BRANDON — In what has become known as Hillsborough County's largest July Fourth parade, hundreds of children and adults waved small flags Friday as politicians, religious groups and marching bands walked by.
But these weren't flags honoring the 232nd birthday of the United States of America. Rather, these were Confederate flags, banners of a far different stripe known to stir strong passions in these parts.
On Friday, the same group that recently flew a giant Confederate flag near the junction of Interstates 4 and 75 teamed up with the Daughters of Confederate Veterans to hand out about 2,880 small Confederate flags along the parade route.
"I've done given away 1,000 flags already," said Charles Butler of Hudson, a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. "People really seem to like them."
The flags are a parade tradition. In the 49 years that Brandon has hosted the parade, the Sons of Confederate Veterans have given away flags or marched in the parade for at least the past 40 years, said Janine Nickerson, vice president of the Brandon President's Roundtable, the parade organizer.
After last month's flap over the giant flag, a woman called parade organizers to say she was protesting this year's flag giveaway, Nickerson said.
But there was no protest Friday as the Sons of the Confederate Veterans' float wended its way along the route, festooned in red and blue, the word "Dixie" emblazoned across a giant red heart. A stereo blasted Dixie from speakers.
Most of the crowd, which was overwhelmingly white, greeted it with smiles and polite clapping.
"It's part of our heritage," said Scott Leach, a 32-year-old Seffner father of two toddler daughters who clutched tiny Confederate flags. "I don't see it as a racist thing."
Others weren't so sure.
"I don't know if it's really appropriate," said Donni Dilorenzo of Brandon. "A lot of people are offended by what the flag represents."
Jeff Cotten, a 29-year-old member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, said the flag represented nothing more than a history that most people don't understand.
In the 90-degree heat, Cotten wore a Confederate soldier's uniform of wool jacket and pants, boots, and a belt with a buckle with the initials "CS" — short for Confederate States. He marched ahead of the float, happy in what he called a mission to rid people of their ignorance.
Among Cotten's beliefs about history: that Karl Marx was a member of President Lincoln's cabinet (property appraiser); Lincoln not only had slaves, but fathered children with them; the South released its slaves in 1861 or 1862; and that Northern states such as Massachusetts had slaves until 1904.
"We're just trying to get the truth out," Cotten said.