LEXINGTON (WSLS 10) – For more than a decade, Lexington has been a place synonymous with celebrations for Lee-Jackson Day.
Confederate heritage groups like the Virginia Flaggers and the Sons of Confederate Veterans were out in downtown Lexington on Friday waiving their Confederate flags as part of an annual tradition in the downtown area.
“We think it’s very important that their memory be honored for their service to the commonwealth and to their country,” said Virginia Flaggers Founder Susan Hathaway, who drove all the way from Richmond for the event.
She said many others came from greater distances to attend Friday’s event. Some came from as far away as Montana to celebrate.
Traditionally, the parade following Lee-Jackson Day celebrated Confederate heritage, but this year, that’s not the case.
The Community Anti-racism Education Initiative, also known as CARE, reserved the date before the Sons of Confederate Veterans could obtain a permit. The group formed a little more than a year ago to make what it says is a positive change in the community.
Recently the group has held vigils and events in honor of the victims of tragedies at San Bernandino, the Orlando Pulse nightclub shooting and more. Spokesperson Frederick Heard said they want to create a more inclusive community.
He said that’s why they wanted to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. instead of the traditional parade.
“We wanted 2017 to be a year where we could celebrate Dr. King, his legacy, the best of history of the South, rather than being caught in our darkest moments,” Heard said. He said he equates the Lee-Jackson Parade to marches that Martin Luther King Jr. similarly had, where racists flew flags and threw bricks at peaceful marchers in the 1960s.
Brandon Dorsey, a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, is a history buff in Lexington. Before he met with WSLS 10, he was finishing up a historical cemetery tour of the Stonewall Jackson Memorial Cemetery where Jackson is buried. He said he is discouraged that two historical figures, Lee and Jackson are being disregarded because of what he considers to be “misconceptions” about what their fight was about.
“They have the right to have their voices heard, but we don’t feel like they should come in and drown out what we say by deliberately trying to have their parade on top of us,” Dorsey said.
Dorsey is far from alone in his opinion about the change.
“That upset us. It upset people all across the country,” Hathaway said. She continued, saying their Confederate flag waiving was well received in downtown. She also said since the change was made, their group has had an outpouring of calls from people who support remembering Confederate heritage and even have asked for flags to be raised on their property throughout Lexington.
Although she said they had no intention to hold their parade that day, to prove a point, the Virginia Flaggers founder said they reserved their parade for Monday on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, hoping the group would trade.
But CARE refused. Heard says that too many people in the community feel uncomfortable by the Confederate sentiments.
With no agreement reached, the Lee-Jackson Day parade will be held on Sunday at 3 p.m.
When driving downtown, you’ll notice two dueling banners hanging throughout the downtown promoting each parade.
Dorsey pointed out, that in the Stonewall Jackson Memorial Cemetery; you’ll notice that each Confederate soldier is buried with a marker bearing a picture of the Confederate battle flag.
That’s really what this controversy comes down to between the two groups, a difference of opinion of what that symbol stands for, both then and now.
“We can’t surrender that symbol without surrendering the history that goes with it, and surrendering what these men, their representation,” Dorsey said.
That’s the exact history that Heard said he wants to disappear. When asked his opinion of the Confederate viewpoint of preserving “heritage not hate,” he didn’t waste a minute in responding.
“It is a heritage, but one of white supremacy and one of hate that we reject,” Heard said.
Some residents said they look forward to the change. Terry Messerich Riddick moved to Lexington a year ago and is alarmed by the pro-Confederate sentiment.
Just as the weekend divides the two holidays, the area remains divided on the celebrations.
Some say there is worry about a clash between the two events this weekend.
Local police say they’ll have additional staff on hand.
Both groups told WSLS 10 they plan to go about their events separate and in peace.
The Martin Luther King Jr. peace march will be held at 10 a.m. on Saturday morning with events following including speakers throughout the day.