Southern rebels are sending a message to NCAA officials: The Confederate flag is here to stay, regardless of efforts to eradicate the symbol of southern heritage from public life.
The Associated Press tweeted a video Monday of protesters outside of Greenville, South Carolina’s Bon Secours Wellness Arena as they proudly greeted NCAA fans with Confederate flags for a slate of men’s basketball tournament games over the weekend.
The flags waived from groups of rebellious residents gathered on sidewalks throughout the city, including one very large flag mounted to a pick-up parked atop a parking garage adjacent to the arena, SB Nation reports.
“People tend to mistake this for a race thing. It’s not about race. It’s about history and it being erased. And it is being erased,” an unidentified white man told the news site.
“You have to go and do your own research on it. Once you start to find out and start to see really why we do this, okay? We’re people, too. We have the right to be the people that we are. We’re not out here causing problems. We’ve never caused a problem in how many years? Three? Trucks running in convoy, hundreds and hundreds of people. We’re people, too.”
“I felt like someone had punched me in the gut,” Amy Stromberg, an out-of-town fan tells WYFF about the sight of the flag. “It’s very disturbing what that flag represents and I thought in South Carolina we were past that now.”
“I think it’s very disheartening. I don’t ever want to give it voice and I believe in people protecting their heritage, but I believe in people coming together,” says fan Calvin Whitmire.
Police eventually forced protesters with the large Confederate flag mounted to their pick-up on the parking garage to move the vehicle, citing alleged safety concerns in the event the flag toppled over, the AP reports.
The scene outside the arena over the weekend is the latest chapter in a long saga between state residents and the NCAA over the Confederate flag. The NAACP held a protest march in downtown Greenville in 2002 when the flag flew from the Statehouse during NCAA regionals at the arena.
The NCAA instituted a moratorium on hosting games in the state over the issue that remained in effect until state lawmakers voted to remove the flag in July 2015. The vote came a month after a lunatic racist who liked to pose with the flag on Facebook killed nine black members of a Charleston church.
Hunter Meadows told the AP he made the two-hour trek from Blue Ridge to Greenville to stand up for his ancestors who fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War.
“I didn’t feel it was right when the flag came down” from the statehouse, Meadows said. “We wanted to show the NCAA that we’re still here.”
NCAA vice president of basketball Dan Gavitt told SB Nation officials moved the tournament games from North Carolina to South Carolina in the wake of another controversy – North Carolina’s House Bill 2, which required the public to use public restrooms that correlate to their biological birth gender, rather than “gender identity.”
He said officials want tournament games to be safe and accessible for everyone, though there’s not a lot the NCAA can do about folks who display the Confederate flags on public property.
“No symbols that compromise that commitment will be permitted to be displayed on venue property that the tournament controls,” he said. “Freedom of speech activities on public property in areas surrounding the arena are managed by the city of Greenville and we are supportive of the city’s efforts.”
SB Nation reports police forced some protestors to put away their Confederate flags because the metal poles they used violated Greenville city ordinance.