From the January issue of the Civil War News…
CONCORD, N.C. — How could a hotel participating in a Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) convention have a guest evicted from his room and arrested for displaying a Confederate flag? It happened the evening of July 17, at the Wingate Inn in Concord, N.C., where the SCV was holding its annual national convention (reunion).
It took two court dates before misdemeanor charges of second degree trespass were recently dismissed against the Kentucky member who could have faced a fine and/or community service if found guilty.
SCV events were held at the Cabarrus Arena and Events Center from July 16-20 in Concord, where seven hotels, including the Wingate Inn, offered a group discount rate. The Wingate also hosted some smaller meetings.
Basil D. “Bazz” Childress, vice-president for a community bank in Kentucky and Lieutenant-Commander of the SCV Kentucky Division, was the man arrested.
He checked in to the Wingate on July 16. The next night he was to host his annual “Kentucky Soiree” for an expected 100 or more guests.
Childress said he decorated the walls of his room with flags from his camp, John C. Breckinridge Camp 100 in Lexington. He hung a Confederate flag (a rectangular, or naval jack, version) inside the window, opposite the door, where it picked up the fading rays as the sun set.
While smoking a cigarette outside the non-smoking hotel, Childress said he noticed that the flag in his window could be seen from out front. He hadn’t planned it that way, but he thought it could help guests find their way to the soiree.
Within 30 minutes of hanging the flag, he received a call from a front desk clerk asking him to “display your flags inside the room.”
“I bit my tongue, because the technical response – the literal response to that question — was, ‘Well they all are inside my room,’” Childress said in a phone interview.
Instead, he asked the clerk why she was making this request and she told him “we’ve had some complaints.”
Inquiring about what kind of complaints, the desk clerk told Childress it was a “sensitivity issue.” He said he informed the clerk he would think about her request and hung up.
After that, he guaranteed the guests entering his room that he’d get another call from hotel management. He was right.
General Manager Garrett Jenio phoned Childress about 30 minutes later. Childress said Jenio specifically asked him to take down the flag in the window.
Having paid for his room, Childress said he told Jenio he had a common law right as a renter to the “quiet enjoyment” of his room.
Before he would remove the Confederate flag, Childress said he insisted that Jenio would have to “demonstrate that I’m in violation of my rental agreement,” and he asked to see a copy of the document.
Jenio replied that he did not have to show Childress a copy of the Wingate’s rental agreement for guests. Childress said he countered by saying he would not take down the flag under those circumstances.
Before Jenio hung up, Childress asked him if this situation would exist if the flag in question were the British Union Jack instead of the Confederate flag. Childress remembered Jenio replying, “Probably not.”
A short while later, Joel Griffin, one of the Wingate’s owners, went to Childress’ room. Childress said Griffin declined to shake his hand and told him, “You have a decision to make. You’re either going to take that flag down or I’m going to call the police and have you arrested for criminal trespass.”
Childress said he tried to discuss the “contractual problems” regarding whether he was violating his rental agreement by not taking down the flag. He said Griffin’s reply was, “I’m not getting into a debate with you. You have a choice. Make it now or you’re going to go to jail.”
Characterizing the choice Griffin presented him as unreasonable, Childress said he told Griffin to call the police.
Griffin stormed out of the room, as Childress remembered it, returning some 30 minutes later with a Concord Police Department sergeant and two officers.
He said the police explained it was no longer a civil matter concerning the rental agreement, but was now a matter of criminal law. If Griffin wanted to claim Childress was criminally trespassing, the police said they would “have to deal with it.”
In a brief speech in defense of his position, Childress recalled saying: “I don’t see any way out of this matter of principle. I am absolutely finished with putting up with demands that cave in to the cultural Marxist interpretation of our history that requires spitting on the graves of our ancestors who gave birth to this country and hiding them and their symbols away in the name of a false tolerance. A line had to be drawn somewhere.”
An officer took Childress aside and asked how to defuse the situation. Childress explained he thought Griffin’s position was unreasonable. “The [Confederate] flag is plastered over everything we’re wearing and over our cars in the parking lot. So, what is the fundamental problem here vis-à-vis visibility?” Childress asked.
Griffin injected himself into the conversation and Childress told the officer, “I’m done with this silliness. Take me to jail.”
Frank Earnest, past commander of the Virginia Division, who was in Childress’ room when Griffin and the police were there, said in a phone interview, “Griffin’s actions made no logical sense.”
As national SCV Chief of Heritage Defense, he said what happened to Childress was definitely a “heritage violation,” which includes situations when people are mistreated because they display Confederate symbols.
Childress said his room was packed with supporters, many of whom arrived after the Virginia and North Carolina caucuses downstairs adjourned early when word got out about Childress’ situation (see related story).
Among them were lawyer Kirk Lyons of the Southern Legal Resource Center that specializes in freedom-of-speech cases involving display of Confederate symbols and incoming national SCV Commander-in-Chief Chuck McMichael, who said he was “appalled by what happened.”
After Childress made arrangements for his personal belongings to be packed by a friend, the police escorted him to one of their cars. He held out his hands to be handcuffed, and was told he would not be handcuffed.
Childress recalled the officer complimented the SCV people in his hotel room and in the halls, saying they “behaved as perfect ladies and gentlemen this evening, and we appreciate it.” Childress and Earnest likewise later praised the police officers’ professionalism.
After going through the police paperwork, Childress was released and picked up at the station by some friends who were waiting. He stayed at a different hotel for the rest of the convention.
The incident was the first topic discussed at the convention the next day by outgoing national Commander-in-Chief Christopher M. Sullivan. Resolutions were passed to praise Childress for his courage and the Concord Police Department for their professionalism, as well as to establish a legal defense fund. SCV members were urged to boycott all Wingate Inns and other hotels in the Wyndham Hotel Group.
The Wingate Inn charged his credit card for four nights, even though Childress only spent one night there. He had to dispute the charge with his credit card issuer to get a refund for the other three nights.
The inn lost a lot of other money the night Childress was arrested as a large number of SCV convention attendees checked out to protest how Childress was treated, according to Earnest.
At the Sept. 30 court hearing, the prosecutor was granted a continuance until Oct. 28. The prosecutor then asked for another continuance.
Childress said his lawyer, Chris McCartan, objected that this was the second time Griffin failed to appear and that Childress had come all the way from Kentucky. The judge agreed and approved the motion to dismiss the case.
No one connected with Joel Griffin or the Wingate Inn in Concord sent him an apology, according to Childress, who said he is pursuing a civil lawsuit in the matter. Griffin declined to comment for this story and Jenio did not return repeated e-mails and phone calls.
Postscript: The flag in front of Childress’ window came down after the police escorted him out. Inn owner Griffin did not seem to want to be photographed taking it down, said Childress.
John Suttles, Commander of the Purchase Area Brigade in the Kentucky Division, said he took the flag down after Griffin told him he had ancestors who fought under the flag.
“We wanted him to take it down, but after he stated this, I told him I didn’t want him to dirty that flag, and I took it down,” reported Suttles. “Then Les Williamson, another Kentuckian, and I folded the flag and retired it from the room.”