Supporters of the Confederate flag rallied Wednesday in Oklahoma as President Barack Obama arrived in the state for a series of events, including the first ever visit to a federal prison by a sitting President.
About 10 people waving Confederate battle flags were among the crowd that gathered Wednesday night outside the Oklahoma City hotel where Obama was expected to stay, according to a White House pool report. One person waved an American flag and another held up a pro-Obama sign, the report noted.
Protesters also gathered earlier in the day near Durant, Oklahoma before Obama arrived at a local high school to deliver remarks on a program expanding high-speed Internet access, according to local TV station KFOR.
Confederate flag supporters fly their flags across the street from Durant High School. (AP)
“We’re not gonna stand down from our heritage. You know, this flag’s not racist. And I know a lot of people think it is, but it’s really not,” one protester who said he drove up from Texas, Trey Johnson, told the news station. “It’s just a southern thing, that’s it.”
Obama praised the removal of the Confederate battle flag from state Capitol grounds last week in South Carolina:
South Carolina taking down the confederate flag – a signal of good will and healing, and a meaningful step towards a better future.
— President Obama (@POTUS) July 10, 2015
A debate over the flag’s place in public spaces has raged across southern states in the weeks since a man with white supremacist leanings allegedly massacred nine black churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina. The issue also reached Capitol Hill last week, where House Republicans scrapped a vote on an environmental spending bill in order to avoid debating the Confederate flag.
This post has been updated.