When a group calling itself MN 10,000 for Southern Heritage announced that it would hold an intimate Confederate flag rally for 25 at the State Capitol next month, most people didn't know what to make of it. After all, this is a state that’s so far from the Deep South that it’s trying to secede into The North. Doubly confounding, the face of the rally is an African American man.
Rebel flag supporters have launched protests all over the United States ever since a white supremacist shot nine black churchgoers in Charleston and Gov. Nikki Haley responded by ditching the Confederate flag flying at the South Carolina State House.
BC Johnson, Minnesota's rally organizer, is a South Carolina native who moved to Minnesota for more job opportunities in transportation. He has ancestors who fought and died in the Civil War, he says, but he isn’t sure for which side. He’s been careful to frame the Confederate flag as a symbol of southern heritage, and MN 10,000’s right to demonstrate on the steps of the State Capitol as a Voltairian exercise in free speech.
“If any African American shows up and opposes, that’s their right,” he says. “We can all talk. Air it all out. At the end of the day, hopefully they’ll say, ‘I respectfully disagree with you, but I can admire you for standing up for what you feel is right.’”
Johnson will act as lone spokesman for what will most likely turn out to be a group of white flag-bearers. It’s a spotlight commonly occupied by one of Johnson’s role models, once-NAACP chapter president turned Sons of Confederate Veterans front man, H.K. Edgerton.
“I’m a son of the South,” Johnson says of the relative ease with which he able to hoist a Confederate flag as a black man. “We’ve gotten a little too divided in America, and we should focus on being Americans. For example, in Britain there are people of different colors, but they’re all British. In Mexico, they have people of different shades, and if you live in that country you’re considered Mexican.”
It also helps Johnson’s case to not believe that the Civil War was fought over slavery. Despite the 80-some references to slavery in the Declaration of Causes of Seceding States, he says the reasons for the war are complicated.
“I feel that the Civil War is a war between the North and the South based upon what was going on in that time,” Johnson says. “Slavery still exists in America unfortunately. It doesn’t exist in the form of a plantation and a master yelling at you and cracking a whip on your back. My opinion is slavery exists in poverty, in minimum wage, in illiteracy, and the civil rights organizations should be focusing on advancing people in those areas instead of attacking a symbol.”
Johnson also promises no one in his group will be throwing racial slurs or anything like that, so he expects nothing but respect from potential counter-protesters. It’ll require toning down some of the attitudes he’s taken in less political arenas. Johnson’s Facebook page is riddled with references to n*****s and Muslim “towelheads,” including one post in which he calls Governor Haley both a towelhead and a cunt.
“Here’s the deal, the people I’ve met up here who support the flag are not people who are committing acts of hate,” Johnson says. “No flag has ever come off a pole and done anything to anyone. Where people are ultra-sensitive about the flag, I can understand their point.”