New group raises concerns, backlash for Christmas Parade

Concerns over Christmas parade

The Carolina Flaggers' announcement on Facebook.

The Kwanzaa float could potentially pull out of the upcoming Summerville Christmas Parade in response to the Carolina Flaggers participating in the parade this year.

Activist Louis Smith, founder of the Community Resource Center, said the Center’s Kwanzaa float is about “love and unity” and that he feels “very uncomfortable” with the group being in the parade, but the decision to pull out of the parade will be up to the center's board which, he said, would meet Thursday evening.

The Carolina Flaggers announced it would be participating in the parade via Facebook Nov. 27. A screenshot of the post was shared on the Positively Summerville Facebook group’s page and has garnered a lot of negative responses.

Tricia Cannon-Fisher, one of those who commented, said she is "severely anti-racism" and anti-Confederate flag, and said she is considering bringing signs promoting peace and community and walking alongside anybody in the parade who is waving the Confederate flag or using any replica weapons.

Cannon-Fisher said the situation has gotten out of hand.

"I don't know why these people choose to be so offensive," she said, adding, "There's no respect there. ...It's very sad."

James Bessenger, spokesman for the Flaggers who is also chairman of the South Carolina Secessionist Party, said the Flaggers are a newly-formed entity separate from the Secessionist Party and defined it as a group of people “who want to defend southern heritage, but don’t want to be involved politically.”

Bessenger said his understanding is the Flaggers will have one Confederate battle flag on the float, along with other flags.

Bessenger said he thinks Smith “is doing anything and everything he can to try to get some attention and some credibility” after losing in the recent town council race.

Michael Lisle, executive director of Summerville DREAM, said via e-mail the Sons of Confederate Veterans will also be in the parade.

Smith and Confederate flag proponents have clashed over the past year. In April, Smith called on the town to intervene after the Sons of Confederate Veterans handed out Confederate flags during the Flowertown Festival. Members of the S.C. Secessionist Party then came to Summerville to fly the Confederate flag. A May town council meeting attended by Smith and his supporters and the Secessionist Party turned rowdy and included a controversial public comments session centered on alleged racism, gavel banging, shouts of protest and police escorts out of the room.

The annual Christmas Parade is organized by Summerville DREAM. This year's event is Dec. 10.

Smith said his group is not protesting the parade at this time but will contemplate pulling its float and possibly addressing Summerville DREAM early next week.

Smith called it a “slap in the face” and said he thinks Summerville DREAM is trying to prove a point.

“Obviously they want to start a race war,” he said. Smith also questioned DREAM’s guidelines for the parade.

Lisle confirmed via e-mail Thursday that the Carolina Flaggers will be in the parade.

A follow up e-mail stated Summerville DREAM has never utilized a list of guidelines to qualify for parade participation; DREAM does include a list of terms and conditions that entrants must agree to, but Lisle said those relate primarily to safety and day-of-event concerns.

As part of the application process, applicants are asked to describe what their entry will look like, how it will address the parade theme – this year’s parade theme is “Rockin’ around the Christmas tree” – and the number of walkers/riders. If the information is unclear or insufficient, Lisle said DREAM contacts them to gather more information.

“We have never, to my knowledge, excluded an applicant from participating in the parade,” he wrote.

DREAM released a statement on the Carolina Flaggers issue Thursday afternoon, saying DREAM asked all 2017 parade applicants representing Southern heritage organizations to eliminate replica weapons and display no more than two Confederate flags in their entries.

The statement read applications for the parade are "carefully vetted" to ensure compliance with the theme, rules and regulations. 

"Based on this vetting, we are allowing the group to participate in the 2017 Christmas Parade," the statement read. "We are also aware that, subsequent to its approval to participate, the group has suggested that they will hand out flags along the parade route. We want to make clear that such activity will not be allowed. As with all participants, their entry will be visually vetted on the parade date to ensure that it remains in compliance."

Pulling the Kwanzaa float, Bessenger said, is not going to affect the Flaggers.

“That doesn’t help him (Smith) and it doesn’t hurt us,” he said.