Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Fighting Reconstruction in Maryville

A group of students are fighting the ban on the Confederate battle flag at Maryville High School (home of the Rebels). The students were apparently told to cover up T-shirts with a battle flag design on them. At the beginning of the year, the Blount County School Board voted to ban the display of the flag on school grounds and athletic events because members of the black community, led by the NAACP (which came in from the outside to start all of this, as I understand it) claimed to find it “offensive,” and charged that it was “racist.”

A number of years back, the African-American film director Spike Lee produced and directed a very popular movie about Malcolm X, the controversial Black Muslim who once said “we didn’t land on Plymouth Rock, Plymouth Rock landed on us.” The film gave rise to a popular craze among African-American youth: Many wore hats and shirts with the “sign of the X” on them, symbolizing Black Pride and Black Power. Over the years, some groups in the black community who held racist views had used the X as a symbol of their hatred of white people. This led to the idea among many whites that the black youth who wore the X were all “racist against whites.”

Not so, countered many in the African-American community, and they were quite right. Malcolm X, for all of his anti-white vitriol, became a changed man. So much so, in fact, that Black Muslim leaders became angry with X, and many people believe that the leadership of the Nation of Islam, of which Malcolm X had once been a part, conspired to have him killed. Malcolm X became an advocate of racial harmony, and he came to love white people, and all people.

It is true that some who wore the X were racists…but the vast majority were certainly not. There was no mass movement to ban the sign of the X in American high schools merely because it was controversial, or because a small few of those who chose to make it a part of their wardrobe were bigots.

The same is true for the Confederate battle flag. Many blacks have been conditioned to see the flag as a symbol of slavery and oppression. It is very true that there are many who have used the flag as a symbol of hate in years gone by. This cannot be ignored, but some of these same people have also wrapped themselves in the American flag to justify their bigotry…shall we also ban Old Glory?

The vast majority of the people who fought under the flags of the Confederacy did not own slaves. Of the corps of officers, many of those had inherited slaves but did not believe in the institution of slavery as a matter of principle. (Lee openly sought its gradual abolition.) Attempting to point fingers at people in 19th Century America and judge them by 21st Century standards is both hypocritical and impossible.

The flag means many good things to the people who use it. It can be seen as a symbol of Southern pride, of local pride, in the case of Maryville, of school pride. It can be a symbol of States’ rights, of home rule, of peaceful rebellion or revolution, and yes, a symbol of freedom from oppression.

The Maryville students involved say they are circulating a petition among the student body to defend their right to wear and display the Confederate battle flag, and they say that petition has support across racial lines, as well it should.

I support these students, and we should all be proud of them. Rather than disrespecting authority, they are showing an amazing respect for law and order and the democratic process. In circulating a petition, they are standing up for their principles as well as showing that they know how to exercise their rights as citizens in a peaceful way without letting themselves be trampled on. Just when I think there may be no hope for the present generation, young people like these at Maryville come along. I think in the years to come, if young men and women like you are in charge, our state and our nation will get on just fine. GO REBELS!


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