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Southern Pride Fuels 1,300-Mile march

The South has seen historic marches before, such as Union Gen. William T. Sherman's "March to the Sea" in 1864 and the voting rights march in 1965 from Selma to Montgomery, Ala.

H.K. Edgerton hopes to add a new chapter to that history tomorrow, when he begins his one-man "March Across Dixie for Southern Heritage."

Mr. Edgerton, 55, will be wearing a Confederate uniform and flying the Confederate flag as he marches the 1,300 miles from his hometown of Asheville, N.C., to Austin, Texas, to stir Southern pride and raise money to defend the banner he calls "the Christian Cross of St. Andrew." The journey is expected to take more than three months.

"My march is a march of heritage, not one of hate, to bring an awareness of the pride we feel," said Mr. Edgerton, past president of the Asheville branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). "There are folks who look like me who care a lot about Dixie."

For several years, Mr. Edgerton has been involved in pro-Confederate protests — taking a stand that has brought him criticism from some fellow blacks.

"When you put the Confederate flag in your hand, a lot of emotion is generated," he said in an interview. "I get a lot of verbal abuse, but I get 10-to-1 more love than I get abuse."

Even when he was an officer of the NAACP, Mr. Edgerton said, he did not share the sentiment expressed in a 1991 NAACP resolution that denounced the Confederate flag as an "ugly symbol of idiotic white supremacy" and "an odious blight upon the universe."

"I saw the resolution that came down from the national office about the Confederate flag, but for me, that was never part of my agenda," Mr. Edgerton said. "My NAACP was a fight for social and economic mobility for all people."

He is now chairman of the board of directors of the Southern Legal Resource Center (SLRC), a nonprofit group that specializes in courtroom defenses of Confederate symbols.

"We're basically the ACLU for Confederate heritage," explained SLRC Chief Counsel Kirk Lyons, who said the SLRC has received more than 200 requests for legal help in defending Southern heritage in the past two years. Most of those cases involve students at schools where the Confederate flag has been banned. Most recently, the SLRC settled a case in Madison County, Ky., where a student had been forbidden to wear a Hank Williams Jr. concert T-shirt that depicted the flag.

"There is a depressing similarity to these cases," Mr. Lyons said. "The principal makes a decision to ban Confederate symbols. The board of education circles the wagons around the principal. And so there's no choice left but to sue."

Mr. Edgerton, whose march will raise money for the SLRC, as well as for the Sons of Confederate Veterans Heritage Defense Fund, said too many schools are punishing students for their Southern pride.
"A lot of [children] have found themselves in trouble, either sent home or expelled, for displaying the Confederate symbol, which has come under a great deal of attack here in the Southland," Mr. Edgerton said. "I see a great deal of these cases.

"The sad part is, we've had to turn down a lot of them simply because of finances. Most of these families can't afford an attorney, and we can't afford the cost of taking a lot of these heritage violations to court," he said. Anti-Confederate policies at schools are the result of "political correctness" and "institutional bias in the education establishment," said Mr. Lyons, noting that administrators sometimes ban Confederate T-shirts "even where the black kids have said, 'We have no problem with the shirts.'"

Mr. Edgerton's association with the SLRC began in 1998 when he sought out Mr. Lyons — who had won acquittal for Ku Klux Klan leader Louis Beam in a 1988 federal conspiracy trial — to help stop threatened Klan violence in Asheville. The KKK danger was averted, and Mr. Edgerton then asked Mr. Lyons to represent the Asheville NAACP in a lawsuit over the city's housing policies.

The national NAACP was not pleased by Mr. Edgerton's association with Mr. Lyons — a man denounced as a white supremacist by left-wing groups. In 1999, Mr. Edgerton was ousted from the presidency of the Asheville NAACP.

His subsequent decision to join the SLRC "took a great deal of soul-searching on my part," Mr. Edgerton acknowledges.

"Our history has been lied about so much starting back in 1865, with the Northern propaganda used to try to drive a wedge between black folks and white folks."

He likens such propaganda to the current campaign for reparations to the descendants of slaves: "Reparations is just another lie. I'm not looking for reparations. That's just another way to divide white folks and black folks.

"If you want to ask me about my ancestral roots, I am a Confederate-American," Mr. Edgerton said. "I was born colored, negro, then one day somebody decided to make me African-American. Nobody asked me about that. Africa didn't want me then, and she certainly doesn't want me now."

His "March Across Dixie" will be kicked off today (October 13th, 2002) with a 2 p.m. prayer service in downtown Asheville at the monument to North Carolina's Civil War governor, Zebulon Vance. Tomorrow, he begins his long march through North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana to Texas.

Why Texas? Well, for one thing, it seems a certain former governor of that state offended Southern heritage by removing memorial plaques from the state Supreme Court building, which had been built with Confederate pension funds.

"Tell Mr. Bush when I get to Texas, I'm going to be asking him to return the Confederate plaques to the Supreme Court building," Mr. Edgerton said.