Thursday, June 25, 2015

Pardon My Flag

I’m here to talk about how my daughters went through high school with a mascot built around the Civil War’s hero, the Southern Colonel, with the Confederate Battle Flag as their emblem.

I’m not here to defend it.  God, no. I find it as morally repugnant as everyone.  I merely find it interesting that some people have peacefully coexisted with it for years without even noticing it.

Today, after nine people were murdered by a vile and evil act this is obvious.  The flag is on its way out.  Everywhere.  Once Walmart turns its back on you, you're history.  Adios.  Don't let the door hit you in the butt on the way out. 

Let me share a little of how I witnessed the confederate flag’s decline at South Garland High School.
 
South Garland High School in Garland, Texas opened in the mid-60’s. The first graduating class of 1966 was full of baby boomers whose fathers were only 18 years and nine months out of WWII, Nazi Germany and gas chambers. These guy had had their fill of hatred and all they wanted was to raise their kids in peace and barbecue some steaks on Saturday nights after mowing the lawn.

When the city fathers planned the school it was on the southern edge of town and the land was still farmed, sometimes with onions, sometimes with cotton. Eventually the farmland would give way to homes.  The homes would need a school.    

The school theme seemed like a packaged deal handed on a platter:  the new school on the south side of town would have a southern theme built around the Civil War.  The mascot would be the hallowed Southern Colonel, the fight song would be the tune of Dixie and the flag would be the Confederate battle flag. The theme was not the rebel who opposed authority, the mascot was the colonel, a leader. The only street in the neighborhood related to school was Colonel Drive. There was no Robert E Lee Lane or Jefferson Davis Drive.  It was Civil War-Light with emphasis on leadership and honor not rebellion and certainly not oppression.

The Civil Rights movement was still so new that nobody thought ahead to how the whole theme would be viewed in the future.  If there was any racial offense it was the lack of any thought given to how it would be perceived by blacks, who at the time were called Negroes, instead of the archaic term, Colored People.

Before we start, I have to tell you how Garland, Texas handled integration.  I don’t know what year they did it, but their response to racial integration was to let anyone go to any school they wanted to unless the school was full.  Every spring each student filled out a Choice of School form for the following year.  If there was room in the school you picked you got to go there.  If not, then you went to the school closest to you. My girls went to the schools closest to our house because they needed to walk to school and because we had good neighborhood schools.  My granddaughters started kindergarten all the way across town from the house they live in because the school is closer to the daycare where Emily works.  They still go to those schools and she still works at the same daycare.

So, integration happened in a very natural way in Garland.  Nobody was forced to do anything they didn’t want to do.  Integration was a non-issue in Garland. Period.

When Elizabeth went South Garland in the late 1980’s and was in the marching band they wore a "summer uniform" for the first few games. And the "uniform" varied by class rank. Everybody wore khaki pants and a white shirt.

If you were a freshman, you had your name embroidered over the left shirt pocket.  A sophomore got their name and the school emblem on the pocket.  The juniors got the school emblem, the Libertas on each sleeve.  But the senior year…!!...Oh, the Seniors!!  They got the school flag covering the whole back of their shirt.  It looked fantastic.  Everyone was green with envy and couldn't wait until they were seniors. 

Then people started getting antsy about the flag part.  And the song.  So the school placed extra emphasis on the lyrics of the fight song, that even though it was to the tune of Dixie, it had nothing to do with Old Times or the Land of Cotton, making sure everyone knew the correct lyrics:

We're the colonels of South Garland high and this is our battle cry
Colonels go, colonels fight, colonels win, tonight
We're marching on to victory with all our might… yada, yada, yada

Please, work with me here, people, admit it:  it’s a catchy tune.  The kids played it after every touchdown so it was always a happy, catchy tune. See?  It might sound like Dixie but it's really just a high school fight song, right?

 By the time Elizabeth became a senior things started to change. People started getting uptight about the flag.  And then I stood watching her on the brightly lit football field playing her flute with the confederate flag on her back forming a perfect cross-hairs, a target if you will, on my baby’s back. I started feeling a little vulnerable.

The next game they played was against a black school in Dallas and the band director told them to not sit with their back to the window on the bus.  At that moment I knew that they knew the challenges the dear Colonel faced.

I watched the school flag change.  Sometime between Elizabeth's time when the flag was completely the Confederate flag to Emily's years, the stars and bars got smaller and the school crest, the "Libertas" got bigger and bigger.

When Emily went to South Garland three years after Elizabeth they elected a black kid to be the Colonel.  One thing about this school:  they had a real person dress as the Colonel, not one of those cartoonish characters: a stuffed bear or stuffed lion.  No, the Colonel was always a tall, hunk of a guy.  He wore a real gray Confederate uniform, had a snazzy gray hat and I think a sword.  And once we had a tall, hunk of a Black Colonel we hoped that might put the matter to rest.  It didn’t.

 A movement sprouted to get rid of the flag and fight song.  I had a couple of friends who graduated from South Garland who absolutelyfoamed at the mouth over the idea.  While I could appreciate their sentiment I failed to understand the depth of their emotions.  Mind you, my own school mascot was a buffalo…….

Here’s what Elizabeth has to say on the matter:

My senior year of high school was when the controversy started.  Word in the school halls were that black parents were telling their kids that they “should be” offended by our school’s symbols of the Confederacy - our school flag being the most offensive.  I don’t remember the students having many opinions about it.  Any of the students.  A few black kids got vocal and began speaking out.  I think there may have been some protests in front of the school.  We figured their parents talked them into it.  I think most of the students were like me.  Confused.  Isn’t that part of history over?  Why are people still offended by it?  Of course now, as an adult, my first thought is, “Of course it’s offensive.  You don’t see any schools adopting a certain symbol of religious hate, do you?  There are no North Town High Fighting Nazis are there?

Back then we were young and naive.  It was something we learned about in school.  Parents told us stories of segregation and discrimination.  But mostly those things happened to other people.  We didn’t grow up in those times.  We had black kids in our schools from the beginning.  They came to sleepovers and birthday parties.  They were at summer camp and vacation bible school.  They were part of our everyday lives from day one.  And we couldn’t tell they were any different from us.  To us, it seemed like progress.  No more race issues!  Hooray!  Thank you Generation X.

I was in the band all through high school.  In the fall we performed at pep rallies and football games.  In the spring, we had our own competitions.  We were part of a team.  And we were there to cheer on other teams.  We spent a lot of time representing the South Garland Colonels.  And we were proud of our school.  But then all of a sudden, grown ups were telling us to be ashamed of our school.  And it didn’t make any sense to us.  Almost all of the band kids were furious at the idea that we would have to change our school flag.    Some of the most vocal of all the band kids were black.  To us, it wasn’t a confederate flag.  It was a symbol of us.  Of our town.  Of our community.  And they wanted to take it away from us.  And they wanted us to feel bad about having it to begin with.

After graduation, we came back a few times to visit.  Go to the homecoming game.  Maybe catch the parade on July 4th.  Before we knew it we were in the “real world”.  We got mortgages, started paying bills, and watching the evening news.  And that’s where you see it.  That’s where you see the hate some folks have.  These crazy people out there saying and doing scary and outrageous things.  And they’re waving your high school flag in the background.  Or it’s on their t-shirts and bumper stickers.  And then you’re ashamed.  Because now it’s no longer a symbol of high school.  Of football games and bus rides and fund raisers and school dances.  Now it’s a symbol of hate.  And now you can’t remember why it seemed like a good idea for a school flag in the first place.

+++++++++++

Let me have the last word: I will be brief and to the point.
Why is it that we can get rid of a flag in less than a week, vote it within one day's time in a state legislature, have swift action on a flag after nine people are killed by a hateful man yet time after time, after time, children are gunned down in school without so much as a ban on pea shooters?  Nada.  Not a ban on military guns? Not a call to register guns?  Nothing? We can ban a flag but not a gun?

OK, I promised to be brief.  You get my point.

 

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