LEXINGTON – Honoring two historical and controversial figures, a wave of Confederate flags could be seen throughout Lexington Friday as celebrations began in honor of Lee-Jackson Day.
It’s a weekend tradition that was met with opposition last year. This year seems to be much different as tensions have calmed between Confederate heritage supporters and the anti-racism group C.A.R.E.
Members of the Virginia Flaggers from the commonwealth and across the East Coast came to Lexington waving their Confederate flags in honor of the Virginia holiday. Hundreds more are expected, this year, for a much quieter weekend than last.
For flaggers, Friday events began as a peaceful morning in the Stonewall Jackson cemetery with a gathering in remembrance of two native Virginia sons the flaggers said were about more than just the losing side of the war.
Barry Isenhour, a flagger from Richmond traveled Friday morning just for the event.
"These two gentlemen of the commonwealth were great leaders, in many ways. Not just Christian leaders, but also civic leaders and military leaders. They were just incredible gentlemen. We are just here to celebrate that," Isenhour said.
Despite their tradition being met with opposition last year, Isenhour said their message isn't political, it’s about preserving history in a peaceful manner.
"It's not just a peaceful thing, it's our heritage. We are very proud of that. We are Southerners and we are very proud of these gentlemen," Isenhour said.
In the same place the two men taught, prayed and are now buried, the group listened to a live-streamed speech from Delegate Ben Cline addressing the house about the holiday.
"We honor these men as much for their greatness in the classroom as for their greatness in the battlefield, for their loyalty to Virginia and for living lives devoted to Almighty God,” Cline said.
"Amen," the group cheered in unison while standing in the cemetery by the Stonewall Jackson statue and burial place.
Their day continued with their tradition of waving flags at a busy intersection on Main Street.
Tensions from last's year's dueling parade battle seemed to have settled but a heavy police presence was still present.
Lexington police Chief Sam Roman said that police presence will continue throughout the weekend as an added precaution to peacefully interact and mingle with the crowd. He expects it to be a quieter year than last, and said the flaggers met with law enforcement before coming to town.
He said the group is well organized and intentioned. He says the force will work together with the group to encourage the open dialogue.
"As you work collaboratively, and in concert, not independently of each other so I think that will lend to the success of our weekend here in Lexington," Roman said.
He said the peaceful interaction is possible because of mutual respect from all sides about voicing opinions.
Friday’s events precede the Lee-Jackson Day parade on Saturday.
The parade starts at 10 a.m. in Lexington.