Originally created 08/20/00

Rebel flags fly above highway



AIKEN - Friday began early for Bill Vanderhoff, out before dawn digging holes behind the Jefferson Davis Highway marker on U.S. Highway 1 between Lexington and West Columbia - one of hundreds of markers along the route named for the president of the Confederate States of America.

The Red Bank man - recently fired over a Confederate flag sticker on his lunch pail - had a job interview coming up in a few hours. After that, in the heat of the day, he dug three more holes in hard clay by Red Bank Creek, where a marker notes an 1865 skirmish between North and South.

Blistered hands bandaged by late afternoon, he helped a group of men, most in red shirts like his, pour concrete into the holes he'd dug, level flag poles and raise three flags - the Stars and Bars, the last national flag of the Confederacy and a battle flag.

On the Jefferson Davis Highway, amid rush-hour traffic, some drivers honked and cheered.

By the marker, 2-year-old Jacob Hampton Salley let out a rebel yell. The gathering of two dozen recited the 23rd Psalm as a prayer and sang Dixie while two men in wool Rebel uniforms despite the heat, stood at attention. Clinton Parnell of Lexington and Kenneth Bickley of Red Bank, members of the 7th South Carolina Infantry Re-enactors, both said they'd "seen it hotter."

Then the caravan wound along country roads to Red Bank Creek, where they raised more flags and from there to Salley's Revolutionary War monument to patriot ancestors who routed Tories in 1782.

The group raised a replica of the flag South Carolina flew at Fort Moultrie. Under it they placed the Stars and Bars to honor Civil War Capt. Dempsey Salley, to whom the monument was dedicated when erected.

The Red Shirts ride again.

They say they are taking back South Carolina's heritage like Civil War Gen. Wade Hampton's Red Shirts took control of state government after 13 years of punishing Reconstruction more than a century ago. One member of the Red Shirt brigade calls it the "Law of Unintended Consequences."

The Red Shirts are gleefully using a provision in the law that lowered the flag they love from South Carolina's capitol to raise hundreds more at sites the law protects.

After taking down some of the banners - only to see them replaced - and facing possible legal action over the removal of others, the South Carolina Department of Transportation now says that, acting on legal advice, it will leave the flags alone unless they are a traffic hazard.

That's good news to Tony Carr of North Augusta, who started the project under the auspices of his organization, the Heritage Preservation Association, and watched it spread. In late July, half a dozen men put up flags at Jeff Davis markers in Aiken County. Friday's group reached 27 at its peak from a radius of 150 miles or more.

"Our goal is to beautify and maintain every historic monument on public property in South Carolina," Mr. Carr said. "Do you know how many Confederate monuments there are in South Carolina?"

A 580-page book published by the state Department of Archives and History lists them all.

A dozen markers still stand in South Carolina along the asphalt ribbon named for Jefferson Davis. Four of them now also have a trio of 15-foot flagpoles, set in concrete with rebar to make them difficult to remove. The Red Shirts erected a fifth set in Ridge Spring across from Ridge Spring-Monetta High School, but those flags were removed after Principal Bill Ward complained to Jim Feda, District 1 engineering administrator for the DOT.

"Mr. Ward said he was concerned about the flags being there right across from the school, and school was starting in a few days," Mr. Feda said. "The school has 75 percent minority students, and he wasn't sure how they would react. He also said he thought the flags might be a traffic hazard because they were so close to the blinking light.

"It's not as if we were out on a witch hunt, and we are not singling out any particular flag," Mr. Feda said.

Mr. Ward confirmed that the flags were there for three weeks, and "now they are gone." He said he had talked to the DOT but would not say whether he called them or they called him.

Either way, the DOT is moving cautiously as the flags spring up.

Lexington attorney Lourie A. Salley III - Jacob's father - notified the DOT in early August that he and the Southern Legal Resource Center had been retained by the association, a charitable corporation chartered forpreservation of cultural symbols and monuments honoring Confederate and Revolutionary War heroes.

Mr. Salley's letter to Elizabeth Mabry, executive director of the DOT, said the flags were clearly not hazards by the DOT's own standards, and the association's "actions to beautify and maintain existing monuments are both within the spirit and the letter of the law."

Mr. Salley said the DOT policy appeared to be discriminatory, because U.S. flags had long been allowed on Revolutionary monuments on highway rights of way.

In a similar tiff with Georgia highway officials over removal of a trio of flags in Blythe, Ga., the association contends that putting Jeff Davis' banners along the highway named for him is no different from placing former President Dwight D. Eisenhower's "colors" along the interstate highway system that honors him. U.S. Highway 1 crosses the country to California and goes into Canada.

Georgia's DOT said the flags came down because nobody got permission to put them up.

Jay Mowery, who heads the League of the South in South Carolina, put in this way:

"Being good Confederates, we are not into the permission-asking business. We are into action. So we acted."

Mr. Mowery was in the group that placed flags at four locations in Aiken County in late July. It was a heady day, he said, and "I've got to tell you, those flags looked good."

But the day after they were put up, those at Clearwater and Midland Valley, on highway right of way near Midland Valley Country Club, were gone.

Anthony W. Fallaw, resident maintenance engineer at Aiken, confirmed that the DOT removed them once after someone he wouldn't name complained.

Mr. Carr found the missing flags at a Beech Island maintenance office and retrieved them. The group put them back up.

Langley Republican Rep. Roland Smith wrote Ms. Mabry asking for an explanation about the flags' removal. She apologized in a letter and said the DOT would remove only those flags that seemed to pose a hazard.

Twice after that the flags were taken down. Aiken County Sheriff's Office is investigating a witness's report that someone took the flags and drove off with them in a golf cart.

Reach Margaret N. O'Shea at (803) 279-6895 or scbureau@augustachronicle.com.