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Dispute over past isn't black and white

Seems odd that a black man would stand up for the Confederate flag. Baffling, maybe, especially if the man has been a member of the NAACP.

"That's the irony in this whole thing," said H.K. Edgerton, a black Confederate. "Most people have no idea of any other parts of the history."

Edgerton is the guy who marched in gray uniform with a battle flag across Dixie a couple of years ago and to Richmond last year to promote Confederate heritage. He was invited to join the Confederate parade in Fox Hill on Saturday but had another Confederate History Month event. If not, he'd be here in Hampton, proudly waving the flag in the parade from Fox Hill Central United Methodist Church down Beach Road to Clark Cemetery.

The Fox Hill Historical Society event has agitated some folks in the city who see the blue cross and white stars waving and think racism. Some of them will be at the NAACP protest scheduled for tonight at City Hall.

Edgerton is a former president of the NAACP chapter in Asheville, N.C. He fell out with the organization over its 1991 resolution calling the flag an "ugly symbol of idiotic white supremacy."

"It's sad," said Edgerton, who chairs the Southern Legal Resource Center. The nonprofit group defends Confederate symbols. "The local NAACP there has a great opportunity, especially up there in the state of Virginia, with Richmond being the capital of the Confederacy. I can't understand why my people are so easily tricked by these poverty pimps."

Not exactly words to heal by, but Edgerton did address the crux of the issue: How do you celebrate the positives of Southern heritage while being sensitive to those who lived through its negatives? You do it through open, honest - though sometimes harsh - dialogue.

Edgerton promotes blacks who fought for and supported the Confederacy. They defended the land, their families and culture. He said Confederate groups existed to reverse the Northern propaganda that tarnished Southern history. To them, for example, the Civil War was the "war of Northern aggression." It was fought over states' rights, not slavery.

Southern propaganda? Maybe. The word "slave" or "slavery" is mentioned about 10 times in the Confederate Constitution.

Still, Edgerton said, most Confederates aren't in denial about atrocities toward blacks, American Indians and other minority groups before and after the war.

"It's not that they deny it," he said. "It's that they say other people highlight the negative things like it's the norm. It's unjust because the pictures that are painted, they don't depict the whole situation."

Sounds as if we're still fighting the Civil War - ah, I mean "the War Between the States."

Edgerton said life under Old Glory had been far from positive for blacks and other minorities, so why vilify only the Confederate flag - ah, I mean the Cross of St. Andrew?

"The bottom line is this: There were a lot of bad things that happened to both black and white folks," he said. "Black folks and white folks in the south of America - when it comes to the bottom line - we were family."

The late U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina wasn't the only one who had a mixed-race child.

Edgerton insisted that he's no black face for a white cause. Along his marching routes, he's heard whites holler, "We don't need no n-- defending our flag."

"I can't stop and let that deter my efforts to realize Dr. King's dream that the sons of slaves and slave owners would sit down together," he said.

He's met blacks in Texas who were more afraid of losing jobs to illegal immigrants from Mexico than of what the Confederate flag supposedly means.

"They weren't worried about no flag," he said.

As for the NAACP and others in Hampton concerned about the parade, he offers some advice:

"Instead of holding a vigil, they ought to be real smart and walk right over there and embrace them. I think if they did that, you would see a great healing in this country. A lot of people want their black family back."

Sound odd? Maybe not, if it could work both ways.