Confederate flags flying in Camden, N.J. – where 48 percent of the population identify as African American – outraged local residents after an annual celebration of country music ended in controversy once again.
The annual festival from country music station WXTU at the Susquehanna Bank Center in Camden ended with at least three people hospitalized after a parking lot brawl that left two stabbed and one severely beaten. No arrests were reported.
Police say privately that it is one of the more difficult concerts to monitor of the year, but some residents said it was the flags that upset them the most.
“It’s definitely a big slap in the face to the people in the community,” said Walter Hudson, Sr., chairman of the South Jersey-based National Awareness Alliance civil rights group, who heard numerous complaints about the festival from community members.
“We’re already dealing with an unfair and unbalanced social and economic system, not just in Camden County, but throughout the U.S. So when you see things like that, it’s very upsetting and alarming,” Hudson said. “I believe it’s a message of hate. Look at the symbolism of the Confederate flag.”
Others expressed their anger on social media.
“Confederate flag wavers, public urinaters, and brown people haters come to #Camden for the #WXTU concert 5/30,” was how @SeanBrown723 described it on Twitter. “Please respect our city.”
But flag-waving tailgaters, who arrived at 7 a.m. to wait for the 3 p.m. concert, said the flag was a reference to the antebellum South.
“More or less, the people flying them are from the south,” said Mike Fallon, 24, of Phoenixville, “or they want to represent the old south, before slavery was abolished.”
Fallon’s friend, who was flying a Confederate flag on a hockey stick from the back of his pickup truck, asked not to be identified because he recognized that his opinions might not be popular.
“It’s about when people worked for a living,” he said of the banner of slaveholding states, “instead of getting everything for free.”
As competing groups of people bouncing in the backs of pickup trucks competed to see which side could get the truck bed to bounce higher, Fallon expressed interest in showing the party was not out of control.
“Country boys from Phoenixville are respectful, and having the time of their lives,” he said.
Lamont Ball, 52, who is African American, was working as a parking lot attendant Saturday morning, and said he did not have problems with the revelers.
He said they offered him beers, which he declined because he was working.
“I believe in the American flag,” Ball said. “All the others don’t mean nothing to me.”
Additional reporting by Sam Newhouse