A different set of stars and bars drew the ire and attention of plenty of people at the Whidbey Island Fair parade Saturday.
A pair of Confederate flags were flown as part of the parade, along with the U.S. flag and the MIA/POW black flag for lost military veterans, by some American Legions Riders on motorcycles.
The flag, considered by some to be a symbol of racism given its history as the banner for American secessionists seeking to continue slavery, but is argued by others to be a symbol of Southern pride, has become a national issue after several racially charged crimes.
“With the crisis in the country right now over racial injustice, this is like pouring fire on the flame,” said Marti Anamosa, a Clinton resident.
Anamosa, who watched the fair parade, said she promptly wrote a letter to the American Legion Post no. 141 telling them she was upset.
“We need to be talking to each other, and not aggravate the situation,” she added.
American Legion Post 141 Commander Kevin McDonald said he felt terribly about people’s reactions to the Confederate flag.
“In my heart, I’m really sorry it offended anybody,” said McDonald on Monday.
“It was not our intention.”
The South Whidbey Legion holds dozens of fundraising events that have resulted in several thousands of dollars doled out to charities across the island and college scholarships.
McDonald, a founder of the Legion riders, said it is an offshoot for the club’s motorcycling enthusiasts and has 41 members.
Only a handful took part in the parade Aug. 8, and only a couple of them secured Confederate flags to wave behind them in the parade.
McDonald said he accepts some of the responsibility for not considering the context of recent racially charged violence when allowing the flags to be included in his group.
“It wasn’t even a well thought out thing, considering the political things going on,” he said.
“We should just stick with the basics of the American flag, the Legion flag, the POW flag,” McDonald added.
The issue gained the attention of Langley Mayor Fred McCarthy.
As mayor, he said the city had no authority to deny a lawful and permitted parade that included the Confederate flag because of First Amendment rights.
The flag is considered an expression of the First Amendment, the right of free speech.
However distasteful some may consider it, people have a right to fly it, just as the recent Whidbey Queer Pride Parade was allowed to wave its rainbow flags through Langley, and first-year fair co-administrator Carol Coble said she didn’t want to infringe on that right.
More than just a freedom of speech issue, supporters claim the flag is a symbol of Southern pride and heritage.
McDonald, who himself has family who fought in the Civil War, said some of his members are saddened that they are not allowed to celebrate their ancestors.
The American Legion does not take a stance on the use of the Confederate flag, despite having several tips and facts about the United States flag.
“That was part of American history, and they were American soldiers,” McDonald.
Future fairgoers and parade watchers upset with seeing the Confederate flag fly this year need not be concerned. Coble said she spoke with one person, at length, who was upset that the flag was included in the parade.
After making a phone call to the American Legion Post 141 officers, she was told it would not be an issue again, which McDonald confirmed.
“It’s been taken care of …it will never happen again,” Coble said Monday.