NATCHITOCHES, LA (KSLA) - The Natchitoches Christmas Festival of Lights parade has featured a number of floats, high-stepping marching bands and a variety of organizations, as that historical city ushers in the holiday season.
But this year, the mayor is asking one group to remove its main symbol, the Confederate battle flag.
The lights are already up for Natchitoches' 6 week long Christmas season. But before the lights are even scheduled to come on, controversy has been brewing.
The Natchitoches Parish Voters and Civic League went to the mayor this summer about the display of Confederate flags in the annual Christmas Festival parade, asking for the city to not allow them.
"It's a sore spot, a very open sore spot for the African American community for quite a long time who frequent the parade," said John Winston, the President of the Natchitoches Parish Voters and Civic League.
"Back in September, I went over to Natchitoches and talked to him and the mayor understood our viewpoint. He said that's fine, don't worry about it, we'll be ok. And then all of a sudden he changed his mind," said Thomas Taylor, the Louisiana Division Commander of Sons of Confederate Veterans.
On November 2, the Natchitoches Mayor Lee Posey sent a letter to the Christmas festival committee saying in part, "The city has determined that a significant portion of the public associate the confederate flag with organizations advocating expressions of hate, racism and intolerance directed toward people or groups that is demeaning to these people or groups."
"I agree with the decision that they made to omit the rebel units marching in the parade," said Floyd Lucas, a Natchitoches resident.
"The rebel flag stands for things besides, you know. It's a symbol of my heritage," said Russell Sisson, a Natchitoches resident.
The festival committee, a group of volunteers, complied with the mayors request. The director of the Christmas Festival Parade, Lee Waskom, told KSLA News 12 by phone, "This parade is about Christmas, and the birth of Jesus, and children."
"I was sad and a little outraged that the mayor caved to political correctness. That he let a vocal minority sway his decision," said Taylor.
"They have a right to wear their t-shirt flags, wave their flags, as long as the city is not sanctioning it," said Winston.
The Christmas season in Natchitoches is a big time for the city; thousands come and spend money.
"The people of Natchitoches are extremely upset. Business owners and citizens from what they will lose from us not being there. A lot of people are going to boycott if we're not there," said Taylor.
One business owner we spoke with took the decision into his own hands, and designed a Confederate Rebel Flag shirt, encouraging people to wear it to the parade.
"To bring the attention to the people that are making these decisions that we don't support it. We want people to come to the Christmas festival, and we want them to enjoy themselves. and we want the people that make their living off this month and a half off of festivals and stuff like that, we want them to continue to make the living that they've been working so hard for all of these years," said Dakota Scoggins, the owner of Old River Clothier.
We made multiple attempts to contact Mayor Posey, but he was not available for comment Wednesday or Thursday.
According to the festival committee, the application for the Sons of Confederate Veterans was denied. The Sons of Confederate Veterans tell me they have submitted a complaint with the ACLU.
The Sons of Confederate Veterans and the mayor met Thursday. The Sons of Confederate Veterans say they left with no guarantees about anything. The mayor reportedly told Taylor he would be calling the group back Thursday night after he talks with his attorneys.
We also heard about another group, the Teen Miss Battle of Pleasant Hill queens, being denied to appear in the parade as well.
We asked Waskom about the issue and were told that after the decision was made to not allow Confederate flags in the parade, the group contacted the committee. The queens' crown has a Confederate flag on it, and the festival committee informed the group that is not allowed in the parade.
An hour after that conversation, the group called back, asking if they could still participate if they did not wear the crowns. Waskom said the group was told that they could participate if they did not wear the crowns or have the flag waving, and Waskom said the group agreed.
The Christmas parade is December 5.