Hundreds let out rebel yells as the 15-by-15 foot Confederate flag was hoisted up a 50-foot pole in Chester, Va. — about 10 miles south of Richmond. Participants claimed the flag-raising ceremony was a message of heritage, not hate.
For one day in central Virginia, the South rose again.
Hundreds gathered in a wooded area alongside I-95 just south of Richmond on Saturday to celebrate the raising of the Confederate battle flag — which many critics view as a symbol of racism and hate.
The crowd cheered with rebel yells and gunfire as the 15-by-15 foot flag was lifted up the 50-foot pole, which can be seen by tens of thousands of motorists along the highway each day.
But Susan Hathaway, a member of the Virginia Flaggers — which purchased the Stars and Bars from the Army of Northern Virginia — said the message was heritage, not hate, to mark the 150th anniversary of the Civil War.
“As sons and daughters of the South, we have inherited a birthright. Ours is a proud heritage,” she told the crowd during the flag-raising ceremony.
“We are descendants of Confederates, we are friends of Confederates. …The flag that is being raised today will be a living, breathing memorial to our Confederate dead.” But many locals argued that the unfurled banner is a symbol of slavery and division from the United States.
Opponents gathered nearly 25,000 signatures for an online petition since the Virginia Flaggers announced the controversial ceremony at the beginning of the summer. In protest, an American flag was lifted at a construction site in near City Hall in Richmond — the former capital of the Confederacy — just a couple of hours later.
“Their flag is out of context,” said Brian Cannon, a lawyer who helped organize a social media protest calling for locals to post as many images of the stars and stripes online as possible. “It’s a symbol of divisiveness and for many it’s hateful.”
Cannon argued the city already has several memorials built to honor Confederate soldiers that include statures of Robert E. Lee and Thomas (Stonewall) Jackson along the storied Monument Ave. downtown.
“There’s only one flag that unites and represents all of us in (Richmond, Va.) and that’s the American flag,” Cannon told NBC 12 News. No protesters were spotted at the Confederate flag-raising site, which was cleared of trees just before the event. A large number of police vehicles remained at the scene to avoid any possible confrontations.
James Eaton, who owns the property that the flagpole stands, said he was proud to be part of the sesquicentennial ceremony — which featured a rendition of “Dixie” and water bottles labeled “Dixie Pride.”
“It’s not a black and white thing,” Eaton told NBC 12 News. “It’s strictly for sentimental reasons — remembering the Confederate heritage and our relatives that fought in it.” The flag is banned from city light poles in the western town of Lexington — where Lee and Jackson are buried — after residents complained about the display.
Earlier this year, the Confederate battle flag was hoisted inside the old North Carolina State Capitol to celebrate the anniversary — but it was taken down after an outcry from civil rights leaders.