. “A lot of our members have motorcycles and that’s why we’re mechanized,” he says.
Robert N. Barnette, head of the Hanover County chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, raised concern about the Confederate flag’s presence. “This symbol of hatred and intolerance does not belong in our public spaces, or on government property,” Barnette said in a statement.
When asked about the groups and the presence of the flags, several people of color at the festival had no comment.
Les Updike, a spokesman for the Sons of Confederate Veterans, says that the recent outcry over such emblems “has been ginned up by the news media.”
He noted that his group is due in federal court in Danville on July 31 to fight Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s decision to remove the flag from specialty license plates bought by his group. “The governor doesn’t have the authority to do that,” Updike says.
The push back is likely to gather steam this week. Updike notes that some 900 Sons of Confederate Veterans are due at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Richmond -Midlothian starting July 15 for a national conference.