For the first time in at least 15 years, a parade through downtown Lexington that features Confederate flags and a celebration of Lee-Jackson Day will be marching to a different beat.
An anti-racism group has obtained a parade permit for Jan. 14 — taking the date and route that traditionally has been claimed by a local Sons of Confederate Veterans chapter.
“We wanted to send a different message,” said Lyndon Sayers, one of the organizers of the Citizens Anti-Racism Education Initiative.
The newly formed organization was granted permission last week by the Lexington City Council to march from 10 a.m. to noon on the Saturday that falls between two state holidays, Lee-Jackson Day on Friday and Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Monday.
Since the turn of the century, the Stonewall Brigade Camp of the Sons of Confederate Veterans has been granted a permit for its Lee-Jackson parade on that day, usually after filing an application several months in advance. In a deliberate effort to be first in line, Sayers’ organization sought a permit last spring.
“I think it was kind of underhanded the way they slipped it in like that,” said W.B. “Doc” Wilmore, a Sons of Confederate Veterans member who usually handles bookings for the group’s Lee-Jackson Day events.
Wilmore said Wednesday that he has yet to submit an application for next year’s parade. The group now plans to hold its Lee-Jackson parade on the following Saturday, Jan. 21, he said.
The anti-racism group, also known as CARE, was formed earlier this year to protest the distribution of Ku Klux Klan leaflets in some Lexington neighborhoods. Other rallies followed, including a vigil held after the mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, and an observance one year after the church shootings in Charleston, South Carolina.
For its latest cause, CARE set out to displace a parade that many Lexington residents find oppressive, Sayers said.
While a format for the new parade is still under consideration, Sayers said it will honor Martin Luther King Jr. and “the spirt of peace, anti-racism and full inclusion” that the civil rights leader championed.
“Everyone is welcome to come and say: “these are our values as a city and as the surrounding community,” he said.
But what if members of the Confederate group showed up to join the parade, as some suggested at last week’s city council meeting?
“We’re not out to exclude individuals,” Sayers said. “But I can’t see us welcoming Confederate flags or symbols or slogans that would be a symbol of hate, really.”
The two camps are likely to remain miles apart, if recent comments are any indication.
Wilmore said he was “perturbed” by a movement that seems set on stigmatizing any effort to honor the Confederate heritage of the city and those with ancestors who fought for the South.
“The politically correct people are taking over Lexington,” Wilmore said. “It’s ridiculous. It really is.”
In addition to the Civil War-themed parade, the group’s Lee-Jackson weekend includes graveside memorial ceremonies, educational seminars and a ball. “They’re just trying to antagonize us,” with accusations of celebrating racism, Wilmore said.
“It breaks my heart.”
In a city where Southern heroes Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson once lived, and where the two Civil War generals are buried, the cause for which they fought remains a flashpoint for controversy.
In 2011, after hearing complaints about Confederate flags being flown from street light poles on Lee-Jackson Day, the city council passed an ordinance that allowed only the U.S., Virginia and city flags to be hung from the government-owned fixtures. A lawsuit by the Sons of Confederate Veterans, challenging the law on free-speech grounds, was unsuccessful.
Then, the local university that bears Lee’s name decided to remove replicas of Confederate flags from the chapel where he is buried. And when that decision prompted rancor and internet threats, Washington and Lee officials denied the Confederate group use of the chapel for last year’s Lee-Jackson celebrations.
When it comes to parades, however, decisions by the city council are content-neutral, City Attorney Larry Mann said.
“A parade is a classic example of First Amendment rights,” Mann said. “There’s not much the city can say about what people might carry.”
Now, it seems that people will be carrying rainbow flags of diversity and the Stars and Bars of the Confederacy — depending on which January weekend it happens to be in Lexington.
From Southern Wire NewsOriginal Story