The Old Soldiers Parade in Alpharetta dates back to the early 1900s, when it began as a tribute to Civil War veterans. By the 1950s, it became a tribute to all veterans.
For the first time this year, the Georgia Sons of Confederate Veterans was blocked from flying the Confederate battle flag or “Southern Cross” at the parade Saturday.
Alpharetta’s assistant city manager, James Drinkard, said the city informally asked the group not to display the flag last summer. This year, the city directly banned the Confederate flag before approving the group’s participation in the parade.
“While we certainly supported their participation in the parade, because of the divisive nature of the Confederate battle flag and its various meanings to various people, we did not feel that it was appropriate for it to be part of an event the city itself sponsors and coordinates,” Drinkard said.
Drinkard said the city sent a letter to the group on July 20 notifying them the flag would not be allowed in the parade.
William Lathem of the Sons of Confederate Veterans said though it complied with the city this year, he feels discriminated against, and he said his group would try to bring the flag back in next year’s parade.
“The battle flag is the most readily identifiable symbol connected with Southern heritage. So any time you have a display of other Confederate flags, which as historians we’re familiar with, but your average citizen watches the parade they’re not going to know what those other flags are, so without the Confederate battle flag on the Roswell Mills camp float, it was hard to understand what those other flags going by were,” Lathem said.
Lathem said there were about 10 spectators who did bring their own battle flag to the parade.
The group said it sees the Confederate flag as a symbol of Southern heritage and history and not neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan.
“We believe in the proper display of the flag in a true historic and heritage-type setting, and as sons of Confederate veterans, we represent the men that fought for the Confederacy, and we’re here to honor their memory. And the battle flag, of course, is part of what they were associated with,” Lathem said. “Certain hate groups like the Nazis, the Ku Klux Klan, the Aryan nations and others like that have misused not only the Confederate flag, but the U.S. flag and the cross of Christianity for decades.”
Lathem said the group will share educational materials with the city about their history and is hopeful the flag will be allowed in the future.
“We know that we have our First Amendment rights and this came up back in 1996 during the Olympics,” Lathem said. “The camp actually took the city [of Roswell] to court and the court decided in our favor. And if we need to go that route again – we’d rather not – but if we need to go that route again, we will.”