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Confederate Railroad: The show will go on

  • Southern rock band Confederate Railroad will perform at a Harley Davidson dealership in Marion in September.

    Southern rock band Confederate Railroad will perform at a Harley Davidson dealership in Marion in September.
    ConfederateRailroad.com

  • Angelo Hightower

    Angelo Hightower

  • State Rep. Terri Bryant

    State Rep. Terri Bryant

  • Singer, songwriter and tennis pro Keith Dismuke of Harrisburg

    Singer, songwriter and tennis pro Keith Dismuke of Harrisburg

 
BY JOHN HOMAN
Managing Editor
jhoman@localsouthernnews.com
updated: 7/12/2019 3:32 PM

MARION -- The band Confederate Railroad may be gone from the Du Quoin State Fair but a Marion business has lined up the band for a September concert and the Williamson County Fair and the city of Harrisburg have also been trying to get them.

The band, based in Marietta, Georgia, was disinvited to this year's upcoming Du Quoin State Fair as the opening act for Shenandoah and Restless Heart, because of the band's use of the Confederate flag in its logo and album covers. To many people, particularly African Americans, the flag is a symbol of white superiority and black oppression.

The musical group was scheduled to perform Aug. 27. But when Gov. J.B. Pritzker learned about it, he ordered the Department of Agriculture, which is in charge of the fair, to cancel the performance.

"The Confederate flag is a symbol of the hate, oppression and enslavement of African Americans," Pritzker's communications chief Emily Bittner said in a statement. "It was flown over states that committed treason and started a war -- so that they could keep enslaving people. Hundreds of thousands were slaughtered in this fight over whether the nation should allow slavery or end it."

Pritzker's decision did not sit well with some southern Illinois lawmakers, including Rep. Terri Bryant, R-Murphysboro, who vented her frustration on Facebook.

"I'm a firm believer in the government censoring as little speech as possible," Bryant posted July 6. "I am a firm believer in First Amendment Rights. But, if these arbitrary 'politically correct' lines are going to be drawn for certain acts, then I would like to know from the administration where this starts and where it stops."

Bryant pointed out that the Illinois State Fair in Springfield this year will feature the rap artist Snoop Dogg, whose 2017 EP, "Make America Crip Again," features an image on its cover depicting a dead President Donald Trump with an American flag draped over the body.

"If that doesn't offend the average person, I don't know what does," Bryant wrote.

The Confederate Railroad controversy has become national news, and some angry fans of the band have been trying to organize boycotts of the Du Quoin State Fair, which runs Aug. 23 to Sept. 2.

Meanwhile, Black Diamond Harley-Davidson in Marion reached an agreement Wednesday with Confederate Railroad for a concert on Thursday, Sept. 5. Black Diamond has long been a concert venue in southern Illinois, known for attracting some of the hottest acts around.

"The amount of support and interest from individuals, businesses, other venues and promoters wanting to be a part of this show in southern Illinois has been overwhelming to say the least and to my knowledge they have never had the (Confederate) flag on stage or used it as a backdrop," said Black Diamond Harley-Davidson co-owner Shad Zimbro. Zimbro said Confederate Railroad has a 30-year track record of delivering a family-friendly show.

"So, we brought them back to our area, where they have played many times before," he said. "I'm a big fan of music, but I'm an even bigger fan of southern Illinois and I hope everyone can set aside their differences and realize that for us it isn't about race or the varied meaning of a flag -- it is about supporting the majority of people in Southern Illinois.

"Southern Illinois, while not perfect, is still the greatest part of the state and we celebrate it," Zimbro said.

In a news release, the band credited its fans with making the concert happen.

"The band and I am excited to be playing at Black Diamond and meeting all our fans in Southern Illinois soon," said Confederate Railroad lead singer Danny Shirley. "The fans made this possible, and we are beyond grateful to share our love of music with them on Sept. 5th."

However, some members of the southern Illinois black community reached by this newspaper said the eagerness by Black Diamond, the Williamson County Fair and the city of Harrisburg to book the band represents a step backward in regional race relations.

"Do people not understand how offensive that is?" said Stephanie Willis, director of the Boyton Street Community Center in Marion, adding she doesn't understand how anyone in good conscience could book a band with "Confederate" in the name and the Confederate flag on the album cover.

"No, they should not have been booked," she said, responding to a question. "I am not in favor of the band coming to Marion to play."

Genevia Buchanan, also at the community center, said the Confederate flag symbolizes separatism. "If you fly the flag or have it on your album cover, you feel superior to other groups, especially ethnic groups," she said. "The Confederate flag is a bigoted statement."

Former Marion City Commissioner Angelo Hightower said what the controversy tells him is that people -- not just in southern Illinois but all over the country -- fundamentally don't understand what the Confederate symbol means to people of color and how it still strikes fear in the hearts of many. Hightower said it would be an exercise in futility to ask Black Diamond to cancel the concert, but he doesn't believe the dealership intends to act in a racially divisive manner. Instead he thinks they just see booking Confederate Railroad as an economic opportunity. "What better way to raise revenue?" he said.

What has to happen going forward, he said, is civil dialogue between all sides.

"Nobody takes the time to try to understand other points of view anymore," Hightower said. "People need to be aware of why people on the other side feel the way they do."

Hightower, the only black elected to the Marion council, has organized forums on various "wedge" issues here before. He thinks it may be time to hold another one.

Meanwhile, Harrisburg Mayor John McPeek said he contacted the band's booking agent, Travis James, about putting on a concert here, but, "I was just a little too late." McPeek said he got both positive and negative reaction to trying to book Confederate Railroad, but the positive comments outweighed the negative, he said.

Keith Dismuke, a black singer/songwriter from Harrisburg, said it's not unusual for Southern Rock bands to draw upon Southern heritage in their music, and as long as they aren't promoting white supremacy he doesn't have a problem with it.

However, he said, the rise of Donald Trump has emboldened the true racists, which in turn has made non-racists more sensitive, blurring the line between white supremacy and honoring the Southern heritage. And sometimes, a band like Confederate Railroad gets caught in the middle, he added.

"They might not have anything to do with it, but right now there is that stigma and reputation in the climate," Dismuke said. "They're a prime target for anyone who wants to find a reason to set things straight."

Music, Dismuke said, should have some degree of colorblindness. "As a musician, I've always thought music should cross all boundaries. If you like it, you like it, no matter who it's by," he said.

• Tickets for Confederate Railroad go on sale at 9 a.m. Friday, July 12. General admission tickets are $20 plus fees. Buy them at Black Diamond or online at BlackDiamondHD.com. (618) 997-4577.

• Travis DeNeal and Renee Trappe of SILMG and Peter Hancock of Capitol News Illinois contributed to this report.

 
 
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