Local News

Confederate flag debate a way of life in Rocky Mount neighborhood

Posted June 24, 2015 10:14 p.m. EDT
Updated July 10, 2015 12:51 p.m. EDT

— States and retailers have taken steps to remove the Confederate battle flag from landmarks and stores, but one Rocky Mount man is standing his ground.

Edward Lee West has had the flags surround his Arrington Avenue home for years, but after the killings of nine people during Bible study inside a historic black Charleston, S.C. church last week, neighbors said West added more flags.

One flag, planted on top of his home, can be seen a block away, said neighbor Charles Little. He believes the flags emphasize a certain message.

“It means I don’t like you people in my neighborhood,” said Little, who is black. “To me, those flags represent that I owned you people.”

The Confederate battle flag was recently thrusted into national debate after the accused church shooter was seen in pictures embracing it. A friend of the suspect, Dylann Storm Roof, 21, said the accused killer wanted to start a race war.

Officials in North Carolina, South Carolina and other southern states have distanced themselves from the historic symbol. Gov. Pat McCrory wants to stop new license plates bearing the flag. Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley used his executive power, the first southern governor to do so, to remove four flags with secessionist symbols from a large monument to rebel soldiers outside his state’s capitol, according to news reports.

Walmart, Amazon, eBay and Sears are among a group of retailers that have announced plans to stop selling Confederate flag merchandise.

Opponents say the flag is a symbol of racism used by the Confederacy, which supported slavery, and then by groups such as the Klu Klux Klan. Proponents say the flag is about heritage and pride.

As for West, whose house sits in a mostly African-American neighborhood, neighbors believe the flags are not coming down anytime soon. The flags are protected speech on private property, which is surrounded by a fence, barbed wire and signs that read "No Trespassing" and "Keep Out."

“I can respect (West’s right to free speech), but I do not respect the fact that he is flaunting it so much in our face,” Little said.

West could not be reached for comment Wednesday evening.