The Confederate flag: Whose heritage?

I have never heard any black Southerners defend the Confederate flag as a symbol of their Southern heritage. The heritage defenders seem to be an exclusively white group, often with the “I used to be somebody” mindset of people hanging onto the glory days of their ancestors.

On May 20, a Saturday morning with made-to-be-outside flawless spring weather, several dozen people chose instead to sit indoors and listen to a panel discuss how wearing or displaying the Confederate flag in a public school fits with the First Amendment (freedom of speech) and the Fourteenth (equal protection).

The Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP hosted the event, held at Hargraves Community Center, to have a level-headed conversation before some incident ramped up the issue into crisis mode. Panelists were history professor emeritus Reginald Hildebrand, UNC law professor Al Brophy, N.C. ACLU executive director Karen Anderson, and Ronda Taylor Bullock, co-director of Duke University’s Cook Center on Social Equity. Their insights opened the audience to different points of view.

Hildebrand said it was impossible to separate the flag from the cause it represented, and while supporters of the flag may not think only of slavery, the Confederacy was founded on the notion that “the negro is not equal to the white man,” as Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens declared in a speech shortly before the Confederate army attacked Fort Sumter to begin the Civil War.

The flag served as a symbol of white defiance of civil rights, Hildebrand said.

Brophy noted that the previous day New Orleans had removed the last of four statues honoring Confederate leaders, and that made him uneasy. “Don’t take down statues and check the box that racism is gone,” he said. “Change racism through the actions of humble people who are not in charge.”

To better understand the rise and fall of the Confederacy, he recommended the 2016 movie Birth of a Nation.

Bullock urged schools to do a better job of teaching students from a young age the history of the Confederacy and what its flag stands for. She said allowing the Confederate flag to be displayed on clothing in schools didn’t so much offend students of color as hurt them, even traumatize them. “Are we teaching that happiness belongs to white people, and they get to decide who experiences it?” she asked.

Anderson noted that the 4th Circuit Court ruled that schools can place limits on free speech in dress codes when it causes a disturbance, such as Confederate flag or Malcolm X T-shirts. But she seemed reluctant to broadly ban such messages. She argued for guiding principles, though cautioned: “Do guiding principles open the door or close it?”

The panel facilitator wondered, “How do we reach the people who aren’t here but need to be?”

The Chapel Hill Public Library has DVD copies of the 2016 version of Birth of a Nation, a powerful film that puts the Confederate flag in context.
— Nancy Oates

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  1. Bonnie Hauser

     /  May 29, 2017

    I loved the actions in New Orleans – not as a symbol that racism is gone – but in recognition that the symbols of the confederacy impact black Americans differently.

    Similarly – on the flag in school, the flag is threatening when its in the hands of hate groups – and it was scary for everyone (including the school board) when ACTBAC stood in front of Stanback Middle School – with flags – prior to a board meeting.

    So banning the flag wont eliminate racism – but at least we can eliminate a threat that uniquely impacts black kids.

    Some upcoming events
    . Wednesday -May 31 1-4 PM Gravelly Hill Middle School, OCS Board work session to discuss dress code is expected to decide whether or not to eliminate the flag.

    -Thursday – June 8 – 7:00 PM Whitted Building Human Rights Commission in partnership with Hate Free Schools Coalition will discuss the flag in schools.

  2. plurimus

     /  May 29, 2017


    I do not support the display of the “stars and bars “brand” as a symbol of racism, or even just rebelliousness. I say this keeping in mind the history of the flag before it became the Dixiecrat reaction to the Civil Rights Movement.

    Immediately after the war between the states, the confederate flag was flown over troops in the “passification” (conquest) of the west, and oppression of Native Americans. It symbolized the endless war mentality of an expanding global power. After that the US. took Cuba and Puerto Rico in the Caribbean and the Philippines and Guam in the Pacific in the Spanish-American War staging at ports Charleston, New Orleans and Tampa where the ex-confederate army joined the union. The Stars and Bars was used by the military as a symbol of “readmission” to the union. Statistically the southern states provide more than 40% of all military recruits and the stars and bars still follows them to war.

    My first point is that if it’s wasn’t this flag, it will be another, Wars will always find a flag.

    My second point is this; forcing the “Stainless Banner” brand underground is the surest way to make it mysterious keep it alive and strengthen it allowing it to morph with the times with a wink of misunderstanding. Understanding it’s history and exposing what it means is key. I say this in the spirit of Horace Carter the North Carolinas’ newspaper man who took on the Klan and won. He won not through the suppression of free speech but by exposing them by having the discussion. Once rational people understood the organizations brand and the damage it did in their communities, they shunned it. But more importantly, the KKK lost is mystery and people were less afraid. Membership dropped and the KKK was relegated to a fringe organization.

    I know its not fashionable to trust the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the rule of law lately, but my personal opinion is that we are going down a very bad path thinking we can address deep cultural divisions by banning symbols.

  3. Bonnie Hauser

     /  May 29, 2017

    Plurimus – I’m guessing your white. I am too.

    The broad issue of the celebrating confederate icons, including how the white view differs from the African American view is beautifully articulated in the speech from Mayor Landrieu’s speech in New Orleans. He also begins to correct the history that goes with the flag. I think its a good step.

    Of course its different with kids -who are dealing with intimidation – and for that reason – IMO, the flag should be banned from schools. Sadly hate speech around the flag is alive an well in our schools If your kids were facing intimidation – you might feel a different sense of urgency.

    Here’s some examples of what has been happening in Orange county Schools just this year. The conversation has given kids the courage to come forward and discuss what is happening to them in school. Its humbling to watch.

  4. plurimus

     /  May 30, 2017

    We agree to disagree on this subject then. The N&O article is characteristically hyperbolic and is written to foment feel good readership. Don’t you think it’s telling that all the folks in the photo are white?

    The earlier kids learn to deal in facts rather than emotion the better. I think you have no idea of the prevalence of hate speech in OC schools and I think you misusing the term hate speech in the context of young people. These kids are getting attitudes from parents and peers, forming cliques and lifelong ideas, but as in my example above they are most likely under informed and one sided. This is a juicy teachable moment and the wrong lesion is to suppress conversation. Are you saying the teaching staff isn’t up to the task? Are you saying it’s better not to have the discussion?

    Encouraging these “safe spaces” is contributing to bifurcation and limiting the examination of ideas in schools….the very place these ideas should be examined. This in turn polarizes the next generation limiting the progress that still needs to be made. Orange County and Chapel Hill are historic places of learning and ideas, let’s act like it. Don’t ban it, teach it.

  5. Bonnie Hauser

     /  May 30, 2017

    Except that you weren’t at the meeting when black parents and students students spoke of their experiences. Plus the end of the article lists incidents involving black students.

    We can discuss this any time – but kids shouldn’t have to decide whether whether a person flying the flag or wearing the flag is a threat. It has taken a great deal of effort to get kids to come forward and speak openly about what’s happening in school.

    You can ban the flag and have the discussion. But without the ban, some kids will be immediately disadvantaged.

  6. Terri

     /  May 31, 2017

    Every child has the right–the absolute right–to feel safe at school. By Plurimus’ reasoning, bullying wouldn’t be banned nor guns or other weapons. The role of government, including elected school boards, is to protect the vulnerable. The Orange County School Board needs to own up to that responsibility.

  7. plurimus

     /  May 31, 2017

    Oh Terri, so extreme. Guns? Really? Putting words in my mouth is beneath you. In your educational dystopia, people would be unable to freely exchange ideas and learn that perhaps the sanctioned viewpoint is not the only valid one.

    “Every man … should periodically be compelled to listen to opinions which are infuriating to him. To hear nothing but what is pleasing to one is to make a pillow of the mind.” – St. John Ervine

  8. Terri

     /  May 31, 2017

    Fear eliminates any possibility of freely exchanged ideas. That’s why there are rules around facilitated discussions. Asking a black child to listen to opinions on the worship of slavery in the context of this modern world where they are so frequently killed at the hands of law enforcement is beyond absurd.

  9. plurimus

     /  May 31, 2017

    Fear is only overcome by reason. Fearing fear is ignorant. Worship of slavery is ignorant.

    You only perpetuate the absurd by attempting to ban it. Not a successful strategy.

  10. Terri

     /  May 31, 2017

    Spoken like someone who has never had to deal with discrimination.

  11. plurimus

     /  May 31, 2017

    Spoken like someone who is always assuming

  12. Bonnie Hauser

     /  May 31, 2017

    A rare moment -I’m with Terri on this one. We are not talking university – we’re talking k-12 education- where a sense of safety and security does impact learning.

    We cant fix everything -but there’s no need for the flag to be in school.

    I sat through a diatribe from Chris Brooks of the ACLU today. He regularly conflated first amendment rights in general with specifics around schools. Two atorneys from NCCU and one from UNC disagreed fully with him.

    I wondered why – in their zeal to protect free speech, the ACLU has not tried to separate out hate speech or consider racial bias built into the standard. Without the clarification, the ACLU is actively defending white supremacists – which of course they are famous for.

  13. plurimus

     /  June 1, 2017

    I did not realize free speech was subjected to majority rule in your progressive world. Neither of you seem to get that free speech rights *are* general and *not* specific. Read and comprehend amendment 1 of the constitution.

    Then, reexamine what you wish for comrade. Standards don’t change and people learn the wrong lessons under suppression.

    My sense is the ACLU is doing a great job at their chosen mission of civil liberty because of the vociferous whining when people disagree with their position. I will wager you supported them in their condemnation of the J. E. Hoover smear campaign against Dr. Martin Luther King.

    And BTW don’t ride your high horses around me please. Neither of you know me, where I have lived or under what circumstances.

  14. Bonnie Hauser

     /  June 1, 2017

    Schools limit the first amendment rights of students all the time. Its called “dress code”

    When I think of the ACLU, I think of Skokie and their support of neo-Nazis marching on a community of holocaust survivors.

    IMO, a little nuance would help the ACLU immensely.

  15. plurimus

     /  June 2, 2017

    I support Tinker v. Des Moines

  16. Bonnie Hauser

     /  June 2, 2017

    so does the school board. It works if they have to acknowledge the dozen or so “disruptive” incidents that have occurred this year. UNC believes they have leeway to go back decades to note disruption.

    Works for me if its accompanied by a memo to the principals, teachers and parents saying that the flag is no longer allowed and it falls under the district’s policy as a racially inflammatory symbol. Without that, it becomes arbitrary – again.

  17. plurimus

     /  June 3, 2017

    I can only refer you to Mark Twain for my shared opinion on school boards. If they support the decision they would not be torturing it or trying to circumvent it with twisted logic.

    Censorship undercuts the benefits of education. If we shield students from dissenting opinions, how will they respond to opinions they disagree with after they graduate? A ban such as this encourages artificial reality, alternative facts, conspiracy theory and fake news. The bad would reduce student critical thinking and their ability to tolerate and deal with diversity effectively.

    Unlike yelling fire in a crowded theater, displaying this and other flags are opinion that, while offensive and unpopular, do not cause serious harm. The fundamental right to free speech should not be restricted merely to prevent whatever a school board decides is hate speech.

    It’s a very slippery slope. Someday (as it has been in the past) the shoe will be on the other foot.

    “The very aim and end of our institutions is just this: that we may think what we like and say what we think.” – Oliver Wendell Holmes

  18. Bonnie Hauser

     /  June 3, 2017

    Kids are not allowed to use foul language or hate speech, and are not allowed to wear certain things.

    I don’t believe the school board is serious about banning the flag. The question is whether the parents are – and whether they will show that preference at the ballot box.

  19. plurimus

     /  June 4, 2017

    A conversation about race and the facts around colonialism, slavery, the war between the states, reconstruction, civil rights is facilitated by conversation and discovery about monuments, symbols, words and actions. Its also good to appreciate the separation of powers and rule of law as a framework and system that encourages all voices to be heard.

    Using identity politics to ban symbols only lets things fester with artificial and unspoken divisions suspicions and denial.

    The problem I see is that although everyone says they want to have the conversation, when it actually comes down to it no one really does want to do the necessary hard work.

  20. Bonnie Hauser

     /  June 4, 2017

    Its not either-or nor is it identity politics. You would have to attend a school board meeting where parents, teachers and students are speaking out about the flag and other racially discriminatory actions in their school.

    They are happy to have a conversation – but not while their kids are being bullied.

  21. plurimus

     /  June 4, 2017

    Bullied is a state of mind. Most people bully themselves. It comes when you are unprepared. Whining about it is not the solution.

    At the point I am far more interested to see how far you will go to have the last word all the while adding nothing new.

  22. Bonnie Hauser

     /  June 4, 2017

    Good point – I was giving you the benefit of the doubt – cause for some stupid reason I assumed you were interested in the the facts about what’s happening with kids, classrooms, race and the flag in OCS.

    Obviously you are happy with theoretical platitudes in your ivory tower. Easy to take cheap shots when you are nameless and have nothing to lose.