MEMPHIS, Tenn. (localmemphis.com) - Organizers of a planned confederate ride Saturday are distancing themselves from hate groups who are also expected to descend on the bluff city.
The organization 'Confederate 901' says a convoy of cars, trucks, and motorcycles displaying Confederate flags will peacefully drive around the city.
It's in response to the Memphis City Council's vote last month to work around state law, by selling two Memphis parks to a non-profit, and removing the statues of Confederate leaders Nathan Bedford Forrest and Jefferson Davis.
The 'Confederate 901' ride is expected to begin at the Tennessee Welcome Center Saturday. While ride organizers said any hate or white nationalist groups are 'not' welcome or invited, Memphis community activists are worried about potential unrest and promise to keep a watchful eye.
"We are just getting prepared. We've been on this the last two weeks,” says Mario Denton.
Denton said he's been in daily contact with 'Confederate 901' organizers. Denton said those organizers assured him their event will be peaceful and respectful, but also warned of the likely presence of unaffiliated hate groups, similar to those involved in the chaos last August in Virginia.
"Anything can happen, just think back on Charlottesville,” says Denton.
Saturday's planned 'Confederate 901' rally is drawing national attention, and inspiring Facebook livestream comments from statue supporters.
"People are taking different things and blowing them out of proportion,” says a ‘Confederate 901’ organizer, who only wanted to go by John. He told Local 24 their event is about protecting historical monuments and not about inciting racial tensions or encouraging mayhem.
"There's been word put out that we are supposed to block off all the roads in Memphis and shut the whole city down,” says John. “You know, that's total BS and rumor mill that's putting out all this flagrant information that's not even true.”
One confederate organization won’t be among those who show for Saturday’s ride.
Last month’s removal of the two confederate statues still angers those with the Sons of Confederate Veterans. But the organization said they’ll respond in a court of law, not by riding with Confederate flags across the city.
“Rallies and stuff like this, that's not what we are about. That's not our purpose and we aren't happy this is happening,” says Doug Jones, an attorney with the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
The Nashville attorney is worried unaffiliated hate groups will hijack the headlines, and overshadow those who support the preservation of Confederate history - good and bad.
"There’s no need for this. What the city of Memphis has done has caused enough strife and upset a number people,” says Jones. “But we don’t need anything else and certainly don’t need any hate, hate is terrible."
Those with the Memphis NAACP are also concerned about potential violence, and will hold a news conference Friday after speaking with the national office Wednesday.
Confederate 901 organizers said hate groups aren’t invited and aren’t associated with their event Saturday, which they promise will be peaceful and respectful.
"We're not there to focus on any racial issues or anything like that, it's about holding the government accountable,” says John.
Memphis police leaders said they don't anticipate violence Saturday but said they won't allow any destruction of property.
A city of Memphis statement Wednesday afternoon encouraged people stay away Saturday.
“We respect the right of free assembly and free speech, and we will continue to do that as it relates to the potential for demonstrations in Memphis this Saturday.
We are continually monitoring the situation and are working with all partners to ensure public safety. The best way for the public to help us with that is simple: It’s for Memphians to stay away from the demonstrations. We’re strongly encouraging people to avoid sites like the Tennessee Welcome Center, Health Sciences Park and Memphis Park, Saturday.”