Confederate flag spurs debate

Catherine Damron

For some, the confederate flag is a symbol of patriotism, a symbol of regional history for those living in the South.

But Jaquell Vantrease, an African-American sophomore from Watertown,Tenn. did not agree with her friends in high school that the confederate flag was a symbol of pride.

“It’s also a symbol of hate,” Vantrease said. “Personally I don’t let it bother me. If the South wants to use it as their history let them. I have my own history.”

The Social and Cultural Diversity Committee hosted this month’s Topper Talk Live discussion Tuesday. The subject was the confederate flag as a symbol of history and as a symbol of hate. About 25 people showed up to discuss the flag’s contrasting symbols in America.

Some people in the audience said they felt the confederate flag represents the South’s fight for their beliefs, but that it was given a negative connotation after it was embraced by the Ku Klux Klan, a group known for hate.

Southwest Hall director Ben Ellis, who led the discussion, said there are two separate issues — the historical significance of the flag and the use and display of it today.

Ellis said a booth in Greenwood Mall called Dixie Outfitters is devoted to displaying the confederate flag symbol on items like cell phone covers, t-shirts and hunting camouflage gear.

Although there are people like Vantrease who see the flag as a symbol of hate, others try to play up its positive symbolism as a historical item– there are some flag items with the motto “Heritage not Hate.” written across the symbol, Ellis said.

“It’s impossible to make something with such negative aspects, a positive symbol,” Ellis said.

But others in the audience felt that the negativity associated with the confederate flag made it necessary for it to be banned in schools.

Angela Townsend, a teacher at Greenwood High School, said some kids who wear confederate flag t-shirts don’t realize the horrific associations that come along with it.

“Once you make the kids aware of the rapes, hangings, and killings (during the Civil War), they’ll realize it’s not okay,” Townsend said. “If you take pride in the flag, put it inside on your mantle, don’t flaunt it out in public where it will offend people. When I see the confederate flag on the back of someone’s car I think they’re ignorant.”

Howard Bailey, Dean of Student Life, said that a lack of Civil War knowledge has hindered many students from realizing what the confederate flag symbolizes.

“Kids are taught that the Civil War was an exciting time,” Bailey said. “We never teach them all the negative connotations and what the confederate flag really is about.”

Tom Miles, associate director of HRL, said he wants the audience to be appreciative of different opinions even if they don’t agree with them.

“We’re a free country, but there are going to be some things that we have to get over in order to let people express their ideas and beliefs.”

Reach Catherine Damron at [email protected]