Union City, TN (WMC) - On the surface, a Facebook post from a West Tennessee Harley Davidson Dealership seemed to declare a new war between the North and the South all over the Confederate battle flag. In this case, the North is Harley Davidson corporate in Milwaukee, WI and the South is Abernathy Harley Davidson in Union City, Tennessee. The post went viral on Facebook pages dedicated to Harley and other motorcycles.
The Tuesday night post reads "As of today, we have been informed Harley Davidson will no longer let any Harley Davidson Dealership sell any T-shirts with the Confederate Battle Flag on the back. This is truly a sad day in the History of the United States. Pray for the future of this country, as it needs help now. God Bless America!!!!!!!!!!" The post goes on to offer the final supply of t-shirts the dealership has with the flag "while they last."
Like in many of the other arenas where the call to take down confederate symbols caused controversy and some backlash, this post fueled the fires as well. Comments on a page called "I Love My Harley (No Rules)" called for a Harley boycott and for riders to flood the motor company with phone calls. But, Russell Abernathy, the owner of the Union City dealership said he wants no part of that. He said the tone of the post has been blown out of proportion.
Abernathy's family has owned the dealership for 60 years and he said he doesn't want to jeopardize his family's relationship with HD. He added, "These shirts were done for the 150th anniversary of the Civil War last year, and these were the last of the shirts we had." The shirt shows an American flag, the Confederate battle flag and the words "150th Anniversary." "I'm a Civil War buff, my family fought in the Civil War," Abernathy said over the phone. "I grew up as a kid loving the history of the Civil War. I think all of this is blown out of proportion all over the United States."
Abernathy also wanted to clarify what happened. He now says at no time did Harley tell him he couldn't sell the shirts, only that they will no longer license Harley Davidson merchandise with the Confederate flag. I've reached out to HD corporate to confirm that. Their PR firm called me back saying they are looking into it and will get back to me. I did speak to Southern Thunder Harley Davidson in Southaven, MS, who told me they have not heard anything about a ban on the flag. The dealership has not carried any for years since they've been under new ownership, and that may be why. Some Harley enthusiasts claimed on Facebook this is all just a publicity stunt from the dealership. But Abernathy says "I can assure you this is not a stunt. We've been in business for 60 years. We don't operate like that."
Abernathy said there are as many as 30 other dealerships who use the same shirt with the Confederate flag. He says his dealership is simply using the mandate to clear out its inventory, "We wanted to get rid of the T-Shirts that we had. We knew this would be the end, so we advertised there would be no more."
The bigger story obviously is if Harley Davidson corporate has officially cut ties with the divisive symbol. I'm still waiting for corporate comment and will keep you posted.
Be careful out there, and please follow me on social media.
Chris Best is the Assistant News Director for WMC Action News 5. He's a husband and father of four, He's also a motorcycle enthusiast.