Originally created 07/23/01

Aiken bash celebrates monument



AIKEN - After three rounds of ceremonial rifle fire, a bugle solo and several speeches, a crowd of several hundred whistled Dixie and hollered Sunday in celebration of the city's Confederate monument - a day before its centennial anniversary.

The granite monument was originally unveiled 100 years ago today in honor of Confederate soldiers who hailed from Aiken County. On Sunday, organizers estimated 400 people, the majority of whom were from South Carolina, took part.

Several versions of the Confederate flag filled the intersection of Chesterfield Street and Park Avenue, where the monument stands, and a nearby greenspace where the crowd gathered under trees from the heat. The symbols of the Old South appeared on clothing, signs and - after the rededication - a flagpole next to the monument.

Other locations the group placed flags included on the Aiken County Judicial Center flagpole; on a temporary flagpole in front of the monument; and on the monument itself, near its base.

But the flagpole on the monument is specifically where Aiken City Council told organizers not to fly it.

"Civil disobedience is as American as apple pie," said Lourie Salley, an attorney who represents the Heritage Coalition, which placed the banner atop the city's flagpole. "(Attorney General Charlie Condon) says we have a right to do that. If the city takes it down, we'll sue them."

Earlier this month, City Council voted down a request from the Sons of Confederate Veterans to fly three versions of the flag on city property.

The SCV, which was the host of Sunday's event, asked to fly the Confederate battle flag and the Confederacy's First and Third National flags. The request stated the flags would be flown from noon Sunday until sundown today. The host group was not responsible for placing the flag atop the Judicial Center flagpole.

"If they had gone ahead and approved the thing, this would have been nothing," said Cliff Tennant, an SCV member. "When they made it an issue, it took on a life of its own."

Heritage groups protested city council's decision in front of the Aiken Municipal Building last week. Protesters walked up and down the sidewalk waving Confederate flags.

Mr. Condon weighed in last week, saying in a written statement that local governments might not be the only authority that governs land on which monuments stand. In this case, it could apply to heritage groups that have a vested interest in the monuments and maintain them, he said.

"Part of why we're here is to support SCV and part of why we're here is to say to the city of Aiken and all other South Carolina government that you cannot infringe upon our guaranteed liberties of freedom of association and freedom of speech," said Jay Mowery, the chairman of the South Carolina League of the South.

A petition to fly the flag on city property was signed by many who lingered. Afterward, the petition was given to an Aiken police officer who was monitoring the event.

The city had not taken the flag down as of early Sunday night.

Events leading up to the rededication ran smoothly. Organizers honored the United Daughters of the Confederacy, including 91-year-old Ola Hitt, whose grandfather read the benediction at the monument's 1901 unveiling.

Pets, parasols and motor vehicles all sported variations of the Union Jack symbol as those in attendance spoke casually of their disappointment in current government leadership.

A crew from ABC News, in town to collect background on Aiken's Character First initiative, interviewed several people from among the crowd.

Reach Josh Gelinas at (803)279-6895.