As a kid growing up in the late 1980’s, I watched the television show, The Dukes of Hazzard. I even owned the Dodge Charger nicknamed the “General Lee” and thoroughly enjoyed Bo and Luke’s attitude on life. After all, they were “Just the Good Ol’ Boys.”
At the time, I didn’t know what the Confederate flag on top of the car meant; but once I found out, I asked my mother why she allowed me to watch the show and have the car. She said, “I knew you liked the show and that flag is a part of history.”
After the tragic shootings in South Carolina, many of us have been thinking about who and what the flag stands for. Historically, the Confederate Flag means different things to different people.
Some see state-sponsored racism. Others see the flag of a failed insurrection, while others see a symbol of regional pride. There are others who relate it with the Civil War, labeling it the “War of Northern Aggression.”
But for many of the people who live in the south, went to college and played sports there, they often have raw feelings on what they’ve seen.
Brandy Kyse is an alum of Alcorn State University in Lorman, Mississippi. She grew up in Chicago and says she didn’t have much of an opinion of the Confederate flag until she put down roots in Mississippi. Now she looks at its continued presence as a sobering reality. “I see it everywhere being that it's our state flag but I feel that most don't know its history and how the Confederate War began,” Kyse said. “I know when I get to a client’s house and see it, I automatically think redneck. All Rednecks aren't racist though.”
Kyse went on to say that seeing the flag reminds her past atrocities. “There's an annual event for Christmas at the Beauvoir Mansion where Jefferson Davis lived,” Kyse continued. “I refuse to take my daughter there and she doesn't understand why. The flag is flown freely there and there is a slave cemetery in the back. The focal point are the historic "Trees" lit with Christmas lights. All I vision are Black men hanging from those trees.”
(Photo credit: USA Today)
Elliot Valadares graduated from Ole Miss in 2004, a school that did away with its fans waving The Flag at sporting events and retired their mascot, “Colonel Reb” in 2003. He says our country hasn’t properly understood the collateral damage that was done by the Civil War. “The whole, ‘We got f--ked by the North!’ feeling is very real, and if you are not familiar with the south, then you probably aren't even aware of it,” Valadares said. “But if one thing can be said for sure, is that we, as a society, have failed to sufficiently discuss the entire topic and truth behind the Civil War. We failed in inserting ourselves into a global context while examining the historic era that caused all of this.”
Tennessee native Andrew Patton, the Senior Pastor of Nashville’s Greater View Church, attended Rust College in Holly Springs, Mississippi. He shared his thoughts on seeing the flag from an early age. “It made me somewhat de-sensitized to it because many white southerners believe it's their right and that it is not hate,” Patton said. ”Of course I tell them opposite. I've learned to pray for them and move on. That's life in the south under such a divisive symbol.”
Even athletes who grew up in the south have had to deal with the presence of such as polarizing reminder of our country’s dark history.
Former NBA player and current NASCAR team owner Brad Daugherty grew up in North Carolina, so he saw the flag often. Even though the Confederate flag is a part of Southern life, he knew early on that it represented hate instead of pride. “I will tell you, being an African-American man going to the racetrack and seeing the Confederate flag – and I’m a different egg or a different bird, I’m a Southern kid, I’m a mountain kid, I hunt and fish, I love racing, but to walk into the racetrack and there’s only few that you walk into and see that Confederate flag – it does make my skin crawl, Daugherty said on Sirius XM NASCAR Radio. “Even though I do my best to not acknowledge it or to pay any attention to it, it’s there and it bothers me because of what it represents.”
John Cooper, a New Orleans native, played football at Marshall University in West Virginia with former NFL wide receiver Randy Moss. Cooper went on to play professionally with the Arena Football League’s Utah Blaze. He says he saw the flag frequently. “There were quite a few times in West Virginia where I've had bottles thrown out of vehicles windows at me and been called nigger,” Cooper said. “The flags was present often, kind of normal. Because I saw it often, I felt like the people who had them didn't like us.”
The people who are under the thumb of oppressive regimes often believe that they have no voice. More often than not, they are told to just deal with it. One can only imagine how the African-American football players at Ole Miss, a school with a long history of proudly displaying the flag, must have felt. After all, many probably wouldn’t be at the school if they hadn’t been awarded an athletic scholarship. Alums such as Deuce McCallister, Patrick Willis, Mike Wallace and Michael Oher must have thought that the folks in the stands are cheering for me but probably have “Heritage Not Hate” bumper stickers on their pickup trucks and SUV’s.
Even former Ole Miss coaches often complained that the rebel imagery often hampered them from recruiting blue-chip African-American players. Even though the school has disassociated itself from Colonel Reb, an unofficial version still makes appearances in the school’s tailgate area. That shows that people may have to be dragged out of the dark ages kicking and screaming. Those who fear change are the most resistant. They will fight tooth and nail to make sure things stay the same. In their minds, why change if everything appears to be alright?
I went to college in Virginia, so you could say that I saw the flag quite frequently. In that state, Confederate Army General Robert E. Lee, a Virginia native, has a state holiday a week before the Martin Luther King’s, along with several statues in his honor. I once saw D.W. Griffith’s propaganda film, “The Birth of Nation,” on late night TV down there. Also, one of my favorite shows on TV is “Hell on Wheels.” The main character, Cullen Bohannon, is former Confederate soldier.
Even though many have taken down the flag, or stopped selling it online, that won’t stop people from doing what’s natural to them. Taking down the flag isn’t the same as taking it down in their hearts and erasing the ugly stain of what it represents.
But, for people like Bree Newsome, it’s a start.
(Photo credit: Fox News)