A second North Carolina town has canceled its Christmas parade over concerns about possible protests by ‘extremists’ on both sides of the debate about waving the Confederate flag.
Leaders in Wake Forest had said last week that the town’s parade would go on and include the Sons & Daughters of the Confederacy despite a planned demonstration.
The Sons & Daughters of the Confederacy are an organization made up of people who say they are descendants of soldiers who fought in the Confederacy during the American Civil War.
On its Facebook page, the group calls itself a ‘historical, patriotic, and non-political organization dedicated to ensuring that a true history of the 1861-1865 period is preserved.’
The town initially supported the group’s right to march in the parade, saying that past Christmas events included its members who participated without incident.
‘For over two decades, the Sons & Daughters of the Confederacy has participated peacefully and without incident in the parade,’ the town said in a statement on its Facebook page last week.
‘The group’s entry traditionally features participants in period costumes and a banner that includes an image of the Confederate flag.
‘Make no mistake about it – the Town of Wake Forest is extremely sensitive to the emotion the confederate flag stirs among those on both sides of this issue.
‘We recognize that for some the flag represents racism, hatred and bigotry, while others see it as a representation of Southern heritage protected as a matter of freedom of speech/freedom of expression.’
But the town’s decision to hold the parade changed once police learned that the number of expected protesters had grown from 10 to 200 people, Police Chief Jeff Leonard said in a statement released Wednesday.
Wake Forest said that chatter on social media indicating that there were a ‘growing numbers of outside groups’ who planned to demonstrate against the pro-Confederacy organization.
The entire parade has now been canceled for safety reasons. This would have been the 72nd year of the parade, news outlets reported.
‘We aren’t happy telling kids they can’t attend or participate in this year’s parade – but it’s better than trying to explain to a parent whose child was injured despite so many warning signs,’ the chief said.
Wake Forest Mayor Vivian Jones released a video message saying she’s ‘angry, disappointed and heartbroken’ that the event has been canceled.
She says it’s not the most popular decision, but it’s the safest decision.
‘Based on information we have received in recent days, this year’s event has the potential to be one marked not by marching bands and Santa Claus but instead by protests between clashing groups from outside Wake Forest, with innocent bystanders caught in the middle,’ Jones said.
‘It is due to these concerns that I support the decision of the Wake Forest Downtown Board of Directors to deny these outside agitators the opportunity to use Wake Forest to spread hate and incite violence.’
The town of Garner also canceled its Christmas parade this year over fears that a float sponsored by the Sons of Confederate Veterans would be ‘targeted for disruption.’
North Carolina officials were worried about one particular organization, Move Silent Sam.
The group was named after a campaign to remove a statue of a Confederate soldier from the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
On Thursday, the group organized a demonstration that numbered some 200 students and faculty on campus.
They were protesting a decision by the UNC administration to give $2.5million to the NC Sons of Confederate Veterans.
The group would receive the statue of the Confederate soldier as well as money to build a facility that would preserve it.
In August of last year, protesters on campus toppled the statue, which was displayed on the Chapel Hill campus.
Students and police clashed during the protests, leading to arrests.
Another North Carolina town is still reeling from tense protests last month after the removal of a Confederate statue.
Local officials in Pittsboro took down a Confederate monument that had been on display in front of the Chatham County Courthouse for 112 years.
The monument is a statue of a Confederate soldier.
In recent months, several Confederate statues have been taken down from public squares and parks across the country.
The calls to take down the monuments increased in earnest after the events in Charlottesville, Virginia, in the summer of 2017.
A ‘Unite The Right’ rally saw white supremacists marching on Charlottesville to protest the removal of Confederate war monuments across the South.
The August 12, 2017, rally ended in the death of Heather Heyer, 32, who was run down by in a car driven by white nationalist, Alex Fields Jr, 20.
Heyer was a counter-protester, expressing her opposition to Unite The Right, when Fields Jr. sped his car through the street, killing her and injuring 28 others.
Last December, he was found guilty of first degree murder and nine other counts, including hate crimes. He was sentenced to life in prison, plus 419 years.
He pleaded guilty to 29 federal crimes in order to avoid the death penalty.
SOURCE: Daily Mail, Ariel Zilber; The Associated Press