Members of the Peoples Power Assembly burned a confederate flag to promote getting rid vestiges of slavery and racism.
As the controversy surrounding the Confederate battle flag continues around the nation, Baltimore activists gathered in a vacant lot on the Fourth of July to burn one of the banners they said represents slavery and racism.
About a dozen members of the Peoples Power Assembly and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference gathered near Charles Street and North Avenue and circled a small grill that cradled a balled-up battle flag soaked in lighter fluid.
Before they set it on fire, members read portions of Frederick Douglass' 1852 speech, "What, to the American slave, is your Fourth of July?"
Lee Patterson, a member of the assembly, read Douglass' words suggesting that, to a slave, Independence Day reflected "more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham."
Patterson and fellow assembly member Sharon Black said the protest was organized, in part, to counteract the sale of Confederate battle flags and memorabilia bearing its image at this weekend's Dundalk Heritage Fair in Baltimore County.
"Burning this flag symbolizes the continuing battle against white supremacy," said Patterson, who is black.
One woman who attended the festival, Kathy Trapani of Hyattsville, purchased five Confederate flags at the event Friday and said the banner was not about white supremacy. To her, it was a symbol of history.
When she heard that the flag had been burned, Trapani said, "I think that's horrible."
Baltimore County Councilman Todd K. Crandell, a Republican who represents Dundalk, said he did see more Confederate flags this year at the fair but there was no controversy about the banner.
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"The fact that the Confederate flag may have been more prominent in the fair this year due to national events, I don't think that means our community is embroiled in some divide," Crandell said. "But this is America, and you have the right to wave any flag you want. We have to realize that Maryland is south of the Mason-Dixon line and that flag is part of our history. It means different things to different people."
The flag flown by Southern armies during the Civil War has come under scrutiny after the fatal shooting of nine black members of a South Carolina church by a white man who was photographed with the flag.
The National Park Service announced it would stop selling some items with the symbol at Antietam National Battlefield and other sites, retailers such as Wal-Mart are removing merchandise bearing the flag from stores, and staff for Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan has said he is pursuing steps to stop the state Motor Vehicle Administration from issuing license plates bearing the flag.
Activists have called for the removal of the flag and Confederate monuments in Baltimore.
"These symbols of racism must come down," said Sherelle Witherspoon, who attended Saturday's event. "We're still fighting for freedom."