More than a thousand organizers are expected to gather in Hillsborough Saturday afternoon as a part of a “Southern Heritage Ride/Rally” supporting the Confederate flag.
The event is organized by private groups called Orange County Taking Back Orange County and Alamance County Taking Back Alamance County. Organizers are planning to ride from Burlington and gather outside the Hillsborough Town Hall.
Hillsborough police are providing parking for an estimated 500 vehicles. Lieutenant Davis Trimmer of the Hillsborough Police Department said the town plans for a smooth event.
“I don't believe it sends a specific message about the town of Hillsborough,” Trimmer said. “These folks requested to come to Hillsborough and we consider it a First Amendment issue. We want people to be able to express their opinions and their views.”
Tom Stevens, Mayor of Hillsborough, also supports the organizers First Amendment rights, but does not support their message.
“There's certainly a lot of folks who are very distressed that there'll be Confederate flags driving downtown and this is more about racism and more about hate, and that it really doesn't represent the values of our town,” he said.
Symbols like Confederate monuments and the Confederate battle flag have been under strong scrutiny since the killing of nine African Americans in June at a church in Charleston, S.C. After the shooting, the South Carolina legislature voted to remove the battle flag from the grounds of the South Carolina State House. However, North Carolina recently approved legislation making it harder to remove Confederate monuments and memorials in the state.
The public perception of the Confederate South is bleeding into today's racial climate. A recent survey from the Pew Research Study found that half of Americans believe racism a “big problem” in the United States, up 17 points from a similar survey five years ago.
In Hillsborough, Stevens has been active in a campaign with the Orange County Historical Museum to remove the words “Confederate Memorial” from the building’s facade. Back in 1934, the United Daughters of the Confederacy raised money to build a public library and named it the "Confederate Memorial Public Library." In the 1980s, the library moved out and the historical museum moved in. The words "Public Library" were removed but the first two words stayed.
Stevens said it is important to embrace Hillsborough as a place full of both positive and negative history.
"This is a place of neighborhoods and of people from all kinds of backgrounds who are welcome and make their home here. That’s the future of Hillsborough that I stand for and I think the majority of folks believe in," he said. "We have banners that have been up since our 250th anniversary that say, ‘Hillsborough Celebrating Our Diverse Cultural Heritage,’ and I think that’s what we stand by and the symbols that promote that as oppose to contradict it."
Earlier this week, the North Carolina NAACP and other groups rallied outside the Orange County Courthouse against Confederate monuments and symbols. During a speech, NAACP President Rev. William Barber said the Republican-led state legislature is supporting racism by protecting Confederate monuments and symbols.
“They will protect a monument of the past, but won’t protect the climate of the present in which all of us have to live,” Barber said.
Hillsborough will also host 850 cyclists Saturday for the annual Carolina Tarwheels BikeFest, but town officials said they do not expect complications or overlap between the day’s events.