A 20-foot by 30-foot Confederate flag sponsored by the Sons of Confederate Veterans was raised Saturday just off Interstate 40 in Burke County.
The flag is on private property leased by the Sons of Confederate Veterans just off Exit 94 on Jamestown Road, said Smitty Smith, the commander of the C.F. Connor Camp.
The C.F. Connor Camp is based in Newton but is part of the Blue Ridge Brigade of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, which sponsored the flag, Smith said.
Smith said the flag was raised in honor of Nathan Bedford Forrest. A statue of Forrest, who was a Confederate Army general and Ku Klux Klan leader, was removed from a park in Memphis in December.
“The Sons of Confederate Veterans are determined that every time they take down monuments and attack our heritage, we are going to put up flags,” Smith said.
The flag raised in Burke County has the center star missing because Forrest flew his flag that way to let people know he was on the battlefield and that the end was near. The tactic was used to strike fear in opponents, Smith said.
“But all we want to do, just like Robert E. Lee said, is to be left alone,” he said. “We don’t go out here and tear down Martin Luther King statues. I think Martin Luther King was a great man.”
Smith also said the flag is not racist and that the Civil War was not about slavery. Instead, it was about unfair taxing, he said.
“They’re ignorant people,” Smith said about people who think the flag symbolizes racism. “Study the history of it. The only thing that makes that flag racist is ignorance. People do not know the history of the Confederacy.”
The county does not have zoning regulations that keep people from erecting flags unless it is a form of advertising, something for sale, profit or business, according to an email sent from Deputy Burke County Manager Scott Carpenter to Pete Minter, the senior planner with the Community Development Department.
But people in downtown Morganton on Monday had mixed opinions about the flag.
“I think it’s disrespectful to the American Flag because if you think about the Confederate flag in the Civil War, (it represented), from my understanding, and act of terrorism,” Kaheem Picket said.
Others, like Stephanie Comfort, said the flag shouldn’t be a problem for people who understand the history behind it.
“The focus (of the Civil War) was money, but, unfortunately, it was infused with the ugliness of prejudiceness,” she said. “I understand American history, so it wouldn’t be offensive to me. But I think it will put Morganton on the map and it would go viral.”
The flag also has gotten attention from multiple drivers, who blew their horns as they passed the flag Monday.
“People blow their horn when they go by,” Smith said. “You know why. It’s not because they hate it.”
The Sons of Confederate Veterans also held an event this weekend in downtown Morganton, during which blank rounds were fired. Capt. Jason Whisnant of the Morganton Department of Public Safety said the group had a permit that included the use of blanks and weapons.
Ryan Wilusz is a staff writer and can be reached at email@example.com or at 828-432-8941.