Barry Saunders

Don’t remove Confederate symbols. Learn from them – Saunders

Hillsborough resident Katherine Switzer Walker urges the Orange County Board of Education to ban the Confederate flag on school system property.
Hillsborough resident Katherine Switzer Walker urges the Orange County Board of Education to ban the Confederate flag on school system property. mschultz@newsobserver.com

But what about the children?

Whenever you hear those words, grab a tight hold of your wallet. And RUN!!!

Except this time. You can trust me. When I invoke the well-being of the children, I am dripping with sincerity. (At least, I hope that’s sincerity.)

To wit: If we warehouse, ban or destroy all of the statues and monuments to the Confederacy dotting the lawns of Southern courthouses, or forbid students to wear Confederate emblems on their clothes, who’s going to teach the children about this country’s less-than-glorious history? Who will tell them that “Gone With The Wind” was not a documentary or what “state’s rights” really were?

Charlottesville, Va.’s mayor, Michael Signor, despite being a self-professed progressive, voted in May against his city removing Robert E. Lee’s statue – even as he condemned the gathering of torch-bearing so-called patriots who descended upon his city to protest the removal.

As Signor said in a Washington Post op-ed, “We shouldn’t honor the dishonorable Confederate cause, but we shouldn’t try to erase it, either.”

Bravo, Senor Signor.

You what I’m a’feared of?

If today’s political climate allows the Confederacy’s flag and emblems to be banned from clothing on campus, what happens when the climate changes and someone votes to prohibit me from wearing my red, black and green liberation jumpsuit every Aug. 17 – Marcus Garvey’s birthday?

Do we really want to deprive the world of such a lovely sight?

Do we really want to deprive the world of the visceral history lesson stitched into every Confederate flag or molded into each statue?

The answer to both questions is “NO!”

At Gravelly Hill Middle School in Orange County, parents and students are endeavoring to have the symbols banned from campus, from automobiles and from apparel.

Students protested the Confederate statue known as Silent Sam on Monday, interrupting the University Day ceremony commemorating UNC-Chapel Hill's 222nd birthday.

Efforts to reach Orange County School Board members Wednesday were unsuccessful. A receptionist at the board’s office said their spokesman and they were all at a work session and couldn’t be reached for comment.

With some school textbooks already referring to slaves brought to this country as “workers” – as though they got weekends and holidays off – those of us with the foresight to see beyond a hashtag know that removing the symbols of the people who fought to keep slavery alive is a bad idea.

When I was a student, N.C. schools had designated smoking areas where students could congregate to light up. (Look it up if you think I’m kidding.)

Why not, then, allocate on campuses a designated area where sympathizers can congregate and model the latest in Confederacy-festooned fashions and even eat Confederate cake if they so desire?

A few years ago, when students at UNC-Chapel Hill gathered to protest the campus statue commemorating the state’s Confederate War dead, I asked a protesting student if she would know about Silent Sam were that statue not there.

Her reply caused me to throw in my cards and seek someone else to interview.

She didn’t need to know about him, she said.

What the ...!

Were I a student, I’d salute Silent Sam – not with my whole hand, silly – each morning en route to class and then proceed to become as educated as possible. Now, that would really tick off Sam, Stonewall, Robert E. and the others whom I presume are roasting over the devil’s spit as we speak.

Barry.Saunders.jpg
Barry Saunders Ethan Hyman ehyman@newsobserver.com

I hate when I find myself disagreeing with the NAACP, but I think the Orange County chapter in this instance is being shortsighted in wanting to ban the flag and apparel from campus.

For instance, if a student or teacher has the Confederate flag embossed in his or her heart, wouldn’t you want it embossed on their jacket – hell, their forehead – too, so you can know where their sympathies lie?

Some students at hearings on the issue said the symbols make them uncomfortable. Perhaps they do, but when they can prove that the symbols interfere with their ability to conjugate a verb or to know what pi means, then I’ll be right there marching with them to ban them from campus.

Accompanying a recent N&O story on the flag was a picture of a student with a flag-embossed T-shirt that said “If this flag offends you, you need a history lesson.”

Naw, homes. If you buy those buffalo chips that the flag is merely a benign symbol of heritage, you are the one who needs a history lesson.

Am I offended by the flag and statues of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson?

Right on, I am. I’d be more offended, though, if we get to the point where we start removing symbols of everything that offends us or, more importantly, that allows us to forget – in the words of the old Negro spiritual – how we got over and what we overcame.

Oh yeah, there’s another reason to leave those Confederate statues standing: What about the pigeons?

Video: "Hey-hey, ho-ho, the Confederate flag has got to go," was heard echoing through the halls of Gravelly Hill Middle School before the Orange County school board meeting Monday evening May 22, 2017, in Efland, NC.

Barry Saunders: 919-836-2811, @BarrySaunders9

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