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Against the Rebel Flag



To the Editors of The Crimson:

For me, the first year at Harvard was a completely new experience. During that year I became a debutante, and during that year I finally went a week without grits.

Before walking into Memorial Hall, I had never seen a painting of a Civil War soldier wearing a blue uniform. My high school English teacher lived next door to William Faulkner, slept with Tennessee Williams and met Flannery O'Connor. Among my ancestors who immigrated to America, the last one landed on North Carolina's shore in 1750.

In other words, I'm a Southerner.

The sound of a Delta drawl or a Georgia twang reminds me of home, as does the occasional Duke sweatshirt I see on campus. The sight of the Confederate flag, however, does not remind me of home. Just the opposite--it fills me with fear. Despite belonging to the `correct' country club, enjoying a private school education, having a locally well-respected name and good home training, I am not just a Southerner; I am a Black Southerner.

The Confederate flag was first and foremost the symbol of the country which sought to keep Blacks enslaved. Within decades of Emancipation, the Stars and Bars was deliberately adopted as a symbol of the Ku Klux Klan. To this day, people associate this flag with the Klan and the "cracker"--the bigoted poor white. Although one can find the Stars and Bars in such mundane places as state flags, school mascots and even Scout uniforms, it is also a warning to Blacks.

In my hometown, everyone knows that a Black in Confederate Park after dark is likely to be lynched. Klansmen still display the Stars and Bars prominently in their own parades. Hostile, Confederate-flag waving crowds abused civil rights demonstrators in 1960 and 1990. In a high school Humanities class, Joey (a boy I'd known from kindergarten) casually remarked that he planned on skipping school and "bust some nigger heads with my nigger stick"-- the wooden club he kept in the gun rack of his pickup truck. Like nearly every other pickup truck in the South, Joey's truck had Confederate flag vanity plates and a Stars and Bars silk-screened on the back windshield.

Not surprisingly, I cannot help but equate the Confederate flag with racism and violence.

I was troubled by the recent letters defending the Leverett House resident's reasons for hanging a Confederate flag in his window. Of course he has the right to display it, but I hope that other Southerners will understand that the Stars and Bars is a symbol of Southern divisiveness, not old-fashioned values. It may conjure up fond memories of the South for some, but the message it contains for me is that its owner would prefer to see me in the tobacco fields rather than sitting next to him or her in class. Like the song "Dixie," the Stars and Bars is a symbol of the Old South, not the place I call home.

Like R.E.M.'s Michael Stipe (or maybe it was Flannery O'Connor), I have red clay in my veins, and being in Cambridge--so far from the South--makes me lachrymose and weepy. All of us need to be more sensitive, though, if we are to make the South a place worthy of living. Arnetta C. Girardeau '90

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