Senior Drake Yost flew down 75th street in the passenger seat of his friend’s 2008 green Honda Civic. The boys received a number of dirty looks, including a two minute stare down from a silver minivan at a red light, but Yost couldn’t care less. As he pulled up to the intersection of Mission and 75th, he checked the rearview mirror and saw three things.
1) The horrified double take of a Lululemon clad jogger.
2) A thumbs-up from the driver of a beat up Chevy pickup.
3) The Confederate battle flag billowing from the back of his friend’s Honda.
“We just did it as kind of a joke, but at the same time it was to make a point,” Yost said. “As U.S. citizens we had every right to fly it, and to me that’s exactly what the flag represents.”
For years the American people have been divided over the issue of the Confederate flag. Supporters, like Yost and sophomore Christopher Patrick, argue that it represents the history and heritage of the South, as well as a symbol of freedom and first amendment rights.
The controversy resurfaced last June when the Confederate battle flag was removed from the South Carolina state capitol after flying for over 50 years. Then again on Sept. 17, when Christianburg High school in Virginia suspended 23 students for wearing and refusing to remove Confederate flags. And Monday, Sept. 28, when Rockmart High School in Georgia went into lockdown after a sophomore was beat up for wearing a backpack emblazoned with the flag.
According to Principal John McKinney, East has a policy that deals with the Confederate flag’s place in school. Students are allowed to wear the flag or fly it on school property, but if it inhibits other students’ ability to learn, it must be taken down.
For many, like social studies teacher David Muhammad and sophomore Christopher Justice, the flag represents negative connotations of hatred, oppression and violence.
“No matter how I or anyone else feels about it, people have every single right to fly the flag on their own private property,” Justice said. “No one is trying to take that away. But it has absolutely no place in public places like schools and state capitol buildings.”
Justice feels that flying the flag on any federally funded property is ridiculous. He believes African Americans should not be forced to pay taxes that fund buildings that fly the Confederate flag.
“You wouldn’t make a Jew pay taxes to fund ‘Adolf Hitler Elementary’ or to fly the Nazi flag on buildings that are paid for by taxes, so why should African Americans be forced to do essentially the same thing?” Justice said.
Patrick supports the flag’s history, and is tired of what he believes to be the “misconceptions” about the Confederate flag.
“What people don’t understand is that the flag and the Confederacy aren’t about racism or even about slavery,” Patrick said. “The flag represents state rights, freedom and secession. And I don’t think there’s anything more American than that.”
To Patrick, the flag also commemorates the lives of the those who died on both sides of the Civil war, including Patrick’s ancestors, whofought for the South.
Because of this, Patrick believes that when the flag is flown on government property, it honors those who died. Patrick disagrees with the removal of the flag in South Carolina.
“It just feels like [‘liberals’] are trying to strip us of our history,” Patrick said. “I mean that flag had been up there for 54 years, and it’s there because it commemorates everyone who died for their heritage and their values. We can’t just forget that part of our history.”
According to Muhammad, it’s a futile argument to try and negate the fact that people fought and died for what they believed, and that it’s an integral part of American history. But Muhammad believes that the some who fly the flag use heritage and history as an excuse to start arguments.
“If a kid feels like they want to respect the memory of family member who fought and died for their beliefs, I feel like that’s a pretty valid argument,” Muhammad said.“But when a person flies the flag to either prove a point or just to stir up some controversy, that’s when I begin to have a problem.”
Supporters like Patrick and Yost understand that the flag does offend some people, yet believe that the opinions of others shouldn’t affect their right to free speech. But Muhammad believes it is important to acknowledge people’s’ perceptions and to respect their point of view.
“If you wave it or fly it, you have to understand the offense and effects it’s going to have on a lot of people,” Muhammad said. “And you’re going to have to deal with the ramifications of those actions.”