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Offensive 'White people' float at Hope Mills July 4th parade causes a stir

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Photo courtesy Michael Kenneth Photo courtesy Michael Kenneth
Photo courtesy Michael Kenneth Photo courtesy Michael Kenneth

The Hope Mills Fourth of July parade is drawing criticism after an entry had racist overtones.

According to parade watchers and photos, at least two tractors had big Confederate battle flags behind them. One tractor was also pulling a trailer of watermelons.

A sign on the trailer read, "White History Month" followed by, "HUG WTE PPL."

Some parade watchers said they were not bothered by other signs on other tractors that read, "I didn't vote for Obama" and "God loves rednecks."

Kenny Bullock, Director of Parks and Recreation for Hope Mills, is responsible for organizing the parade. He said he received complaints about the signs. Mayor Jackie Warner, and town Commissioners Jerry Legge and Pat Edwards said they also received complaints. The town's other elected officials could not be reached Friday.

Bullock said farmer Donnie Spell applied for the entry in the parade. He listed 8-10 antique tractors and a trailer of watermelons for sale would be included in the parade. There was no mention of the signs he said.

Bullock, Edwards and parade watcher Alicia Jones said the tractors, the confederate flags and the trailer of watermelons had been in at least one previous parade. Spell regularly showed his tractors and confederate flags in the town's parades Edwards said.

Bullock said the previous entries were allowed as free speech. However, he said the "White History Month" sign combined with the other elements of the parade entry went too far. Bullock apologized for the incident and said the parade wasn't the right place for someone to express potential offensive views.

For Jones, the "White History Month" sign was blatantly offensive. She said she was watching the parade with her son and she was surprised by the implied message.

"At that time his innocence was broken, and I had to sit there in the parade and explain to my son what that meant - what all those signs meant - at seven years old," Jones said. "I mean it really caught me off-guard."

"I think there needs to be an apology, and [Spell] needs to not be able to submit – to be in any parade again."

Spell could not be reached Friday. There was not response to a message left with a relative of Spell's.

Bullock said he heard about the signs just before the parade. He said he couldn't find Spell at the time, so he asked Spell's daughter-in-law to ask Spell to take down the signs. Bullock said he understood that he signs were removed and put back up later.

Bullock said the Town of Hope Mills is now considering imposing specific guidelines for parade entries in the future. He said he is not sure if Spell should or could legally be banned from future parades. He said the town attorney will provide advice on that issue.

"I know where they're coming from, and I know some of them were hurt by it, and it's just something that happened, and I'm sorry it happened," Edwards said.

Edwards, Legge and Warner said they do not think Spell intended to be malicious, just to express his views. They said he has done many good things for the town of Hope Mills.

The tractor with the Confederate flag and the racial signs drew criticism on the Hope Mills Parks and Recreation Facebook page.

"The parade was great. Right up until the prejudiced rednecks. Shame on the city of Hope Mills," posted Stephanie Carter Tisdale.

"Parade had racial overtones; lots of Confederate flags, Obama bashing sticker on a tractor, and a John Deere tractor had a poster that reads "WHITE HISTORY MONTH HUG WTE PPL." Certainly, a celebration of independence parade is not the place to bring up these issues. Hope Mills should do better," wrote Michael Kenneth.

"I was absolutely astounded that Confederate flags were allowed to be so widely displayed within the parade. And judging by the comments from folks around me, myself and my husband weren't the only ones who were shocked and disappointed. The "white people" sign that was on one trailer, mentioned above, was at best a joke in incredibly poor taste," posted Megan Green.

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