Confederate flags Summerville

Members of the S.C. Secessionist Party flew Confederate battle flags over the exit 199 overpass on Interstate 26 in April. File/Angie Jackson/Staff

An offshoot of a group that “flagged” Summerville earlier this year by waving Confederate battle flags from an interstate overpass is planning to participate in the town’s Christmas parade.

A group called the Carolina Flaggers announced on their Facebook page earlier this week that their application has been approved to participate in the parade organized by Summerville DREAM.

The loosely organized group was started by some people who want to participate in flaggings but not political issues, said James Bessenger, head of the S.C. Secessionist Party and a member of the Flaggers. He said the Secessionists first applied to march in the parade but were turned down because the parade does not accept groups with political affiliations.

“It was a relatively last-minute decision,” he said.

According to DREAM’s website, the deadline to apply is Friday, but an online link to the registration form said it was unavailable Thursday. The parade is scheduled for 2 p.m. Dec. 10.

The group’s participation has been met with mixed reviews.

“I don’t want my friends of color to have to fight something that they’re sick of fighting,” said Tricia Fisher of Summerville, who started a post on the Positively Summerville Facebook page that touched off debate. “All I want is just a regular old Christmas parade. It’s just time to stand up and say this is unacceptable.”

Fisher said she plans to organize “a group of peaceful people” to bring “signs that are so big and peaceful and pretty to shield people from seeing” the flag group.

Others who responded to the post on the Facebook page urged spectators to turn their back when the group passes in the procession or defended the group's right to participate under the First Amendment. 

According to the DREAM website, the mission of the parade is to “promote positivity throughout the Town of Summerville while capturing the spirit of the Christmas holiday for all to enjoy. ... We welcome a diversity of ideas while addressing the parade theme.”

"We are aware that there are people who are unhappy with this decision and want to assure them that it was not made lightly," said DREAM Executive Director Michael Lisle. "We believe we have treated this group in a manner consistent with how we have traditionally treated other groups applying for space in the Christmas Parade."

After complaints last year about an entry that included replica weapons and multiple representations of the Confederate flag, this year DREAM asked parade applicants to eliminate replica weapons and display no more than two flags, he said.

Applications were vetted to ensure compliance with the parade theme, rules, and regulations, Lisle said in a statement.

Bessenger said the group planned to hand out Confederate flags along the route, but Lisle said that will not be allowed.

The parade is one of the largest in the state, drawing 3,000 participants and 25,000 spectators, according to DREAM.

Bessenger said this is the only parade the group plans to participate in this year.

It was chosen for “no reason in particular, I suppose,” he said. “It’s local. There’s a lot of people from the area who would enjoy seeing a group like that participate, I believe.”

It had nothing to do with events earlier this year, he said.

The Secessionists targeted Summerville in the spring after some complained that the Sons of Confederate Veterans handed out Confederate flags at the Flowertown Festival.

In the weeks that followed, the group flew battle flags from the Interstate 26 overpass and faced off across Richardson Avenue against a group that protested the flag’s presence, headed by Community Resource Center founder Louis Smith.

Since the spring, the group has also displayed flags at White Point Garden in Charleston every weekend. Members also painted Confederate flags on the Folly Boat several times this summer. 

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Reach Brenda Rindge at 843-937-5713. Follow her on Twitter @brindge.

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