A group of Confederate flag supporters gathered and flew the flag near Durant, Oklahoma, on Wednesday before President Barack Obama was scheduled to visit a local high school. The group congregated along the shoulder of an interstate highway across from the school and flew the flag, which they said was a symbol of heritage and not racism.
“We’re not gonna stand down from our heritage. You know, this flag’s not racist. And I know a lot of people think it is, but it’s really not,” said Trey Johnson, who drove three hours from Texas to be a part of the protest, according to KFOR in Oklahoma City. “It’s just a Southern thing, that’s it.”
— OU Daily (@OUDaily) July 15, 2015
— Dylan Goforth (@DGoforth918) July 15, 2015
— KFOR (@kfor) July 15, 2015
Obama's visit to Durant High School is part of a trip to Oklahoma. On Thursday he will be the first sitting president to visit a federal prison when he travels to a penitentiary in El Reno, Oklahoma. Protesters told the local news station that the gathering began at the Choctaw Travel Plaza Event Center before moving to the school. When they were asked to leave, the group went to a prominent spot along the interstate. Videos and photos of the gathering show Confederate flags on the back of trucks and a number of people displaying the symbol.
— Ziva Branstetter (@ZivaBranstetter) July 15, 2015
Those at the gathering said it was not in protest of the president's visit but rather a way to show what the confederate flag means to them. "The reason that we're out here is to stand up for our heritage and stand up for the Confederate flag, and stand up for the Civil War veterans that died for that flag," said Angel Pride, according to KXII.
A supporter of the group told KFOR that the protest didn't address Obama, but rather was a culmination of events in recent weeks. The Confederate flag has been the subject of much debate since photos emerged showing Dylann Roof -- the alleged shooter in the racially motivated June killing of nine African-Americans in a historically black church in Charleston, South Carolina -- with the flag. South Carolina lawmakers voted to remove the Confederate flag from Statehouse grounds last week. Earlier on Wednesday, lawmakers in Hillsborough County, Florida, voted to remove the flag from a government building in Tampa.
The protesters in Oklahoma said they were garnering a fair bit of backing for flying the flag, however, telling KFOR that 90 percent of drivers going by on the highway have been supportive.