HILLSBOROUGH, N.C. (WNCN) – The small town of Hillsborough is preparing to deal with two major events Friday as a Confederate flag rally will be held in the town as well as the Bikefest event.
People in town are worried about the rally for a couple of different reasons. They are worried about the impact it will have on traffic and also concerned about the emotions it might end up generating.
Doug Hall, who will attend the rally, said, “It’s about our heritage — our Southern heritage. It’s not about hate. We don’t hate anybody. This is part of our history.”
The rally comes at a time of increasing controversy about symbols of the Confederacy. The man accused of shooting nine blacks in a Charleston, South Carolina, church used Confederate symbols and hoped to spark a race war.
After the shooting, the state of South Carolina took the Confederate battle flag off the Capitol grounds. But the sale of Confederate flags soared in some Southern states, and more than 50 trucks carrying the flag clogged traffic on Highway 70 in Eastern North Carolina in July.
Meanwhile, the question about Confederate monuments has intensified across the South as many, including one at the North Carolina Capitol, have been vandalized.
The display of Confederate flags coming Saturday leads to some worry from people in the town.
“The basis of the Confederate flag gets people wound up,” said William Nichols, who is concerned about the rally. “They see racism on the Confederate flag — and I’m never quite sure what they’re trying to say when they are flying the Confederate battle flag.”
Keith Hardison, the director of State Historic Sites, said context is important when evaluating the use of a Confederate flag. For example, the Confederate armies used a rectangular battle flag.
The only Confederate flags during the Civil War that were rectangular with a red field and the blue “X” were used by the Confederate navy and, later in the war, the Army of Tennessee.
But the rectangular flag became widely used across the South after the 1948 Dixiecrat convention in Birmingham, Alabama. There, South Carolina’s Strom Thurmond led opposition to President Harry S Truman’s efforts toward integration. Hardison said the rectangular Confederate flag may have been adopted at that time because rectangular flags were easier for flag
“Who’s flying it and in what context and for what purpose?” Hardison said of evaluating the flag. “Because while some fly it as a symbol of their Southern heritage or their family connection to Civil War history, we know also there have been those over the years that have flown it for other purposes, such as racial purpose and that sort of thing – resistance to the Civil Rights movement.
“That’s my understanding of why that flag went over the South Carolina Capitol. It was raised a symbol of resistance to the Civil Rights Act. That was the wrong reason to fly that flag.”
Saturday’s rally will be preceded by a procession that will start in Burlington and end up on the north side of Hillsborough, about the time that hundreds of bicyclists are finishing on the south side of town.
“It’ll be a busy day in town,” said Hillsborough Police Chief Duane Hampton. “There will be a lot going on. We think we have a pretty good handle on what we know we’re expecting.”
Hampton’s biggest worry is traffic. He said a previous Confederate flag rally in the nearby town of Graham was peaceful.
“We’re poised to have a good event as far as not being something where people get enraged or upset,” he said.
Some of those coming to Saturday’s rally said they are just trying to make a point.
“The more people you get out there to support it — it shows it’s not all negative and there’s a reason why people are doing it,” said Austin Hall, who plans to attend.
Police said the biggest traffic congestions will be between 2 and 4 p.m.