By Roger McCredie -
On an October afternoon in 2001 a black man carrying a nylon Confederate battle flag mounted on a brass curtain rod left the Vance monument on Pack Square and began walking west, down College Street, up past Pritchard Park and on out Patton Avenue. His goal lay one thousand six hundred and three miles away at the Texas Supreme Court building in Austin Texas. He made it.
The man was H. K. Edgerton, former President of the Asheville branch of the NAACP turned Southern heritage activist; gadfly to some, crackpot or curiosity to many and an unmitigated hero to a quite a few others.
The immediate purpose of his odyssey was to protest then-Gov. George W. Bush’s middle-of-the-night removal from the Texas Supreme Court Building’s lobby of two small bronze plaques alluding to Texas’ role in the Confederacy. But Edgerton’s larger purpose was twofold. One was to use the plaques incident to call attention to the nationwide ethnic cleansing of Confederate history. The other, which became his mantra, was to emphasize the love and loyalty that existed between Southern blacks and whites, even within the context of slavery, and the fact that blacks voluntarily played a vital part in the Confederate war effort and deserve recognition for it.
Now, on the tenth anniversary of his original sojourn, he’s preparing to do it all again because, he says, “We are in the middle of the hundred and fiftieth anniversary observance of the War Between the States and it is nothing but one big propaganda tirade against the Southland of America. The official party line is that the whole cause of the war was slavery and it either covers up or distorts the whole great story of how these two races really lived side by side. So I’m gonna tell the truth the way I did ten years ago, all the way across the South, one step at a time”
On his original march Edgerton averaged twenty miles a day, hiking five days a week and resting on weekends. That was then. He is 63 years old now, and a decade can make a lot of difference to hips and knees and feet, and Edgerton admits that at first he entertained the idea of doing a “token” commemorative march – maybe a day’s worth on each end of the original route – but then he decided that would be a cop-out. And so, on October 15, accompanied as before by a support caravan and joined along the way by sponsors and well wishers, many of them recruited as co-marchers, he will set out not just to mark the occasion of the original trek, but to replicate it.
The first March Across Dixie led to a spate of mini-marches across the South, as Edgerton was invited to bring his message to the scenes of numerous “heritage violations” – the destruction of Confederate monuments, the proposed renaming of buildings and streets named for Confederate heroes, and the banning of Confederate flags from venues ranging from football games to NASCAR events to holiday parades. Southern heritage groups welcomed him with open arms; revisionist historians and the politically correct came to despise him and launched an ongoing national campaign to discredit him. The Southern Poverty Law Center, self described racism “watchdog,” called him “the darling of the white supremacist wing of the ‘heritage’ movement,.” and local SPLC acolyte Monroe Gilmour called him “a pathetic soul who’s searching for love and has found it with white supremacists.” (Both remarks referenced Edgerton’s association with the Southern Legal Resource Center, whose chief trial counsel, Kirk Lyons, has long been targeted by the SPLC for his successful court representation of a former Ku Klux Klan officer in the 1980’s.)
Nor have attacks on Edgerton been strictly verbal. He has been physically assaulted, spat on and at, and says he has lost count of the death threats he has received. Nearly all the actual abuse has come from infuriated blacks. So, too, have a goodly percentage of the acts of spontaneous hospitality and generosity that have greeted him along his various lines of march – hot food, cold drinks, invitations to stay the night and donations, small but many, including one little girl’s solemn presentation of the contents of her piggy bank.
These days, between speaking engagements, Edgerton blogs on his website, www.southernheritage 411.com. He also has a habit of appearing – uniformed and carrying his flag – at various historical observances and political gatherings, where he hovers on the perimeter like an unbidden, admonishing ghost, seemingly to remind those present that the black and the white South have a congruent history and association beyond that depicted in “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” or “The Help.”
As for the Texas Plaques Case, which was the engine that drove Edgerton’s first March Across Dixie, it has spent the past ten years being a political football. Almost as soon as the plaques – each about the size of a doctor’s shingle – had been removed and replaced with more “inclusive” ones citing equal justice for all Texans, the Sons of Confederate Veterans sued to have them returned. The back-and-forth continued until 2010, when the Texas Third District Court of Appeals ruled that no laws had been broken by replacing the old plaques, but that governmental procedures, including approval of the Texas State Historical Commission, had been bypassed The Court ordered the state to pay attorneys’ fees.
This past January the Texas SCV received preliminary approval to erect a brand-new marker on the Supreme Court building grounds emphasizing the use of Confederate pension funds in its construction. In May, however, the Historical Commission intervened, saying state law now prohibits the installation of any new markers on the Capitol campus, and there the matter has rested. Texas Southern heritage groups are hoping that if the issue is still in deadlock by that time, Edgerton’s arrival in early 2013 will help to jump-start the resolution process.
Meanwhile, Edgerton, a decade older and mindful of the physical as well as the political obstacles he faces, is preparing himself for his “second coming.” “This march is about spreading the truth,” he says, “and you know there are a lot of folks out there who aren’t comfortable with the truth, or who have agendas that the truth gets in the way of.
“I bad need some new walking shoes,” he says, “but good ones cost money. If anybody wants to help, they can go to Southern Heritage 411’s website [above], and God bless them.”