National

The last confederate flag factory

The hum of sewing machines is the near-constant backdrop to Belinda Kennedy’s work at Alabama Flag and Banner, a small workshop in Huntsville, Ala., that Kennedy says is the only remaining U.S. maker of Confederate battle flags.

Her business employs 12 people, four of them Latina seamstresses who can spend from several hours up to several days stitching each appliquéd flag from cotton, polyester or nylon. Kennedy takes orders from and ships Confederate flags to all 50 states. They’ve also gone to Japan, Canada and Australia, but all her materials — thread, grommets, fabric — are U.S.-made.

Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post

Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post

Demand for Confederate battle flags increased sharply in 2015 after a self-described white supremacists in Charleston, S.C., massacred nine black churchgoers. Amazon, Walmart and other major vendors stopped selling Confederate merchandise.

Kennedy, who is white, recalls that in 2015 she tried to place an order for about 100 flags and was turned down by a number of her regular suppliers.

“We’re considering it dead stock and not going to sell it,” she said she was told.

Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post

Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post

“Some people were saying, ‘I don’t intend to fly it. I’ll keep this flag. I want seven; I have seven grandchildren.’”
—Belinda Kennedy

Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post

Migdalia Carcano, 27, who is Latina, joined her two aunts and a cousin to work at the company two years ago. She works on many different flags, taking pride in the craftsmanship, and she doesn’t focus on the controversy around the Confederate flag.

“I really don’t have any thoughts about it,” she said. “They are historical flags.”

Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post

“Every time a monument would come down, we’d see an uptick in sales. That is because people can’t buy a monument, but they can buy a flag.”
—Belinda Kennedy

Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post

Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post

In 1985, when Kennedy and her husband started a small distribution business, she didn’t anticipate eventually being known for making Confederate flags. But she has little time for the hate groups who, she says, have hijacked a “historic flag” that she considers a tribute to her two great-grandfathers, who fought for the South in the Civil War.

She sees no end to the demand — or to her willingness to respond to it.

Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post

“I’m not going to not sell this flag because all of a sudden somebody has told the world it’s politically incorrect.”
—Belinda Kennedy

Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post