In an effort to deny charges of racism, the neo-Confederate movement produces two black proponents of the neo-Confederate movement.
H.K. Edgerton speaks wistfully of the "sense of family" that bound blacks and whites under slavery. There was great "love between the African who was here in the Southland and his master," he says.
Despite its poor reviews, Edgerton concludes, slavery served as an "institution of learning" for blacks.
Edgerton sounds a lot like other apologists for slavery — many of whom, like him, pledge allegiance to the Confederate battle flag and the movement around it. But he stands out from this crowd in some significant ways.
For starters, he's black.
And Edgerton is also the former president of the Asheville, N.C., branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) — a group that fellow neo-Confederate Arthur Ravenal, a white South Carolina state senator, described this year as the "National Association of Retarded People."
Edgerton sees no contradictions here. In an interview with the Intelligence Report, he insisted that he's doing his part to "correct the lies" when he suggests that "it was better to be an African in the Southland as a slave than to be free in Africa." He's speaking as a "favored son of the South," he said, when he addresses Confederate flag rallies from North Carolina to Georgia to Texas.
In a lily-white movement that most blacks find deeply offensive, Edgerton seems to feel quite at home. And as he dances to the tune of "Dixie" — sometimes quite literally — he helps gives the cause the appearance of legitimacy.
It is a gloss that frequently racist neo-Confederate groups desperately need in order to maintain the idea that theirs is a movement that celebrates "heritage, not hate."
'I Don't Want To Be Black'
Edgerton is almost unique, but not entirely so. The other prominent black figure on the Confederate flag rally circuit is a former militiaman who recently proclaimed: "I am hereby resigning myself from the black race."
J.J. Johnson, once a leading militia figure in Ohio, offers running commentary on the Confederate flag issue in his Internet publication, the Sierra Times.
"I hope some black person is reading this right now and fuming," he writes in one editorial. "If you think the Confederate flag is insulting to you, you are being used, or as we say it in the hood, you bein' played — for a fool."
In "I Don't Want to be Black Anymore," Johnson's most controversial installment to date, he lambastes the NAACP tourism boycott of South Carolina — a measure that helped get the Confederate flag taken down from that state's Capitol building.
For his part, Edgerton manages to remain unfazed when white supremacists show their support at various flag rallies — despite an incident two years ago in which two Klansmen shot up his cousin's house.
"It's highly offensive to me for any member of my family or any member of this community to face that kind of terrorism," Edgerton said after that attack, expressing concern that his relatives might have been targeted because of his position at the NAACP.
But Edgerton still has good things to say about the Klansmen with whom he chatted at a recent flag rally in Stone Mountain, Ga. — the place where the Klan was reborn in the 1920s — although he didn't know then they were Klan members.
"They were willing to shake my hand," he explains.
Well, kind of. At the Stone Mountain event, Edgerton reportedly invited a white woman onto the stage after speaking and gave her a kiss. Not long after, that infamous kiss was being relived on AlaReb, an invitation-only Internet discussion group for neo-Confederates.
"This is what happens when we choose to be inclusionists and integrationists," a woman named Dianne wrote. "If we ask Negroes to support our cause they will expect certain perks, one of which may be the privilege of hugging and kissing the white females in attendance at these events."
"35 years ago, H.K. would not have even thought of such a disgraceful thing," the posting said in a response to Dianne, "for he would have known that the men would not put up with this violation of a Southern White female! He would have never been seen or heard from again."
Klowning as the Klan
Edgerton, meanwhile, sees himself as playing to both sides of the aisle. He considers himself "very much a part of the NAACP," the "same old Edgerton," despite politics that have caused his former colleagues to shun him.
"His elevator doesn't go all the way to the top," Rev. Skip Alston, executive director of the North Carolina NAACP, told a reporter recently. "It doesn't even reach the second floor. We don't recognize anything that he's doing."
Edgerton was suspended from the NAACP in 1998 for non-compliance with the organization's rules after his Asheville branch fell into debt. But even before that, Edgerton had met in a controversial luncheon with Kirk Lyons (see In the Lyons Den), a white supremacist lawyer who has taken to defending the neo-Confederate cause of late.
At the luncheon, Edgerton, Lyons and Lyons associate Neill Payne clowned with napkins set atop their heads that were meant to look like Klan hoods. In that garb, the threesome posed for a photo that appeared in a local newspaper.
Subsequently, Edgerton joined Lyons' organization — the Southern Legal Resource Center (SLRC), which bills itself as defending against "Southern heritage violations" — as the chairman of the SLRC board.
"This is someone who's defended more African-Americans in western North Carolina than any other civil rights attorney," Edgerton says of Lyons. "The man has a Christian, kind heart."
'Free At Last'
Alston remains amazed. In the black community, Alson said in an interview with the Intelligence Report, Edgerton was long seen as "a true activist standing for what is right. I've often wondered what could cause him to do such things."
Both Edgerton and Johnson see the Civil War in unusual ways. To Edgerton, the Yankees displaced his enslaved forbears from "the place of honor and dignity they earned in the South" and "took their gold." To Johnson, "The enemy will not stop until each and every memory of a time when Americans of all races stood against federal tyranny is totally wiped from the face of the earth."
If the Yankee government is the true oppressor for these men, the neo-Confederate movement, in their view, holds the promise of freedom. At an April flag rally in Charleston, S.C., Johnson said he wanted "to see this flag over 49 more state Capitols, because it is a symbol of resistance to federal tyranny."
Edgerton linked his presence at the rally to Martin Luther King Jr.'s "dream that someday the sons of slaves and sons of former slave owners could sit down at the table of brotherhood."
Edgerton often describes his activism as an extension of King's work and the ongoing fight for civil rights. Knowing that few blacks would view King's legacy, civil rights or Southern history as he does, Edgerton seems motivated all the more.
"If every African-American would pick up the Confederate flag," he proclaims, "I would say, 'Free at last, free at last, God almighty, I am free at last.'"