A loosely organized protest of NASCAR’s decision to ban flying the Confederate flag and a smaller counterprotest both went off peacefully Sunday and changed no opinions on either side.
Five people gathered Sunday morning in the parking lot of Ohatchee’s Janney Furnace.
The heat was stifling as they waited for more people to join them.
They disagreed with NASCAR’s recent decision to ban Confederate flags at events and they planned to ride by Talladega Superspeedway with the flags flying from their trucks to show their displeasure.
“They’ve banned the flags of everybody having them there,” said Terry Lovell, of Lincoln, who wore a cap with a Confederate flag on it. “I’ve been taught that it isn’t a racist thing. It’s what people make of it.”
He said he felt NASCAR’s ban was another attempt to suppress Southerners from honoring their heritage.
“They’re taking away our expression of our Southern heritage,” Lovell said. “That’s what I stand behind that flag about.”
James George, who said he lived in a small town but declined to specify where it was, said he used to go to the races in Talladega but hadn’t in a while.
“Since Dale Earnhardt (passed) away, there’s no point. It’s all about money,” he said.
George said NASCAR was also considering banning the national anthem and prayer.
“Honestly, I hope they go bankrupt,” he said.
At one point, a man drove by several times and shouted at the group from his black sedan. He stopped briefly to debate with the group.
The man declined to give his name but said he lived nearby and was uncomfortable with their demonstration so close to his home.
George said he’d gotten threats for the demonstration and changed the meeting spot to avoid meeting with counterprotesters.
“It is what it is,” he said. “I’m not going to back down.”
By around 11 a.m., the group had left the park.
By the time the protesters reached the original staging area at the end of Speedway Boulevard, the group had grown to include about eight vehicles, with more coming in over the course of the next hour or so.
By the time the procession down Speedway Boulevard began after noon, there were about 25 or 30 vehicles altogether flying the Confederate flag (including variants, including one with a bass superimposed on it, another with a skull and crossbones and yet another with what appeared to be Hank Williams Jr.’s face) along with the stars and stripes, the Gadsden flag and the blue lives matter flag, among others, including a couple of Trump 2020 banners.
August “JR” Horton, of Wellborn, was one of the protesters in Talladega. He said he had heard about the event on Facebook but was not part of the group that came down from Calhoun County.
“It’s not just about NASCAR,” he said. “It’s everything. It’s our Southern heritage, and we should be able to fly our flags and keep our monuments. If they’re going to start taking down monuments, they need to take them all down.
“I don’t have a problem with any people, I get along with everybody. I hate that slavery happened, but I didn’t have any slaves, and none of my family ever had any slaves. They were too poor to worry about having any extra mouths to feed.”
Dennis “Wesley” Bowman agreed.
“All history is important,” he said. “All lives matter. I’m 34 years old, I never owned any slaves. I’m just concerned about my life and my kids’ lives in the future.”
Added Horton, “I have Black friends, I have friends from Mexico. I don’t hate anybody. I have Black friends that used to come to the race with me when we still went to the races. We would fly both flags (Confederate and U.S.), and it didn’t bother them.
“There was no hate on the campground. That’s how I was raised. I treat everybody equally, with respect. I’m afraid they’re going to go after the American flag next.”
Sunday’s protests were actually the second of the weekend. A smaller procession of about 30 people had also gone up and down the boulevard Saturday afternoon.
The group of eight counterprotesters gathered on the side of Speedway Boulevard near the entrance to the track proper, armed with signs saying things like “Not My South--#notallrednecks,” “All Lives Don’t Matter Until Black Lives Matter,” “Black Lives Matter Means Black Lives Matter Too,” and a large, upside down U.S. flag emblazoned with the phrase “Silence Equals Violence.”
Kris Lackey was the organizer of the counterprotest.
“I showed up at the Sunoco Station about 11 a.m., and there was one truck, so I started texting people,” Lackey said. “It’s Father’s Day today, and I know a lot of people already had family gatherings planned. That’s fine, that’s more important anyway.
“But my father passed away last year, and I don’t have any kids, so I could be here, and a few other people could be with me. I appreciate everyone that could be here to make sure our voices are heard.”
Exchanges between protesters and counterprotesters were largely limited to shouted slogans and profanity from the counterprotesters, answered by honks and the occasional gesture from the passing protesters.
The closest it ever got to an actual confrontation was when a race fan from North Carolina approached the counterprotesters and accused them of racism, adding that the people with the Confederate flags “live and work with Black people. You don’t even know any Black people, you’re just trying to be the messiah coming in to save them.”
A female counterprotester pointed out that she had lived and worked in Africa and knew numerous Black people in the U.S. as well.
“I’m white because my mother is white and my father is white,” she said. “That doesn’t make any difference.”
The man from North Carolina said he was live-streaming the counterprotests and was planning to use the footage in political ads. “This is why Trump is getting re-elected,” he said.
Mia Kortright is a staff writer for The Anniston Star. Chris Norwood is a staff writer for The Daily Home.