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Confederate flag flies in Pitcairn despite objections

Ben Schmitt
| Monday, Aug. 21, 2017, 3:36 p.m.
A Confederate flag flies above a business on Broadway in Pitcairn. The flag belongs to a resident, Rick Hyatt, and is not affiliated with the business.
Ben Schmitt
A Confederate flag flies above a business on Broadway in Pitcairn. The flag belongs to a resident, Rick Hyatt, and is not affiliated with the business.
Some are offended by this Confederate flag flown by a resident in downtown Pitcairn. Others says it's his right of free speech.
Ben Schmitt
Some are offended by this Confederate flag flown by a resident in downtown Pitcairn. Others says it's his right of free speech.

A weathered Confederate flag with frayed edges flies above the heart of Pitcairn's business district at Broadway Boulevard and Center Avenue.

The borough of Pitcairn didn't put it there. Council president Jack Bova said he'd remove it if he could.

But the controversial flag belongs to a private citizen, Rick Hyatt, 66, who hung it over Broadway from his second-story apartment window.

Hyatt told the Tribune-Review on Monday that he doesn't understand why it offends people. He has no plans to take it down.

“I'm just trying to prove a point that there is absolutely nothing wrong with it,” Hyatt said. “I got sick and tired of seeing all these stupid people out here complaining it's racist. It's part of our heritage. Everyone wants to tear that down these days.”

Bova said he's puzzled that Hyatt doesn't understand the consternation of some business owners and residents. He said he'd burn all Confederate flags if he could, save for a few to place in museums.

“There's no way at this point in time that people who put up that flag don't know how hurtful it is and how much damage they are doing,” Bova said. “They simply cannot be that ignorant and unaware of what is happening around them.”

Pitcairn resident Vanessa Wright, 24, who is African American, glared at the flag with disgust from a nearby laundromat.

“It's hurtful, it really is,” she said. “I have to look at it all the time in my own hometown. But people don't seem to care enough to do anything about it, so I mainly close my mouth about it.”

How long the flag has been at Broadway and Center is unclear, but most people agree that it's been at least a year.

Racial tensions that flared earlier this month in Charlottesville, Va., make seeing the flag downtown more painful for Wright.

“It's racist,” she said. “It bothers me.”

Bova said he talked to Hyatt a couple years ago and Hyatt made it clear that he had a right to fly the Confederate flag. Bova agrees he's constitutionally allowed to display the flag, but that doesn't make it any less hurtful.

“It appears to be some brazen attempt to take cover under the Constitution to do something that is universally thought to be hateful and remindful of American's worst moment,” Bova said.

Hyatt said one man once wanted to fight him over the flag.

“But he was drunk,” he said.

Hyatt said the business beneath his apartment, The Closet Connection, fielded a few complaints from people who thought the business was flying the flag. For awhile, he only flew the flag on weekends to accommodate the business, which was closed Monday.

“After some time passed, I put it back out there all the time,” he said. “Nobody seems to be bothered.”

Joe Pedulla, who owns Joe's Butcher Shop several doors down the street, said the flag doesn't antagonize him.

“Let the guy fly it,” Pedulla said. “You should be able to do what you want. It's the media that comes in and blows it out of proportion.”

Nonsense, said Murrysville resident Nevin Harris, 41. Hyatt's flag jolts him each time he drives through Pitcairn.

“It's not welcoming at all,” he said. “I think it's ridiculous that there's a Confederate flag in the center of Pitcairn.”

Bova's main concern is making sure residents in Pitcairn and beyond understand that the borough is not endorsing Hyatt's flag.

“This is a diverse community,” Bova said. “It's grown even more diverse over the past few years. Many days I'll see kids from different backgrounds and different races playing or walking down the street together. That's the way it should be.”

Ben Schmitt is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7991, bschmitt@tribweb.com or via Twitter at @Bencschmitt.

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