Prior to a slate of opening round games of the NCAA tournament in Greenville, S.C. on Sunday, groups of protestors and other citizens waved large Confederate flags around the city, on sidewalks, and from the top of a parking structure next to an arena hosting the games, multiple outlets have reported.
Confederate flag next to NCAA arena pic.twitter.com/OBoJv6V8I4— Pete Iacobelli (@PIacobelli_AP) March 19, 2017
Though the flag in the truck on the parking structure raised alarm, other citizens of Greenville were also around the arena waving Confederate flags. Some rode pickup trucks toward the arena near the games and attached flags to the back of their trucks.
People are waving confederate flags outside the Bon Secours Wellness Arena in Greenville ahead of tonight's NCAA Tournament games pic.twitter.com/DTML4TShyQ— David Hurst (@DHurstWNCN) March 19, 2017
One man outside of the arena told a local outlet his feelings about waving the flag. It had nothing to do with racial anxiety, he said. It was about cultural and racial identity.
“People tend to mistake this for a race thing. It’s not about race. It’s about history and it being erased. And it is being erased,” a white man said, while wearing sunglasses and a Civil War era infantryman’s cap with a Confederate pin in it.
“You have to go and do your own research on it. Once you start to find out and start to see really why we do this, okay? We’re people, too. We have the right to be the people that we are. We’re not out here causing problems. We’ve never caused a problem in how many years? Three? Trucks running in convoy, hundreds and hundreds of people. We’re people, too.”
The NCAA, which moved the games to South Carolina from North Carolina because of the discriminatory, anti-LGBT law dubbed House Bill 2 — “HB2” for short — released a statement about the matter. Dan Gavitt, the body’s senior vice president of basketball, said that the league is committed to assuring that their events are safe and accessible to everyone.
“No symbols that compromise that commitment will be permitted to be displayed on venue property that the tournament controls,” Gavitt said. “Freedom of speech activities on public property in areas surrounding the arena are managed by the city of Greenville and we are supportive of the city's efforts."
Solid work, South Carolina. Literally waving over the arena. pic.twitter.com/ozphmhergW— Luke DeCock (@LukeDeCock) March 19, 2017
The Duke Blue Devils and North Carolina Tar Heels are set to play games at the Bon Secours Wellness Arena where flags were flown on Sunday. The group at the parking structure waving the flag did so from the back of a pickup truck. The group told the Associated Press that their goal was to make their presence known to the NCAA.
In 2002, the NAACP protested and marched during a NCAA regional in Greenville because the statehouse was still flying the Confederate flag on statehouse property. The NCAA lifted its moratorium on the city for on pre-determined tournament sites, which they originally placed because of the flag a year earlier.
The fight over the flag was hushed in 2015 after white supremacist Dylan Roof murdered nine black Charleston church congregates at Emanuel AME. Roof was seen in pictures with the flag. Local lawmakers then voted to remove the flag from statehouse grounds in July 2015. The NCAA subsequently lifted its moratorium.
In 2015, Mark Emmert, the president of the NCAA, said that the removal of the flag was something the NCAA strongly supported.
“This step is an important message of respect for and dignity of every person,” he said. “As a national association, the NCAA opposes this symbol of racism, and since 2001 we have demonstrated our opposition by not playing selected championships in states where the flag was flown prominently.”
Hunter Meadows, one of the men with the flag, said he thought that it wasn’t “fair” that “Confederate flag supporters” were being blamed for Roof, who is being sentenced to death.
"I didn't feel it was right when the flag came down," Meadows, who has family members that fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War, said. "We wanted to show the NCAA that we're still here."
Citing safety issues, Greenville Police made the truck move back 50 feet from where it was parked. There has been no indication that the group was made to remove the flag. Police did force one group waving flags to leave because metal poles don’t comply with Greenville city ordinance.
The group allegedly left before telling police “they’ll be back.”