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DUNLAP, Tenn. — A small town in the pastoral Sequatchie Valley of Southeast Tennessee could become home to a Confederate battle flag monument as large as two football fields and visible for miles from the slopes of a mountain.
Carson Camp — a coal mining historian, land developer, former Dunlap mayor and commissioner, photographer and artist — wants to create what could be the largest image of the Confederate battle flag in the South to preserve what he says is an important part of American history and his own heritage.
The Sequatchie County native wants to use the side of Fredonia Mountain as his canvas. For him, the flag represents the South's battle for state's rights rather than slavery.
Camp says "there's no question" that hate groups like the Ku Klux Klan have used the Confederate symbol as their own. But that is not its real history, he said.
And "knee-jerk" reactions to the June 17 South Carolina church shooting that left nine black parishioners dead means some groups are trying to "erase history," Camp said, likening them to ISIS in the Middle East, whose soldiers are vandalizing or destroying historic sites.
Dylann Storm Roof, the 21-year-old white man accused of the massacre at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, had posted racist comments online as well as images of himself wrapped in the flag and holding guns, according to The Associated Press.
The violent rampage sparked renewed debate over the flag. Many Southern politicians called for its removal from statehouses and license plates, and retailers such as Wal-Mart and Amazon stopped selling it. Leaders in the Tennessee General Assembly called for a bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest, acclaimed for his genius as a Confederate general but criticized for his past as a slave trader and early leader of the Ku Klux Klan, to be removed from the state Capitol. Even 1980s TV show "The Dukes of Hazzard" has been pulled from reruns because it featured a car decorated with the Confederate flag.
NAACP Chattanooga chapter president Dr. Elenora Woods said recently that the issue comes down to considering one another's feelings and emotions alongside their historic experience.
"You've got two different life experiences. The life experience of African-Americans is different when you talk about the time upon which the Confederate flag was waved," Woods said.
"It was a terrible time. But for those who were fighting for slavery, that's the flag they waved. So if your life experience, or the window you're looking out of was not the window that said, 'I am a slave,' you might not have a problem with it."
Supporters of Confederate heritage, meanwhile, rallied to defend their colors. Rallies in support of the flag were held this week in the Georgia cities of Fort Oglethorpe, Dalton and Summerville, and on Friday in Chattanooga.
Camp said Roof's actions were "horrible," but connecting the Confederate symbol with his own racist agenda is unfair to history and those with historic family ties to the Confederacy.
Dunlap man plans giant Confederate battle flag monument on Fredonia MountainView 7 Photos
Carson Camp's great-great-grandfather, R.C. Camp, from Flintstone, Ga., was 14 when he joined the Confederate Army and served in the cavalry under Forrest. R.C. Camp was captured in 1863 and sent to a Union prison camp in Chicago. He survived and returned to Sequatchie County, where he died in 1922.
Camp said his ancestors never owned a slave but went to war to protect states' rights. He is a proud member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, and Confederate battle flags and memorabilia are scattered throughout his home.
The idea for the flag monument sparked when Camp and his son, Cameron, were discussing the impact of the South Carolina shootings on their beloved battle flag.
"My son said, 'What can we do to stop this? They're taking down every symbol of the South,'" Camp said.
"I said, 'If we wanted to there's nothing that tells me we can't go up there and clean out 10 acres and put the world's biggest Confederate flag up.'"
The family owns several hundred acres on the Cumberland Plateau, including a portion of one of the Trail of Tears routes onto the plateau, and he has ideas for commemorating that history, as well.
Camp said the grid for the memorial will be laid out using global positioning satellites, and the memorial will be built from stones painted in red, white and blue water-based paint. He said he'll need lots of help and he hopes to generate interest among local youth with a passion for history.
Dunlap Mayor Dwain Land defended Camp's freedom of speech and he noted that, like Camp, he also has an ancestor who fought for the Confederacy. Land's great-great-grandfather fought for the South, was captured, then fought for the North, "so he fought for both sides," he said.
"It's his property, he can do what he wants," Land said of Camp's plans. "From an economic standpoint, if it turns out to be a sightseeing site like Mount Rushmore or Stone Mountain, Ga., it'll be a benefit for Dunlap."
Staff Writer Louie Brogdon contributed to this report. Contact staff writer Ben Benton at email@example.com or 423-757-6569.