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The Last Confederate’s ‘Last Stand?’

June 17, 2020

Dent Myers is a living anachronism in Kennesaw, Georgia, harkening back to a time when the American Civil War nearly ripped the nation apart. His friends are worried about his well-known ‘Wildman’s’ Shop’s survival in the current Black Lives Matter climate.

Story and Photographs ©Robin Rayne/ZUMA Press/All Rights Reserved

Kennesaw, Georgia – For Dent Myers, the ‘war of northern aggression’ still smolders.

“It’s all history, and people need to learn it and know it. They don’t teach history in the schools anymore, and it shows in what little people know about it now,” said Myers, 89, a former re-enactor and Korean War veteran who has a memory of Civil War facts and strategies that could challenge the most learned history professor.  

He was born to poor sharecropper parents in rural Georgia, and grew up without electricity or running water. “We had a two-hole outhouse, and we thought we were doing pretty good,” he joked. “We grew our own food and bartered for what else we needed. I didn’t even know what money was until I was seven years old,” he said. 

The crusty history buff opened Wildman’s Civil War Surplus shop in Kennesaw, Georgia center in 1971.

“It was a sleepy little town with a lot of history,” Myers recalled. He sports a long and scraggly beard and a fistful of hammered silver rings on his fingers. He might wear a bandana on his head one day, and a beret the next.  While the aura of an aging hippie from the 1960s surrounds him, Myers was a more mainstream-looking engineer for the Lockheed-Martin Aircraft plant in nearby Marietta in those years.

The town of Kennesaw received international attention in 1982 after the city council passed an ordinance that required all citizens to own a gun and ammunition. Kennesaw was nicknamed “Gun Town, U.S.A” and stories were published worldwide about the controversial law. Myers happily agreed to scores of interviews and photos, often brandishing a pair of .45 caliber pistols he typically wore in holsters strapped to his waist, like a gunslinger from the wild West. 

Myers’ story and photos have continued to be shared in newspapers and magazines in dozens of countries and languages in the decades since. “We get people from Germany and Japan and Norway and just about every country coming to see us in the flesh. They read about us and want to see if we’re for real. They want to see that KKK robe in the back. It’s history. Everybody knows Wildman,” he quipped. “Some people call me the village idiot,” he joked.  

His very presence — and disdain for ‘political correctness’ — continues to irritate hundreds of activists and protesters who insist his store and opinions promote bigotry and racism. “There’s a bunch of them who would love to burn this place down,” he said. “They want to run me out of town on a rail. There’s even kids on the school bus who talk about setting fire to this place, but they just learn that from their parents, and most of them aren’t from here. They want to bring their New Jersey ways to Georgia.   But I’m not going anywhere.”

A group of angry demonstrators gathered outside Dent Myers’ Civil War Surplus Shop Friday June 5, 2020 to protest the 89-year-old owner’s obsession with what they see as a racist and bigoted past.
Demonstrators yell to passersby on Main Street, across from Myers’ shop.
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A demonstrator holds sign comparing Myers’ shop to the Ku Klux Klan

A yellowed Ku Klux Klan robe from the 1920s and homemade hood that served as a movie prop are displayed near the back of his museum.  Myers won’t admit to being a Ku Klux Klan supporter. “I’m not much of a joiner,” he admitted.  But the man who often referred to young black children as ‘Niglets’ has been called a racist, redneck, and honky bigot, among others. “I just let it slop off me like a proverbial duck, except my feathers don’t get ruffled,” he said.

Dent Myers watches gathering group of demonstrators from the second floor of the brick building that houses his shop.

Now frail with advanced age and blind in one eye, Myers shuffles about his relic and antique shop to chat with first-time visitors. Local ‘regulars’ come and go throughout the day to hang out inside the cluttered shop or sit on benches outside where they share war opinions on current events. Many just come just to pass the time on a lazy afternoon with others who revere the Southern culture and Civil War lore. “Most of them come packin,” Myers said with a wink, as his hand brushed the holstered Colt .45 on his hip.

Local residents either embrace him and his love of history or despise him for his racist views. In 1993, the Kennesaw Historical Society awarded him its first Historic Preservation Award, but in recent months his shop has been the focus of vehement protests urging the city to force him to close. The demonstrations were spurred by Black Lives Matter organizers who believe Myers’ time has come to fade into the sunset. 

Protester hold sign arguing against Myers’ version of history.

His dust-covered shop is filled to the ceiling with photographs, papers, uniforms, maps, t-shirts, bumper stickers, flags and long-forgotten boxes of relics accumulated over nearly fifty years. His treasures once included a small box of cotton balls labelled “Niglet Repellant” he said was intended as a joke. “Somebody told me they won’t pick cotton because they’ve gone upper-class now,” he explained. 

His shop also displayed a collection of CDs with titles including “Coon Town, “The South’s Gonna Rise Again,” and Segregation Wagon” among the song titles — content that causes even some of Myers’ more ardent supporters to cringe.

“That’s exactly why Myers and his shop needs go,” said one town resident who is pushing to get Myers to close his business. Calling Myers an outdated, racist relic who needs to ‘go away,’ nearly 100 Black Lives Matter demonstrators recently gathered outside his shop to vent their anger.

 “He’s an embarrassment to this town,” explained Parker Quigley, one of the protesters. “His store gives the impression that he keeps racism alive.”

Another protester wants Myers to be humiliated. “He has cognitive dissonance and he won’t pay attention to what’s going on around the country,” said Jamie Forsyth, 17, who lives in nearby Acworth.

“Just get rid of it all.  I don’t give a f*** about that history. It wouldn’t bother me to see the place burn to the ground.”

“In this politically correct time, people don’t want to have anything to do with the Civil War, and especially the Confederacy,” notes Joe Bozeman, 75, who’s known Myers for more than 50 years. “There’s a hatred for what they call the Old South, and they would like to forget the Civil War ever happened,” said Bozeman, whose great-grandfather fought in the war. “They’re under-educated, and they don’t know this country’s history.”

Liberal college students from nearby Kennesaw State University think it’s cool to protest, he said. “There’s some folks who would just as soon whitewash all the history out of Kennesaw and make it look like some little town that looks like everywhere else,” he said.

 Myers and his friends take the criticism in stride and view the protests with a sense of humor. “Most of them haven’t even been inside this place,” Myers said. “They’re only repeating what they’ve been told to say. They should ask for their tuition money back because college didn’t do any of them much good. They didn’t learn much.”

Myers said he could easily enlist the aid of dozens of friends, many of them military veterans who would welcome the opportunity to stand guard outside his shop when the protesters show up. “But I don’t want to do that because that’s just what the protesters want. They want to engage, and it would get ugly real fast. Nobody needs that,” he said.

Dent Myers watches gathering group of demonstrators from the second floor of the brick building that houses his shop.

Myers owns the two-story building that houses his shop, which annoys several city officials. He’s well-aware of the mounting pressure for him to leave town. He knows the current political climate might create his last stand for the shop’s survival.

“But I pay my taxes and I don’t do anything illegal. I’ve done more to bring tourism to Kennesaw than anything they’ll ever do,” Myers said. 

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