Barry Saunders

If you think Confederate flag apparel is noble, wear it – but it’s not

It was the condescension in his voice, as much as the words, that knocked our formerly tight friendship off track and never allowed it to get back on.

One day in 1979, after spending hours inside a used-record shop in the Buckhead section of Atlanta, I emerged with a double-album, greatest hits collection by Otis Redding.

Who wouldn’t be giddy over such a find? When I told my pal Logan that I’d gained possession of the holy grail of Otis albums – some people might say “Otis Blue” is that, but they’re wrong – for $4, it was with the expectation that he’d share my excitement.

He didn’t. He simply asked – more profanely than I can repeat – “Uh, you do know that dude died 12 years ago, right?”

The condescension drenching Logan’s reply came to mind this week when reading about the Orange County Schools Board of Education’s decision not to ban the Confederate flag from county schools and not to prohibit students from wearing it on their clothes.

“Uh, y’all do know they lost that war, right?” would be the perfect, condescension-rich response to people who insist upon flaunting the flag that many presume represented the Confederacy during the Civil War. (It’s not the same flag, but don’t tell’em, OK?)

Even though board members insisted they won’t tolerate bullying or hate speech – both of which the venerated symbol of the so-called Lost Cause surely symbolizes to some people – they refused to vanquish the flag from campuses.

Thanks, board.

No, really – thanks.

Understandable though it is that the Northern Orange County NAACP and some parents contend their children are frightened and intimidated by students wearing and waving the flag, banning it would be counterproductive. The flag and other symbols of the South’s treason during the war – countless buildings, cities and towns named in honor of Confederate sympathizers – are necessary reminders of how this nation got to where it is now. Plus, if there is someone walking around campus with a Confederate flag state of mind, isn’t it better to be able to identify them by the symbol on their clothes or license plate?

That’s why, ironically, no school board in the South should permit students who sympathize with the Confederacy to wear the flag – they should require them to wear it.

Say what? Check this out: Just as no one who can’t appreciate scoring an Otis Redding greatest hits album for $4 can be a real friend, neither can anyone who thinks the Confederate flag represents something noble. Both groups are comprised of dangerous individuals.

When the board of directors at the University of North Carolina began debating a few years ago whether to change the name of Saunders Hall because it honored a KKK leader, I was one of the people who opposed the change.

Same thing with the effort to mothball Silent Sam, the prominently placed statue of the Confederate soldier on UNC’s campus.

Start erasing the names of everyone who has attained a degree of infamy,” I wrote, “and pretty soon not only will we be stuck with a whole bunch of generically named buildings, but we’ll also be stuck with generations of historically ignorant citizens.”

That’s precisely how we end up with Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos praising black colleges as examples of school choice, of providing an option in higher education for black students. They were an option, all right – the only option, which means they were no option at all.

It’s important that neither DeVos nor we forget what people such as William Laurence Saunders and Silent Sam stood for. There has never been a time that I strolled past Sam on UNC’s bucolic campus when I didn’t salute the old boy – not with all five fingers, of course.

On a street that I take to work, there is a house with a flag pole from which flies some days the Confederate flag. It doesn’t bother me – it’s the homeowner’s private property. Nor, apparently, does it bother his neighbors. I notice, though, that on the days he chooses to fly his flag, two of his neighbors fly the one of the winning side.

What a perfect reply. Even better than “You do know they lost, right?”

Barry Saunders: 919-836-2811, @BarrySaunders9

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