The Confederate Defenders of Charleston monument, erected in 1932 to honor the Confederate defense of Fort Sumter, is usually quiet, except when local groups protest at the Battery on Sundays. Photo by: Ageless Travel.
Every other Sunday, Braxton Spivey dresses in a custom-made uniform representing Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee and flies the Confederate battle flag with his group, Flags Across the South, a nonprofit organization in downtown Charleston.
Spivey chose Lee to impersonate five years ago because of their connected Virginian heritage and to teach others about the history behind the flag. His great-great grandfather, Jeremiah Jordan was a soldier of the third infantry of northern Virginia, tying in his heritage.
“The flag shouldn’t be seen as a symbol of hate; it was the soldier’s flag and a part of history. That’s all it ever was and all it ever will be,” said Spivey, who also works in the transportation industry.
But this is Charleston, where six years earlier an angry young man who wanted to ignite a “race war” had posed with the Confederate battle flag and then driven to Charleston where he killed nine churchgoers at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. Dylann Roof had attended a Bible study at the historic “Mother Emanuel” church before shooting the nine churchgoers. He was sentenced in 2017 to death for his crimes.
In the historic Downtown Battery of Charleston, the Emmanuel Nine shooting and recent Black Lives Matter protests continue to loom over the Holy City.
During his time at the Battery, Spivey has encountered many tourists and local residents who want to take pictures with him standing at the monument to the Confederate Defenders of Charleston at White Point Gardens. The monument faces Fort Sumter and is a tribute to those who fought for the South during the Civil War. He said his goal is to educate rather than hide the history that Charleston embodies.
“There’s some people that will come every other week with me and stand in front of the monument. And if someone wants to come and chat with us, then we are all about that,” said Spivey.
But since June, protesters from the United Front of Charleston have also protested there, making it clear that Spivey’s take on history and the flag is not their own.
The United Front of Charleston is a coalition group that focuses on community empowerment, racial justice and equality, women’s rights and helping the homeless. Leader Jason Jones and other members of the coalition have organized multiple protests in downtown Charleston. These “Stop the Hate” protests argue against the display of Confederate flags still being flown on the Battery.
The group was formed in June, shortly after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis at the hands of the police, and influenced by the arrests of Black Lives Matter supporters during protests.
“It’s so disheartening that so many here are willing to ignore white supremacy and not call it out in the South Carolina and Charleston area, but will demonize any Black leader,” said Jones.
Some wonder if this is the right time to be using the Confederate flag, especially with the history of Charleston being directly tied to the Atlantic slave trade.
Although Spivey argues that the Confederate flag represents heritage, Jones said his Black and Filipino background make it a painful reminder of his ancestors’ plight and continued fight for equality and justice now.
“They are a hate group that hides behind the word ‘heritage’ so that they can condone their hatred,” said Jones.
Spivey wants others to know that he does not support the Ku Klux Klan and their use of it.
“They (the KKK) picked up that flag and used it for their own purpose, which was to be racist. They have disgraced my ancestor’s battle flag to no end,” said Spivey.
The city of Charleston wants to keep the peace and bridge the gap for both groups to exercise their First Amendment rights. Luther Reynolds, chief of police of the Charleston Police Department is aware of the ongoing protests and wants to continue to support the community and keep them safe.
“The Charleston Police Department is committed to the safety and security of all of our residents during public protests. Peaceful protest is a sacred right within our democracy,” Reynolds said. “We at CPD continually strive to ensure all of our citizen’s voices are heard, while at the same time ensuring that all citizen’s First Amendment rights are respected regardless of viewpoint or perspective.”
Braxton Spivey, a Gen. Robert E. Lee impersonator, shows an uncanny resemblance to the Confederate general. Photo by: Judy Smith Photography.
The Confederate Defenders’ of Charleston monument stands in White Point Gardens at the Battery, where protestors demonstrate. Photo by: Braxton Spivey.
Jason Jones, a local activist, goes to the Battery every other Sunday to protest with the United Front of Charleston. The group protests the removal of the Confederate flag. Photo by: Jason Jones.