In Florida, a 'Confederate Memorial Park' is inaugurated with an appeal to black Americans and fairy tales about the Civil War
Hillsborough County, Fla. — Nineteenth-century scenes of Dixie met contemporary pop culture at the opening of a park near Tampa that's now home to the world's largest known Confederate flag. Women in hoop skirts boogied to Lynyrd Skynyrd's unapologetic ode to Southern pride, "Sweet Home Alabama." Grey-uniformed reenactors fired cannons as men in biker attire looked on. Families joined in singing "Dixie" while others — already decked out in Confederate flag-adorned accessories — shopped for more at a Dixie Outfitters booth.
So went the April 25 dedication of Confederate Memorial Park, where the main event was the hoisting of a Confederate flag just off Martin Luther King Boulevard. At 2,100 square feet, the flag is nearly as large as the average American home and visible to travelers on two interstates. It's also the third Confederate flag erected by the Florida Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) as part of its "Flags Across Florida" project.
"This is not our last site," John W. Adams, a leader of the Florida SCV, told the crowd of several hundred. "We're going to be putting these up like toothpicks across the state of Florida."
Adams had previously distinguished himself in the world of neo-Confederate activism by signing up an Intelligence Report writer for an array of interracial and other Internet porn in 2003. Adams, who subsequently lost two leadership posts in the SCV, was upset about the Report's coverage of an internal rift as moderates fought racial extremists for control of the 113-year-old SCV.
This time around, however, Adams seemed to be with the racial moderates.
SCV member Marion Lambert, who bought the land for the SCV park site, presented a plaque honoring black Confederates to Nelson Winbush, one of the SCV's rare African-American members. (H.K. Edgerton, a black neo-Confederate who has spoken at past SCV events, was struck from the program after Florida SCV leaders spotted a photo of him with an "Obama battle flag.") "Thirty percent of you should not be white," Lambert told spectators. "You should be of color."
Yet most blacks would likely be troubled by the SCVers' version of the Civil War. According to several speakers, it was about states' rights, not slavery.
"None other than Karl Marx was the first person who championed the idea that the Confederate flag was the flag of slavery," proclaimed Walter Donald Kennedy, co-author of The South was Right! Not only that, he said, but Abraham Lincoln had something in common with Adolf Hitler: They both loved big government.
Other speakers included Dan Gonzales, chairman of the far-right Constitution Party of Florida, who complained that undocumented immigrants are overrunning America. He also noted that his Democratic and Republican counterparts hadn't made an appearance.
A mainstream group that did show up was the Boy Scouts. The mothers of Troop 120 held a bake sale to raise money to send Scouts to camp. For sale alongside sno-cones and chocolate chip cookies were gingerbread cookies frosted to look like Confederate flags.
At another booth, a talk radio show host in a rebel baseball cap interviewed attendees, from the quirky (a father and son from Akron, Ohio, who were both named Robert E. Lee) to the radical (Adrian Krieg of Bradenton, Fla., a prominent member of the neo-secessionist League of the South).
The host also spoke to a 9-year-old girl and her grandmother, Wendy Boyette. Boyette said she and her husband, Dan, of the North Carolina SCV, had been teaching the girl about the Confederacy for years. "If you say 'the Civil War' in front of her, she'll say, 'No, it's the War Between the States,'" she said.
The SCV has spent over $110,000 on the still unfinished park and has big plans for the future. According to the dedication program, items slated for completion include Web cameras "that will let all view the flag and park 24/7 over the Internet."