On August 20, 2018, students at the University of North Carolina finally pulled down “Silent Sam” — a monument to Confederate war dead that was erected in 1913. To call the statue controversial would be an understatement — at its unveiling over a century ago industrialist and Klan supporter Julian Carr gave a speech where he boasted about “horse-whipp[ing] a negro wench until her skirts hung in shreds” after she “publicly insulted and maligned a Southern lady.”
Originally protesters had gathered in a show of solidarity with Maya Little, who read from Carr’s speech and splashed the statue with a combination of red paint and her own blood. Little now faces charges of defacing a public monument. As the evening wore on, however, protesters finally did what UNC failed to do — they toppled the shrine to white supremacy and left it face-down in the dirt.
The destruction of the statue angered many white nationalists, who called the students “thugs,” “feral animals,” and “communist agitators” who “illegally destroyed a revered American monument,” and who “won’t stop until they take down every monument in every town across America.” For good measure they railed against “violent left-wing #Antifa criminals” and said a failure to condemn this “anarchy” means supporting it.
But it wasn’t just white nationalists and neo-Confederate politicians who were livid over Sam’s destruction. Professional grifter Candace Owens weighed in, claiming falsely that “ANTIFA, an all-white Democrat gang, attacked and pulled down a confederate statue at UNC.” She also pointed out that “an older black man” stood at the site of the statue the next day “holding a confederate flag” and “protesting the [statue’s] removal.”
“Will ANTIFA attack him to [sic]?” she asked.
Owens was retweeting Patrick Howley, the Big League Politics contributor who interviewed the man. (Howley, if you don’t recall, is the ex-Breitbart flunky responsible for a bizarre 2016 rumor about a “secret memo” proving President Obama supported ISIS.) The black protester identified himself as H.K. Edgerton, and spoke to Howley about the supposed history of “Silent Sam.”
When asked what he was doing, Edgerton replied that he was “engaging a lot of folks around here from the North that don’t like me standing here in objection to taking down the Confederate cenotaph of ‘Silent Sam.'” He also referred to the Confederate Army as an “integrated military” and praised them for defending themselves against Union troops. Of Union soldiers he said, “They raped our women. They stole our food. They plundered. They killed.”
Howley asked Edgerton what he thought about Professor Dwayne Dixon, who allegedly led the rally during which the statue was torn down. “They oughta fire him,” he snapped. “It was an illegal act. That’s the thing about Southern folks: We believe in the Constitution of the United States of America and we believe in the rule of law!” And yes, he said all this while wearing a Confederate uniform and waving a rebel flag.
In Howley’s article, titled “American Hero H.K. Edgerton Schools The Left On Confederate History,” he called Edgerton a “patriot,” and wrote that he “spoke of the numerous black heroes who fought and gave their lives at war — black heroes who used to be honored by Silent Sam, but are honored no longer due to Antifa’s criminal actions.” Howley added that UNC students “could learn something” from “this brave man’s history lesson.”
But what, exactly, does Howley know about Edgerton? He certainly noted that the activist was once the Asheville, NC chapter president of the NAACP, which is true. Yet he failed to note that Edgerton is, bizarrely, an outspoken Neo-Confederate who not only whitewashes the racist history of the Confederacy, slavery, and the Ku Klux Klan, but is known for rubbing elbows with prominent racist activists.
Edgerton is a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV), the organization that unsuccessfully fought for the right to display the Confederate flag on their vanity license plates. He also worked for the Southern Legal Resource Center (SLRC), a legal group founded by Kirk D. Lyons which specializes in defending displays of Confederate flags and monuments. And although Lyons tries to claim the SLRC is about heritage and not hate, there’s more than a little hate in Lyons’ background.
Lyons, for example, was married at the Aryan Nations compound with a ceremony officiated by Neo-Nazi and Christian Identity preacher Richard Girnt Butler (d. 2004). He spent a good portion of his legal career defending prominent white supremacists, including former Klan leader Louis Beam and former Posse Comitatus “director of counterinsurgency” James Wickstrom. In 1989 he was a speaker at a “Bible retreat” organized by anti-Semitic pastor Pete Peters (d. 2011).
Still, Edgerton at one point considered Lyons a close personal friend — which is baffling until you hear the kind of rhetoric espoused by Edgerton himself. In a 2007 interview with the Southern Poverty Law Center Edgerton made a number of outlandish statements.
He referred to the Civil War as the “War Between the States” — which he insisted was “not over.” He claimed the KKK was “just protecting the people — all of the people, black and white” and that “Blacks wanted to be a part of that.” Of the late segregationist George Wallace he said:
It wasn’t so much about George Wallace going to the schoolhouse doors, saying, “No, you can’t integrate.” The thought in his mind was, “No, you can’t tell me to integrate. Let us deal with this, and we’re gonna deal with it.”
Never mind that the Alabama governor proclaimed in no uncertain terms: “I draw a line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny, and I say, segregation now, segregation tomorrow and segregation forever.” Edgerton even boasted about the way slaves were treated, stating that they “were given a new pair of pants and a new pair of shoes every day” and “lived better than most!”
This was not the only time Edgerton voiced such ahistorical beliefs. In a short video produced by the Sons of Confederate Veterans called “The True South: Through My Eyes,” Edgerton bragged about his friendship with Kirk Lyons, defended the Confederate flag, called slavery a “blessing,” and, once again, defended the KKK and one of its earliest members, Nathaniel Bedford Forrest.
“The biggest tragedy of all,” he said, is that “the whole world wants to associate the Ku Klux Klan, or any hate organization, with my [Confederate] flag. These folks talk about Nathan Bedford Forrest. If it don’t be for Nathan Bedford Forrest and that original Ku Klux Klan — I’m not talkin’ ’bout what happened after Nathan Bedford Forrest — many of us Southerners — red, yellow, black, and white — would be just like the dinosaur around here in the southland of America: extinct!”
Edgerton went on to say that Southern Democrats might have joined the original Klan to resist the tyranny of radical Republicans like Thaddeus Stevens. He asserted that the Klan was so successful in defending the rights of white, Southern Democrats that Republicans began masquerading as Klansmen in order to commit acts of terror and, ostensibly, smear the group as violent extremists.
The reality, of course, is a mirror image of what Edgerton believes. The Klan targeted freed blacks and Republicans in order to depress their votes and keep white, Southern Democrats in power. And Forrest was no saint either, having led the brutal massacre at Fort Pillow, where over 300 black Union soldiers were murdered in spite of their attempts to surrender. Forrest wrote after the battle, “It is hoped that these facts will demonstrate to the Northern people that negro soldiers cannot cope with Southerners.”
Of slavery Edgerton claimed that while some white Confederates called it “a curse on white people in the South,” it “was a blessing for many of us who wear this color.”
“Now some folks will say, ‘Well, Uncle Tom whatchu talkin’ about?’ But lemmie tell you something. When my great-great-grandmama Hattie Mae Edgerton stood on those shores in 1788, on her way to the honorable T.R. Edgerton family in Rutherford County, North Carolina, I’m so glad she didn’t get left behind. Those Africans didn’t like us then, don’t like us now!”
He added that the “only people that ever showed any love for us [are] those same white folks in those cotton fields and corn fields that we lived side by side, and called ourself family.” Though in his next breath he said he wasn’t condoning the institution of slavery, which he said was “bad when Jesus Christ walked the Earth.” But, he nonetheless said black people would not have survived emancipation without the “skills that white folks taught black folks around here.”
Perhaps Edgerton isn’t the best history teacher after all.