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Sunday, June 16, 2024

It might be racist. It might be heritage. Either way, no one seems to mind why or how Judy Byer gets her shipments of Ku Klux Klan shirts.

She’s been selling them on the road for 20 years, the past 10 of which were under the red-and-white tent in the back 40 of the Waldo Flea Market. The sign on the front reads “Redneck Country.”

Under the air-conditioned tent, it’s hard to open your eyes without seeing the Confederate flag. That’s where she makes her money.

License plates, pocket knives, lighters, handkerchiefs and bikinis, all emblazoned with the stars and bars of Dixie, top the aisles of collapsible Formica tables. A glass case toward the front holds a collection of Confederate flag patches and Obama urinal targets.

Byer said she got the idea to sell her goods to prove a point. In 1992, Georgia Gov. Zell Miller introduced legislation to wipe the Confederate battle sign off his state flag, which had flown since 1956.

“He was raising so much Cain about the Southern flag — that it’s racist when it’s really heritage,” Byer said.

The flag changed in 2003, but her crusade for Southern heritage hasn’t stopped.

She said she doesn’t order the Klan shirts out of hate but rather for money. After a request from two men in Ohio, she carried “Black Power” T-shirts. She’s sold Martin Luther King Jr. belt buckles, too.

As for the KKK’s message, she said she doesn’t agree with “most of their stuff.”

“Everybody’s got their right to feel or buy whatever they want,” she said. “I don’t think I’ve got the right to push my opinion on anyone myself.”

She said her clientele is just as diverse as any. She’s sold KKK shirts to people ranging from 7 years old to 95 years old, to whites who wear them fishing and to a black bodybuilder in Jacksonville who flies the Dixie flag in his front yard. She’s seen members of the community wearing them in the Waldo Winn-Dixie.

One of the more popular of the 10 shirt designs pictures three Klansmen in their white hoods and sheets. Underneath, the shirt reads, “The original boys in the hood.”

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About a football field away from the Rebel Country tent, 71-year-old Ellcano Reeves sells mustard greens, collards and turnips out of the back of his beat-up, forest-green 1996 Ford F-150.

Growing up in Rayford, Fla., in the 1940s and 1950s, he’s seen the worst racism has to offer.

As a 10-year-old, he remembers being  mugged by the neighborhood white children on his way to the store. He learned to carry with him a broom handle wrapped in wire on one end when he walked to the store. He would lean the broom handle against the wall of the nearby feed store on his way. When the other children would chase him, he’d sprint to the broom handle and start busting heads.

In the 1960s, during the Civil Rights Movement, he started carrying a knife for the same reason.

Even now, a .30-06 rifle rests across the bench seat of his pick-up truck. Usually, it’s for hunting deer, but he said he wouldn’t hesitate to use it for protection.

“I carried it for a purpose,” he said. “But don’t change that purpose on me.”

On weekends, he sits in the cool shade of the flea market pavilion, propped on the back two legs of a lawn chair. His dusty work boots rest on a wooden tabletop while he peddles his produce to shoppers who come down the long aisle.

He said he knows about Rebel Country and Judy Byer’s KKK shirts. He said he’s not offended.

“That’s their business,” he said. “I am who I am, and I don’t have to change for anybody. They are who they are, and they don’t have to change for me.”

Still, he said, he wouldn’t go out of his way to talk with someone wearing one of the shirts because “our views would be so different that we couldn’t carry a conversation.”

Flea Market owner Sally Blakewood said she welcomes the sellers’ views and their products “as long as they stay in their tent and don’t bother anybody.”

“We’re pretty big on diversity,” she said. “That’s what the flea market’s all about.”

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