Presidential candidate Ben Carson OKed the flying of the Confederate flag during a speech on Sept. 28. The former Johns Hopkins neurosurgeon spoke about the flag while touring a camp for disabled children alongside its sponsor, retired NASCAR driver Richard Petty.
Carson, currently among the front-runners for the Republican presidential nomination, was being shown around the North Carolina-based camp when reporters asked him about the Confederate flag, Associated Press reported. The controversial bars and stripes, which many consider to be a symbol of racism, is often used by NASCAR fans. The organization has banned the flag from being flown at races, earning many fans’ rage.
Carson says that the Confederate flag is a “local issue."
"If it’s a majority of people in that area who want it to fly, I certainly wouldn’t take it down," he said.
He reasons that as long as it’s being displayed on private property, then the flag is free speech.
The retired neurosurgeon, the only African American currently running in the 2016 presidential race, did acknowledge that the flag is problematic for black Americans. The Confederate flag has been a popular symbol in the southern states but has been undergoing a popular reevaluation after the Charleston, South Carolina, massacre, Yahoo reports.
"Swastikas are a symbol of hate for some people, too,” Carson said. “And yet they still exist in museums and places like that.”
Petty, a beloved figure in NASCAR racing, was complimentary of Carson.
“He’s very humane,” Petty told AP in a brief interview. “That’s one of his strong points as far as we’re concerned… We’re hoping he’s endorsing the camp, we’re not necessarily endorsing him, but we are — you know what I mean?”
Carson made a stop at Lexington Barbecue for lunch. Julie Lopp, one of the owners of the establishment, voiced support for Carson.
“I just think he's honest,” Lopp said.
She added, owever, that “as much as people try to sound like they don’t care, some people think a black president will look out for the black lifestyle.”
Carson’s response? “Racism exists everywhere.”