Confederate Biker Convention Exposes Community Divide Over Rebel Flags, Symbols

By BOB PALMER, Jimplecute News Editor
and MICA WILHITE, Publisher

Editor’s Note: Several Jeffersonians, both past and present, allowed us to use their names in this story. However, the majority would only speak on condition of anonymity.

Sons of the Confederate Veterans were given permission to fly the Confederate flag and their Mechanized Cavalry flag in front of the Inn of Jefferson on US 59 in Jefferson this past weekend.

JEFFERSON – Members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans Mechanized Cavalry gathered in Jefferson for their 22nd annual national meeting initially under the radar, but with flags flying, last week.

However, some almost immediately encountered a problem.

After checking into the Executive Inn on Tuesday, SCV members displayed Confederate flags outside the hotel, Elvin Stanley, Fourth Sergeant of the Kerrville Camp, related.

On Wednesday morning, they found a flag had been removed. “An employee had taken them down,” Stanley said. “She let us know that we were not welcome there. So, everybody checked out.”

Manager Mikir Bhakta refunded their money and apologized. Attempts by the Jimplecute to interview the employee who removed the flags have not been successful. Inn of Jefferson owner Amar Patel quickly welcomed the SCV members, allowing them to fly flags from the poles in front of the hotel and drape flags over outside railings.

Since the Wednesday morning confrontation, the SCV encountered plenty of Southern hospitality in Jefferson. “Everyone has been wonderful,” SCV member Craig Stone said. “We appreciate the City of Jefferson allowing us to use this facility (the Travel Center).”

Warm Welcome

In a town that survives on tourism and markets Southern charm and history, the response to the visit by the Mechanized Cavalry was rapid and welcoming. Mayor Charles “Bubba” Haggard responded with, “This is great. I went down today to thank them for coming.”

“The City of Jefferson has no authority to limit who visits our city,” Colleen Taylor, Tourism Committee chair, said. “They chose Jefferson and called to rent the building. There were no streets to be closed, no vendors on premises, no programs to be presented to others outside their group; in short, it was a private rental, not an event.”

Taylor believes happy visitors will bring more visitors.“We believe any positive presentation by all involved goes a long way to promote the many reasons to visit here,” Taylor said. Many residents agreed.

“They represent a part of our history and shouldn’t bother anyone. I have seen them around town and all of them seemed like good people,” Hollis Shadden said. “They are far less threatening than many of the other motorcycle groups that come to town. We have Civil War battles and symposiums on a regular basis.”

“I, for one, had no concerns about (SCV) being in town,” Wayne Grubbs said. “My neighborhood was its normal quiet self. It’s no different than Mardi Gras.” “Business has been very good,” Kirk Bradley, Brookshire’s Store Director, said. “We were well above sales projections, yesterday, and so far today [Saturday]. Most feel that this is only history while some feel uncomfortable.”

The SCV “were very respectful and pleasant to interact with. They bought items for their wives. I think if the public had been made aware of their club’s history, I think people would not be as opposed to the Confederate flags,” a retailer commented.

History and Racism

Visitors this weekend gave a Confederate flag to Big Foot.

Other members of the community and friends of Jefferson, both black and white, saw the flaunting of the “Stars and Bars” as representing something ugly.

“This is ridiculous. Having your group here is one thing, but why do you have to have your flags displayed everywhere?” said another Jeffersonian who was adamant she wanted to stay anonymous.

“The history of that Confederate flag means different things to different people. To me the history of that Confederate flag represents the oppression, murder, lynching and racism my best friend’s family has had to endure,” Mary Humphrey said.

“I was in Jefferson and noticed all the flags flying and had to ask, ‘Did Jefferson just host a Klan rally?’” another area native commented.

Another native Jeffersonian, was driving south on US 59 Saturday morning and noticed Confederate flags draped over hotel balconies. “I know we are a historic town, but this felt different.

“I wondered why this group felt so comfortable, so welcome to drape their Confederate flags on the balconies of our hotel? US 59 is a heavily traveled highway, and I am ashamed to think of what people passing through must think of our town.

“When everyone in this town feels like they matter, we will not have to host groups that represent the worse part of our history and our town. We should not sacrifice the soul of our town for a small boost in the local economy.”

“Long-term, lasting economic growth begins with inclusion.” David Golden, retired U.S. Army veteran and business executive said, “I support free speech, but we are also free to disagree with someone’s speech. Especially when that speech is hate-filled or represents or supports oppression.

“Marion County is a diverse community and we should embrace and celebrate our diversity. People wearing symbols of hate should be less welcome in our community than people who actually live here. But that is not the way it is now. Racism and bigotry needs to be a historic footnote that represents the worst of our country.”

Soldiers or Veterans

“I also understand that in the 1950s Congress passed a law recognizing all who fought on both sides of the civil war as American Veterans,” remarked Shadden. Based on their comments, some Jefferson residents assumed SCV members were veterans themselves like the American Legion’s Patriot Guard.

Membership in the SCV, “is open to all male descendants of any veteran who served honorably in the Confederate armed forces,” according to the SCV web site.

According to the Congressional Research Service, a Library of Congress Agency that researches historical precedents for lawmakers, “If your only service was in the Confederate Army/Navy, you are not considered a veteran under Federal law.”

However, Confederate soldiers’ graves (Public Law 810, 1829) and widows (Public Law 85-425, 1958) are afforded the same treatment as U.S. veterans.

Future Annual Meetings

The SCV Mechanized Cavalry ended their annual meeting Saturday morning with a General Meeting and Saturday night with a performance by the PineKnotz Band from Louisiana.

“It sounds like they take a trip together every year and this year chose Jefferson,” commented another Jeffersonian. Some Jeffersonians wonder if the SCV will return to Historic Jefferson for another annual meeting.

“The Tourism Bureau does not recruit specific visitors to our city but, on the other hand, the City of Jefferson has no authority to limit who visits our city. The City rents their Tourism and Convention Center by having an application completed and paying a deposit and rental fee, but cannot limit those who use the facility by reasons of religion, race or creed,” Taylor said.

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