H.K. Edgerton has been called a nutcase, a loose cannon, a gadfly and a puppet in the hands of “neo-Confederates” and even white supremacists. He has been spat on, physically attacked and ridiculed. He has been vilified by many media outlets.
He has also been called a visionary, a hero, a scholar and a tireless fighter against the scapegoating of the South. He has garnered international attention, a roomful of awards and medals and a clutch of honorary and active memberships in Southern heritage organizations.
All this is because Edgerton, who is not only black but a former president of the Asheville chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, took it upon himself about 15 years ago to educate people about little known (and even less politically correct) aspects of racial relationships in the South, especially during and since the War Between the States. He also specializes in debunking popularly accepted versions of the causes and effects of that war, and in challenging the modern trashing of Southern history and culture.
In 2001, Edgerton attracted worldwide attention with his “March Across Dixie” – a 1,300-mile trek from Asheville’s Vance Monument in Pack Square to the Texas Supeme Court building to protest the removal of two small commemorative Confederate plaques inside that building by the administration of then-Gov. George W. Bush. His journey, which he undertook in a Confederate uniform and carrying a Confederate flag, drew thousands of onlookers along his route,.as well as both a surprisingly large outpouring of support and a handful of death threats from fellow blacks.
So not long ago, when he visited Virginia for a series of personal appearances centered around Confederate Memorial Day, Edgerton’s weekend was, for him, pretty typical.
He arrived at an appointed spot on Highway 14 outside Courtland (pop. 1,284) on Friday morning. He was met there by members of the Urquhart-Gillette Camp #1471, Sons of Confederate Veterans. He unfurled his flag and with his SCV escort he marched into downtown Courtland. Once there, he was greeted by a delegation of United Daughters of the Confederacy who had driven from Emporia, 20 miles away, to meet him.
While Edgerton with his growing entourage made his way through Courtland, he says, two “young black women” drove up and told Edgerton they feared for his safety. “If they [the crowd in the immediate vicinity] don’t hurt you, the black folks up the street will.” Edgerton said the other woman warned him, “You in Southampton County now.”
Edgerton lives for moments like this.
He happened to have with him several H. K. Edgerton t-shirts. Manufactured by Dixie Outfitters of Odum, Georgia, the shirts feature a photo of Edgerton with his Battle Flag and the legend, “Modern Confederate Hero.” He insisted on presenting them to the women.
“At first they both refused [the shirts].” Edgerton said “because they had that flag on them.” But “after about an hour of conversation they both asked for the shirts and one exclaimed she had learned more in that hour about the South, and the War for Southern Independence, and the great Commonwealth of Virginia than she had learned in her whole life. I had a grand time with them,” he said.
Shortly thereafter, Edgerton said, he was confronted by a black man who “was so put back with me and my flag.” That conversation ended with the man asking if Edgerton had a spare flag so that he could carry it and walk beside him.
Further on, Edgerton gave a “God bless you” to a man who told him he wished Edgerton would be run over by a car.
Next day, clad in the scarlet-trimmed gray shell jacket of a Confederate artillery sergeant. Edgerton delivered the keynote speech (see photo) at the Confederate Memorial Day observance in Emporia. Afterwards, he was presented with a handsome sword by the SCV Camp – he said later he intended to give it, in turn, to a young fan in Alabama – and a pot of Brunswick Stew.
And he autographed many more Dixie Outfitters T-shirts.