- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 2, 2000

CRAWFORDVILLE, Ga. Johnny Harris sits on the front porch of a small cottage day after day, brushing away dime-sized bumblebees and hammering rings of metal into Confederate battle flags.
Mr. Harris, who is black, says he loves his job. He likes his boss and is happy to be able to come to work in T-shirts. One of his favorites says: "You Wear Your 'X.' I'll Wear Mine."
These days, more and more Confederate banners are passing through Mr. Harris' hands at Ruffin Flag Co. Orders are pouring in as people in South Carolina passionately argue about whether the battle flag should come down from atop the Statehouse. And there's renewed debate over whether to change Georgia's state flag, which features a Confederate emblem.
All of which means business here is good.
"Every time someone says something about the flag, the orders shoot up," says Soren Dresch, a 36-year-old white man who started the company 10 years ago after graduating from the University of Alabama. "It's like a modern-day relic."
The South Carolina Senate has passed a bill to move the battle flag from the Statehouse dome to a nearby monument to Civil War dead. Both the flag's most ardent supporters and opponents are fighting the plan.
During the debate, legislators in South Carolina have been scrambling to accommodate requests from constituents who want to own Confederate flags that once flew over the Statehouse.
Last fiscal year, legislative staff ran 416 battle flags up a special pole on the Capitol roof. This year, they've put up more than 3,200, flying most for just a few seconds.
South Carolina legislators have bought about 1,000 Confederate flags from Ruffin in just the past two months, House Sergeant-at-Arms Mitch Dorman said. Mr. Dresch figures he has lost $10,000 in sales because he simply can't keep Confederate flags in stock.
You wouldn't know it by walking through the four-room cottage that serves as both the company's headquarters and its stock room, if you could walk through it at all.
Floor to ceiling and wall to wall, the place is stuffed with world and state flags and hundreds of boxes of Confederate styles battle flags, national flags, state flags changed to represent secession.
And the memorabilia: Confederate license plates. Civil War books. Dusty albums of a band called The Rebelaires. Even packets of Confederate coffee ("The taste that secedes").
The company's location and address are no accident 241 Alexander St., after Alexander Stephens, vice president of the Confederacy. Stephens was born in Crawfordville, a tiny crossroads about halfway between Atlanta and Augusta.
Even the company name boasts Rebel pride: Its namesake, Edmund Ruffin, is credited with firing the first shot of the war at Fort Sumter, S.C.
Mr. Dresch, standing in the middle of a Civil War museum he has created, says he is happy to see the business. But he is disappointed that the flag flap has become so heated that some would paint all its proponents as racist good ol' boys nostalgic for slavery.
"It's easy to throw that R-word on it," he says. "The flag represents the Southern soldiers, asked by the state to defend all the citizens. That's all."
At the Ruffin business desk, Mr. Dresch's 19-year-old brother, Karl, spends his afternoon sorting through pink mail-order slips. The company also offers sales over the Internet.
To make his flags, Mr. Dresch employs workers in Wisconsin, on the Pacific Rim and a handful in Crawfordville.
Among them are Mr. Harris and Margaret Veasey, who also is black. They say they are happy with their work and hope to marry soon.
They have logged two years on the front porch at Ruffin. She works a knife into the borders of flags, pries out their flimsy grommets and passes the banners over to Mr. Harris, who hammers in stronger ones.
They know the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is deep into a tourism boycott of South Carolina and is mulling a similar move in Georgia and Virginia. Civil rights leaders' claims that the Confederate flag should enrage Americans most of all black Americans because it stands for slavery bewilders them.
"The flag it's doing nothing," Miss Veasey says. "The flag has never done anything to you. There's just a lot of prejudiced people around here."
She looks at the flag's red background, its crossing blue bars and white stars, and sees honor, dignity, freedom, salvation.
"It represents, to me, Jesus Christ," Miss Veasey says. "That's what the Confederacy is. It's based on the Holy Bible, on Jesus Christ. They don't understand the Holy Bible."
She pauses. "So they don't understand the Confederacy."

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