Southern heritage group's admittance in Summerville Christmas parade causing controversy

SUMMERVILLE, SC (WCSC) - A Southern heritage group which displays the Confederate Flag will participate in the Summerville Christmas Parade despite backlash from people in the community.

The Carolina Flaggers were approved by Summerville DREAM, the non-profit that organizes the parade, after a careful vetting process.

"We were careful to vet them, just as we would any other organization who wants to be part of the parade," said Michael Lisle, Executive Director for Summerville DREAM. "During that vetting process, there was no legal basis to reject their application or exclude them from the parade."

According to the non-profit's website, the parade's mission is to "promote positivity throughout the Town of Summerville while capturing the spirit of the Christmas holiday for all to enjoy."

Lisle added it is also meant to represent the local history and traditions of the town and state.

Originally the South Carolina Secessionist Party applied to take part in the parade.

"As a political party we denied their admission," Lisle said. "Roughly a week later we received the application from The Carolina Flaggers."

However, Summerville DREAM's approval has created some controversy on social media platforms.

Several community members posted their thoughts in a post made in a closed Summerville group Facebook page.

"What do the citizens of Summerville think about this?" Tricia Fisher wrote. "I will attend and protest or I just won't attend. This is disgusting and NEEDS to stop."

"I was appalled," Fisher said Friday. "I find that they have no place in a Christmas parade. I don't know what about the Confederacy says much about Christmas."

"We are aware that there are people who are unhappy with this decision and want to assure them that it was not made lightly," Lisle wrote in a statement. "We believe we have treated this group in a manner consistent with how we have traditionally treated other groups applying for space in the Christmas Parade."

"They have their rights too," said Samuel Williams, of Summerville. "They have civil rights to, to do what they want to do. I'm against what they stand for, but I'm okay, I'm fine with it. It doesn't bother me none."

In addition to The Carolina Flaggers, Lisle said the Sons of Confederate Veterans is another Southern heritage group which was approved to be in the parade.

"We've asked these organizations to eliminate replica weapons and displays no more than two Confederate flags on their entries," Lisle said.

Distribution of flags is also not allowed during the parade, however, candy is permitted.

The discussion of replica weapons came in January after the 2016 Christmas parade. Lisle said he met with Louis Smith, director of the Community Resource Center, in order to find a solution.

With the recent controversy, Facebook posts show Smith was thinking about removing his float from the parade, however, posted late Thursday night his organization would not be protesting the parade or pulling its Kwanzaa float.

Lisle says there was no legal basis to deny the application for the parade, however they did limit a few things to the float for these Southern heritage groups.

More than 100 floats will travel down South Main Street December 10, and while organizers are focused on keeping the crowd safe, parade goers have their ideas of how they'll deal with The Carolina Flaggers.

"Many people said they will not attend," Fisher said. "Many people said I will attend, but I will turn my back when they come by… I myself will carry the biggest sign I can find and cover them up as much as I possibly can."

"Just ignore them," Williams said. "I witnessed a Klan march in downtown Charleston back in the 90s, twice. It is what it is, ya know?"

"This is really about celebrating Christmas," Lisle said. "It's not about marketing your organization or trying to convey a certain message outside than Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays."

While the parade lineup is not finalized just yet, parade organizers are focused on keeping the peace between the different groups, including some that have voiced concerns about the Southern heritage groups.

"We have separated those groups to the degree we can," Lisle said.

A spokesperson for The Carolina Flaggers released a statement following the tension of their approval in the parade:

"Regarding the recent backlash over the participation of The Carolina Flaggers in the Summerville Christmas Parade, the negative rhetoric could not be more ridiculous. Cultural representations in parades are nothing new or profound. Cultures from all over the world are represented in parades across the nation every year. The Confederate Battle Flag and other Confederate symbols are not only sacred emblems of our beloved Confederate ancestors, but are a hallmark card of the Southern culture and history that draws millions to the low country every year. While we understand that Confederate symbols are offensive to some, they are an irreplaceable part of our history and culture and will never be removed from the hearts and minds of true Southerners, regardless of the number of protests, hollow threats, or liberal temper tantrums. On behalf of the Carolina Flaggers I would like to wish everyone in Summerville and the greater Charleston area a very Merry Christmas."

The Summerville Christmas Parade is one of the largest parades in the state, drawing between 20,000 and 25,000 each year.

The parade scheduled for Sunday, Dec. 10 at 2 p.m. has more than 100 float entries, along with a waitlist of more organizations.

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