Dozens protest Civil War reenactors who carried a Confederate flag in a southern Maine parade
In New Gloucester, Maine, several hundred people turned out for the annual Memorial Day parade to honor soldiers who gave their lives in service to the country.
But part of the observance involved several Civil War reenactors, including two wearing Confederate uniforms and carrying a Confederate national flag.
They were met by a group of local residents who say the symbol of hate has no place in the celebration or in their small town.
In between the national anthem, the pledge of allegiance and the playing of taps, Civil War reenactors fired two volleys from their muskets, one for the Confederate and one for the Union side.
For years, the New Gloucester parade has included Civil War reenactors with representation from the Confederate Army. But members of the group "New Gloucester United Against Racism" point out that Maine was a firmly abolitionist state with a high percentage of Union soldier volunteers. And they say the Confederate flag, as a symbol of white supremacy, is disrespectful and out of place.
The Confederate national flag includes a circle of white stars against a blue background, which is a different design from the red battle flag more commonly associated with the Confederacy.
"We're out here to support people of color in the New Gloucester community who don't feel welcomed by having a hate symbol in the Memorial Day Parade," says Cam Dufty, one of the group's founders.
Dufty added, "We're out here to support soldiers who died on the Union side and are being dishonored by the inclusion of this flag and these reenactors and we're out here just to show that there is no place for racism in New Gloucester in general."
About three dozen members of the group peacefully assembled along the parade route holding up anti-racism signs.
More than a hundred other residents have expressed support through an email list and Facebook group. And Laura Fralich says many signed onto a letter asking the local AMVETS parade organizers to stop including the reenactors and their divisive symbol.
"We started reaching out to them a couple of years ago and they did not really have much of a response...and so then we reached out again this year and we have really gotten no response," said Fralich.
But while the local AMVETS chapter may not have issued a formal response, guest speaker Karen Gilles of the New Gloucester Republican Party did take up the issue in remarks prepared by Republican State Rep. Amy Arata, who could not attend.
"Many of us feel pain, revulsion or bewilderment when we see a Confederate flag. It's bewildering that so many people were willing to suffer and die for an unjust cause," Gilles said.
Gilles then went on to explain that Civil War reenactors should have a place at the event because of what they can teach about history.
"We should be grateful for the time of reflection and that these actors provide for us even if it makes us uncomfortable," Gilles said.
For their part, the three reenactors say they agree that the point of their involvement is about preserving history and recognizing all veterans. They say they accepted an invitation to appear from the local AMVETS chapter despite some local residents' objections.
"My name is Tom Boyd. I'm from South Portland. They have their rights and we have our rights. Nothing else more," Boyd said.
But Sasha Nyary of New Gloucester United Against Racism rejects any rationale that legitimizes the Confederacy. She says there is something more to consider.
"They say they're honoring veterans of all kinds, but we don't have a Nazi contingent here. We don't have a Japanese contingent. We don't have representatives of ISIS. These are all combatants against the US, United States of America. And I believe in patriots," she said.
Nyary and other members of her group say the only place for Confederate flags is in museums and history book where there's ample room for discussion and context. And they say they're hopeful that because so few Confederate reenactors showed up this year, both their letters and their presence at the Memorial Day event have made their position clear.
A call to the local AMVETS chapter seeking comment for this story was not returned by airtime.