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Rebel Yell: Dixie Days Are Here

A new chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans says it’s having a difficult time getting its message across. So much so that it’s pinning publicity hopes on a former Valentine Richmond History Center board member and a former NAACP director. Grayson Jennings, founder of the Edmund Ruffin Fire Eaters Camp No. 3,000 of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, says the group wants to oust Waite Rawls, executive director of the Museum of the Confederacy, and in his place install Allen Mead Ferguson. Ferguson had been slated to become chairman of the Valentine Richmond History Center in July. Style reported May 10 that he was proud to fly a Confederate flag outside his home, to the dismay of some people who considered it a conflict with the Valentine’s mission. Ferguson resigned from the board later that day.Whether he wanted to or not, Ferguson gained fans in Southern heritage boosters such as Jennings, who call Ferguson’s actions heroic and who covet his fund-raising skills. (Ferguson, former chief executive of Craigie Inc., raised $5 million for the Valentine in 18 months.) Ferguson was out of town and could not be reached by press time.

Meantime, Grayson is gearing up for his friend H.K. Edgerton’s public debut during the Third Annual Dixie Days celebration June 10 and 11 at Hanover County’s Pole Green Park.

Edgerton, an African-American, is an unlikely rebel-rouser. A native and resident of Asheville, N.C., he served as that city’s head of the NAACP before ditching the group to embrace his Southern roots. He’s taken up the Confederate flag and befriended its fans.

In doing so Edgerton’s become something of a spectacle, traveling from town to town trumpeting what he calls personal freedoms — and what others call signs of oppression. He’s slated to appear this week on Fox News’ Hannity & Colmes talk show.

Being a black civil-rights proponent and a Confederate sympathizer aren’t mutually exclusive, Edgerton says: “Me being black, there are plenty of issues on the table — the likelihood of being poor, dropping out of school, dealing drugs, getting locked up. But my social mobility has got nothing to do with the Confederate flag or the South.”

Jennings hopes Edgerton’s cachet and candor will draw crowds at Dixie Days. Last year, in the wake of an angry parent’s widely publicized protest, Hanover County officials decided against co-sponsoring future events, rife with Civil War re-enactments and Confederate displays. Jennings says county officials asked him to change the name of the celebration but he refused, threatening them with a lawsuit.

Earlier this year Jennings ran into a snag with Lamar Advertising when the Sons of Confederate Veterans wanted a billboard near Richmond International Raceway welcoming NASCAR fans, reading: “Victory is great; honor is greater.”

Lamar turned down that request, says Claude Dorsey, the company’s sales manager. Instead, it OK’d a billboard bearing only the group’s name and phone number. Jennings says such responses encroach on freedom of speech and expression. “They did that gay stuff and abortion stuff,” Jennings says of other billboard campaigns he considers narrowly focused, “while we were welcoming everybody.”