Despite concerns from racial justice activists, a North Carolina branch of the Hilton Hotel chain will host a gathering for a group devoted to valorizing the Confederacy — which fought the Civil War explicitly to keep Black Americans enslaved — on the last day of Black History Month.
The Sons of Confederate Veterans will hold its annual Stephen D. Lee Conference — named after a Confederate general — on Saturday, Feb. 29, at the Embassy Suites by Hilton, Raleigh-Durham Airport/Brier Creek.
Late last month, Brandi Collins-Dexter, senior campaign director for the nation’s largest racial justice digital organization, Color of Change, wrote a letter to the hotel asking that it “not enable hate by rejecting [the Sons of Confederate Veterans’] presence at your hotel.”
“They, much like neo-Nazis, recognize Confederate iconography as a shorthand expression of white supremacy and the deadly ways it intersects with this country’s toxic legacies of racism,” Collins-Dexter wrote in the letter, a copy of which was shared with HuffPost.
“Allowing this hate-filled organization space at your hotel validates its existence and intentions,” Collins-Dexter continued. “Furthermore, with known connections to the KKK, having this convening at Brier Creek Embassy Suites jeopardizes the safety and comfort of other hotel guests.”
Color of Change said the hotel never responded to the letter. The hotel also did not respond to multiple requests for comment from HuffPost.
“Although our hotels are places that welcome all, we do not adopt or endorse the views of the individuals or groups that we serve,” a spokesperson for the hotel’s franchisor, Hilton Worldwide Holdings Inc., told HuffPost in a statement. “We reject discrimination and white supremacy in all its forms.”
“As Embassy Suites by Hilton Raleigh Durham Airport Brier Creek is an independently owned and operated hotel,” the statement continued, “we are reaching out to understand ownership’s position on this matter.”
The Sons of Confederate Veterans convening in Raleigh comes amid both a yearslong surge in white nationalist activity across the country and bitter fights over public Confederate monuments across the South.
After protesters on the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill campus tore down the Confederate statue known as “Silent Sam” in 2018, the Sons of Confederate Veterans filed a lawsuit seeking to take possession of it. This past November, the group came to an agreement with the UNC Board of Governors: Sons of Confederate Veterans would not only get the statue, but would also receive $2.4 million in taxpayer money to maintain and preserve it.
After outcry from students and local activists, however, a judge earlier this month scrapped that settlement and dismissed the lawsuit altogether.
Amanda Jackson, the media culture and economic justice director at Color of Change, told HuffPost that this weekend’s conference is yet another example of America’s relationship with white supremacy.
“The fact that a hate group can book a block of rooms and have a field conference and no one blinks an eye about it — like, I think we have to question why that is,” said Jackson, who lives in Raleigh.
The hotel, she added, is normalizing an “entity that is very much hell-bent on eroding the presence of Black people.”
The Sons of Confederate Veterans has long argued that it is neither a hate group nor a white supremacist organization, claiming that it simply aims to honor its members’ heritage and ancestry.
Although the Southern Poverty Law Center does not list the Sons of Confederate Veterans as a hate group, the SPLC does describe it as having “strong neo-Confederate principles” that it uses to valorize the “darker parts of our history.”
The SPLC also contends that “their effort to gloss over the legacy of slavery in the South ... strengthens the appeal of Lost Cause mythology,” which in turn encourages the ongoing existence of violent hate groups.
Sons of Confederate Veterans has a long and well-established history of associating directly with white supremacist organizations. At a gathering in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, in 2017, Sons of Confederate Veterans members rallied alongside members of the Ku Klux Klan.
One of the featured speakers at this weekend’s conference will be Marshall DeRosa, a professor with ties to the League of the South, another white supremacist organization.
“Why aren’t we having the conversation of what it means to be on the side of the Confederacy?”
“It is not lost on me that the Sons of Confederate Veterans had to have their conference during Black History Month,” Jackson said. “And I think that that is the underlying notion that needs to be confronted around why this is so wrong.”
“Why aren’t we having the conversation of what it means to be on the side of the Confederacy?” she added, arguing that the Southern Army was a white supremacist organization itself.
To normalize Confederate groups and Confederate iconography, she said, is an “attempt to render Black people invisible.”
Jackson said she will be among protesters outside the hotel in Raleigh on Saturday. That protest is being organized in part by a group called Smash Raleigh Racism.
“The Sons of Confederate Veterans are a white supremacist organization with ties to the KKK, League of the South, and other violent, fascist groups,” Smash Raleigh Racism said Tuesday in a statement posted on its Facebook page. “The state of North Carolina refuses to remove the racist confederate monuments from the state capitol building, making racist groups like the SCV feel welcome in North Carolina.”
“Our community, which opposes racism and bigotry, wishes to make sure they know that their hate is not welcome in our state,” the group said.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article misstated the relationship between Hilton Worldwide Holdings Inc. and Embassy Suites by Hilton, Raleigh-Durham Airport/Brier Creek. Hilton Worldwide Holdings Inc. is not the owner of the hotel, but a franchisor.