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Archive for Saturday, May 27, 1995

REBEL FLAG A FORM OF EXPRESSION FOR SOME LHS STUDENTS, THEY SAY

May 27, 1995

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But other students at LHS don't see eye-to-eye with those who take pride in displaying the Confederate flag.

The two-row parking lot next to the tennis courts at Lawrence High School looks like a modern-day depot of the Confederate Army: Chevy trucks sporting Confederate flag front-plates sit next to American muscle cars with Confederate flag decals on the rear windows.

Even a Toyota Celica -- an unlikely canvas for such a symbol of regionalism -- is outfitted with a Confederate plate.

When classes are over for the day, the owners of the rebel vehicles and their friends migrate to the lot to smoke and hang out for a few minutes before heading elsewhere.

Some lean against their trucks; others hover nearby as country music blares from the stereo of a black Dodge truck that has just pulled up. One young man wears a Lynyrd Skynyrd T-shirt with a Confederate flag on the front. Another wears a jacket with a rebel flag sewn onto the back.

The students insist that the flags do not connote racism. They rush to point out that the once-popular "X" hats and shirts, symbols of the black leader Malcolm X, could be worn without reproach.

Most of the students do not want to give their names for fear that they will be the victims of violence. But not Brian McNish, a junior, who said that he's already disliked by "them," meaning black students.

"It's pride," he said, stepping forward and flexing his sinewy arms. "Southern pride. Hank Williams Jr., the whole nine yards."

But that whole nine yards doesn't include prejudice, the students said. In fact, they said they're the ones who are victims of prejudice, simply because of the clothes they wear and the group they run with.

"I had someone tell me that because I wear cowboy boots, I'm prejudiced," one student complained.

"People jump to conclusions," another agreed.

Despite complaints of a double standard for racial expression, the flags make other students uncomfortable.

Standing outside one of the Louisiana Street entrances to the school, Ameshia Tubbs, a junior, and Kem Foster, a sophomore, said that "Southern pride" was nothing more than a euphemism for bigotry.

"Because of what it means, it makes me mad," Tubbs said. "You come to school to learn, not to be uncomfortable."

To many Americans, the Confederate flag is a symbol of America's history of slavery. In Georgia, where the state flag contains a condensed version of the Stars and Bars in the upper left-hand corner, there was a push to return to the state's original flag. But the majority of Georgians, backed by the legislature, opposed the change.

The flag can be incendiary. Earlier this year, a white man was shot and killed near the Tennessee-Kentucky border while driving away from an exchange of words at a convenience store with a group of black teen-agers. Seven suspects, four of whom are juveniles, have been identified and charged with murder. A Confederate flag was flying from a pole in the bed of the man's truck. The man had attended a high school where the team name was the Rebels.

LHS Principal Brad Tate said he didn't think racial tension at the school was a problem.

"That kind of thing is at a minimum compared to anything I've seen in the past 10 years," he said.

Ameshia Tubbs said that black students at the school had been accused of segregating themselves in groups on stairways between classes. But the groups are necessary, she said.

"It's one big security link," she said.

Joel Frederick, a counselor at the high school, acknowledged that students have a tendency to gravitate toward people they feel comfortable with.

"You always want to feel like you fit in someplace," he said.

Frederick and Tate agreed that the students who displayed Confederate flags probably weren't sending a message of racial hatred.

"I really don't think they mean much by it," Frederick said. "But it can't help but be misinterpreted. It is an uncomfortable situation."

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