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A business and its Confederate sin

Photo: Sébastien Tanguay Le Devoir A small mausoleum in the store honors the memory of its founder, Dent “Wildman” Myers.

Sébastien Tanguay to Kennesaw

April 10, 2024

  • United States

In downtown Kennesaw, a store has sparked curiosity as well as controversy for half a century. A sanctuary of Confederate history for some, a den of uninhibited racism for others, Wildman's Civil War Surplus Shop sells Nazi banners, supremacist literature and a thousand and one objects associated with the American Confederacy — and gives the middle finger to political correctness in the name of his freedom of expression.

From the threshold, customers know which brand the business is owned by. The Make America Great Again crests climb on a section of wall, a poster with caustic humor teaches that the primate led to…former President Bill Clinton.

An unequivocal title covers the poster: “evolution of a democrat”.

« Hi, honey.» Behind her cluttered counter and her round glasses, Marjorie Lyon greets her customers with a greeting that betrays the drawling and warm accent of the Deep South. His Smith & Wesson with the moiré crosier hanging from her belt, she reigns as queen over this kingdom that looks like a shambles, seated between a sign reading “White Trash” and the death threats she receives on a daily basis — and which it compiles with great care.

“Welcome to the Hypocritical States of America, darling,” she says under prominent Confederate flags. Welcome to cancel culture where we publicly defame you, insult you, and threaten you while pretending to be good, loving, and inclusive. »

Marjorie Lyon says it again: the store commemorates a past that must be preserved to inspire lessons. The leitmotifof his business: “We welcome everyone, but we ask that you leave your hatred at the door. » Its detractors instead accuse commerce of harboring the hatred that it claims to confine outside. In their eyes, Wildman's not only honors the military history of the Civil War and the Third Reich: it also celebrates supremacist ideology and its natural child, racial discrimination.

Behind a cordon, the back room hides the most provocative allusions. A model, noose in hand, wears a faded Ku Klux Klan toga. “No dogs, no blacks, no Mexicans,” announces a poster crossed out and corrected with the words “dogs OK”.

Just opposite, hidden at the back of a glass display, are bales of cotton and tufts of hair, presented as “scarecrows” for “little black people” and “scalps” for “little black people” with great fanfare. discriminatory slang. Gone is the hand-written sign that once adorned them with “What a Hoot!! » to signify the “oh so amusing” nature of these two references.

“This is just wrong”

Wildman’s Shop is neither lacy, nor subtle, nor even good taste — and Marjorie Lyon fully accepts this. The numerous criticisms pass to her, she assures us, “like water off a duck’s back.”

“You are entitled to your feelings and you are entitled to your opinions. I, she said, don't believe we should mutilate children and raise them without assigning them sex at birth, but you don't see me attacking people who promote gender theory. I absolutely have the right to sell what I'm selling: this is the United States of America. No one, she says, has yet shown me a birth certificate that says Almighty God. »

In the dusty mess of the shop, some, among the few customers encountered, do not hide their discomfort well.

“I made it a point of honor never to enter here,” explains a curious person we met inside who was accompanying a friend, obviously despite himself. “I have mixed feelings about this place,” adds the man in his fifties. Yes, there is a historical aspect, but there is also an ideological side with which I do not agree at all and which deeply shocks me. »

“It’s just wrong to sell KKK-related items because it’s offensive to some people,” adds Aziré Evans, a 32-year-old African-American student I met on the campus of the Kennesaw University. Especially since this group terrorized a minority who were simply trying to assert their rights. It's upsetting to see these items sold there because I know the people who run this store know the history. They cannot plead ignorance. »

“It says a lot about our country”

It was at the dawn of the 1980s that Marjorie Lyon, a native of the state of Illinois, “the land of Abraham Lincoln”, first crossed the threshold of the boutique to which she would devote most of his professional life.

On New Year's Eve “around 1984”, as she recalls, her father took her to visit the Georgia Congress in Atlanta, then the Dent Myers business located in about forty kilometers away. This December 31, Marjorie Lyon admired the golden dome of Congress, symbol of the rights and freedoms protected under the dome of the People's House, and a store that constantly tested and pushed its limits.

A nearly four-decade collaboration ensued with the store’s founder, Dent “Wildman” Myers. The latter, with his prophet's beard, his eternal bandana in his hair, his two .45 caliber pistols on his waist and his silver rings on his fingers, was a celebrity in Kennesaw with his look that was both a hippie and a cowboy. and biker.

A business and its Confederate sin

Photo: Sébastien Tanguay Le Devoir Marjorie Lyon receives threats daily – and she doesn't care.

Deceased in January 2022 at the age of 90, Dent Myers, on his deathbed, asked Marjorie Lyon, his accomplice for 35 years, to continue his work. Five months after the burial of its founder, Wildman’s Shopopened its doors again, provoking the ire of those who would have rather seen the trade die out with it.

A city councilor, James Eaton, resigned in protest against the reopening of the store. His daughter, Cris Eaton Welsh, had a chiropractic clinic right next to the business: she preferred to close the business and move to another town rather than rub shoulders with her neighbor's Confederate symbols on a daily basis.

Two years later, she wrote to Devoir that she does not regret her decision, even if it led to the sacrifice of several friendships by the way.

“My family and I were completely ostracized because of our position: we had to abandon friends we had known for over 30 years,” Cris Eaton Welsh points out by email.

Two years later, “nothing has changed,” she laments. “The store is still there, and the City has no intention of judging it by the same standards as all other downtown businesses. It's sad, because it says a lot about the state of our country and our community. »

In the name of freedom of expression

In the streets of Kennesaw, people frown and shrug their shoulders with an apologetic look when Le Devoir mentions the Wildman's store and its Confederate flags fluttering in the wind, seeming to say: “I know, but what do you want me to do?”

Several, however, defend the controversial store's right of citizenship by citing the First Amendment.

“Personally, I prefer to stay away from it, but it’s a legal business,” explains Mayor Derek Easterling. Our Constitution has 27 amendments over 250 years: If we start taking away some freedoms and infringing on some people's rights, we are creating division. I don't approve of his presence here, it doesn't represent who we are at all in Kennesaw, but there are rules, and I believe they should apply equally to everyone. »

“Here in America, we have the right to express ourselves through our businesses and people have the right to express themselves by coming to do business with us or not,” said James, the general manager of a gun store located next to Wildman's, who prefers not to mention his surname. I know it's special inside this store, but if you don't like it, no one is forcing you to go and encourage it. »

In the middle of her store, Marjorie Lyon has erected a small mausoleum in memory of her friend and mentor, Dent Myers. The “Wildman”, thus sanctified, joins the controversial idols that populate the store, as another figure certainly venerated within these four walls, but whom many, outside, would prefer to abandon to the past.

This report was financed with the support of the Transat-Le Devoir.< International Journalism Fund /i>

Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116