Organizer apologizes for Confederate flag appearance at Old-Fashioned Christmas Parade

Lawrence Old-Fashioned Christmas Parade

Two days after a Confederate flag slipped into festivities at the Lawrence Old-Fashioned Christmas Parade, the event’s organizer is apologizing over the incident, which he calls an “honest mistake.”

Marty Kennedy, a longtime organizer of the parade, said he became aware of the incident Sunday, when friends showed him photographs posted on social media. The photos in question show a horse blanket with a Confederate-flag design draped over a horse’s saddle with a young woman and older man riding atop.

The Journal-World has attempted to identify and contact the riders but has not made contact so far.

In 25 years of the Old-Fashioned Christmas Parade, Kennedy said, such a “mistake” had never occurred. He said he also met with Porter Arneill, the city’s director of arts and culture, Monday morning to ensure “it won’t happen again.”

The Old-Fashioned Christmas Parade is one of approximately 20 events to receive funding through the city’s transient guest tax program, with the city earmarking $10,000 toward the 2017 parade. But, Arneill said, that’s the extent of the city’s involvement.

“As with all transient guest tax recipients, we’re not directly involved with organizing, coordinating or administering the event,” Arneill said. “In this situation, it’s our understanding that the parade participants do have to adhere to the parade rules, as determined by the organizers.”

Organizers addressed the Confederate flag incident early Monday afternoon in a Facebook post. “It’s been brought to our attention that one of the parade entries displayed symbols or sentiments that were not inclusive in nature and that left many people offended,” the statement read. “Rest assured that your voices have been heard and the board of the parade has taken action.”

The post also included a note from Kennedy assuring the public that such an incident would not happen again.

At next year’s parade, Kennedy said, he’ll make sure outriders monitor the displays and remove any “inappropriate imagery or messages” before participants begin their routes. With thousands of people crowding downtown Saturday for the parade, he and many others didn’t notice the Confederate flag, Kennedy said.

“With some 20,000 people probably observing this parade, all we saw was smiles and claps and having a great time on a great day,” he said.

Some on social media have pointed to the St. Patrick’s Day Parade as a recent example of the Confederate flag showing up in a Lawrence parade. The flag in question was one of several old state flags displayed on a Knights of Columbus float, and appears to be a Mississippi state flag or an old version of the Georgia flag.

The older Georgia design, which was used from 1956 to 2001, prominently features the Confederate stars and bars. The current Mississippi flag, which has been in use continuously since 1894, features a small, square-shaped Confederate design in the upper left corner, with blue, red and white stripes filling out of the rest of the flag.

That parade, Arneill noted, was a private event held on public streets. The city is not involved with organizing the event.