A float at the Bayfield Fourth of July parade promoting the Confederate flag caused a bit of a stir Thursday.
“I was just appalled,” said Robin Goldman, who has lived in Bayfield for 15 years. “There should be no racism in today’s society … but unfortunately, there is.”
The group that organized the float decorated with the controversial flag is known as the Rocky Mountain Confederate Conservation. Several people associated with the group did not respond Friday to requests seeking comment for this article.
According to its Facebook page, the group says it does not support “violence, racism or hate against any persons.” Instead, the group says it supports Confederate heritage and “powerful Southern Pride.”
“We aim to protect our right to honor those humble veterans who fought with everything they had to protect their homeland and secure themselves as their own nation and defend themselves from tyranny,” the group wrote. “God Bless the Confederate States of America.”
Paula Dugger, who lives in Woodland Park, posted to the group’s Facebook page, “We enjoyed a fun morning participating in the Bayfield 4th of July parade.
“There was a great turnout for the event and we were met with quite a bit of support as we road (sic) through the streets of Bayfield on our float and waved to the crowd (with ‘Dixie’ playing in the background, of course),” Dugger wrote.
Chris La May, Bayfield’s town manager, said Rocky Mountain Confederate Conservation has participated in the town’s Fourth of July parade for the past couple of years. He said he has received complaints and concerns over the years about the message the float sends, but there’s not much the town can do.
“The town doesn’t support the promotion of anything that would be considered racist, but I think we are somewhat limited in what we can and can’t control because of First Amendment rights,” he said.
The town of Bayfield doesn’t have protocols or guidelines for groups that host a float in the parade, La May said, and it would put town officials in a tough spot if they rejected a group because of a particular belief or idea it holds.
“We’ll look into it and see if there’s more we can do, but I don’t know – because it’s an event on a public street by a public entity – that we have the ability to limit some of the graphics, letters and symbols that are used by individual participants,” he said.
Brennan Morlan, with the Bayfield Chamber of Commerce, wrote in an email, “Our organization is filled with many people, all with different views so we take no stance as a chamber either for or against that incident.”
In past years, Rocky Mountain Confederate Conservation’s float went unchecked, but this year, a handful of Bayfield residents formed a group to join the parade and counter the hateful and racist ideas surrounding the Confederate symbol, said Sarah Goldman (no relation to Robin Goldman), one of the organizers.
The Confederate flag, as well as historic monuments to the Confederacy, have come under intense scrutiny in recent years as symbols that reflect racism and slavery, often used by white-supremacist groups.
“While everyone has the right to their own voice, we do not want that voice to become the voice of our town,” she said. “We want all people to feel welcome here, no matter their race, orientation or place of origin.”
Sarah Goldman said the incident has prompted a larger conversation in the community east of Durango.
“We are aware that there has been a history of racism in Bayfield, and we will do everything we can to prevent that history from repeating itself,” she said. “This movement began as a float, but we have plans to open a dialogue within our community addressing racism and the undercurrents that still exist within our society.”
Robin Goldman estimated there were about eight people on the Rocky Mountain Confederate Conservation float. About 30 to 35 people showed up for the opposition group, which directly followed the Rocky Mountain Confederate Conservation’s float. The two groups remained civil throughout the event, Robin Goldman said.
Rocky Mountain Confederate Conservation formed around 2015 and has nearly 700 followers on Facebook. The group regularly holds Confederate “flag rides” in an attempt to promote the history of the seven slaveholding states that seceded from the U.S. in the 1860s.
One member, Rosalee Reed, told The Durango Herald before a flag ride in 2016 that the Confederate flag is misunderstood.
“A few people have taken a symbol of pride and heritage and have used it for their own agendas and have swayed the public opinion on it,” she said. “I’m trying to get people to realize and see that it’s not a symbol of hate.”
Upon hearing word of the flag ride, more than 60 people showed up at the La Plata County Fairgrounds to protest. As a result, Rocky Mountain Confederate Conservation changed its planned route.
“Ladies and gentlemen, as we have received quite a surprising amount of intolerance and threats for expressing our opinions, we will be changing the course, as well as the starting point, of our ride,” member Thomas Apperson wrote on Facebook at the time.