“Heritage or Hate” was a panel discussion held on Tuesday during common hour that focused on the Confederate flag, which has caused controversy for its display and use throughout the United States.
The panel was created by Phi Alpha Theta, national history honor society, and gathered students and faculty in Vincent Science Center to discuss the topic. The panel consisted of political science professors Donald Kerchis and David Kershaw, history professor Aaron Cowan, graduate student Tyree Mathis and history major Alex Tabor.
Some background was given on the topic beforehand so the audience was aware of what had happened most recently.
Phi Alpha Theta also did a survey around campus asking students what they thought of the flag and the significance of it. Most students said they didn’t care if it was displayed and didn’t really know what it was about.
Cowan argued that you can’t separate the heritage of the Confederacy from the hate or the white supremacy that comes along with it. He supported this by citing various examples that showed the Confederacy was built on white supremacy, including Alexander Stevens, Vice President of the Confederacy, who claimed the institution of slavery and white supremacy were the cornerstones of the Confederacy’s foundation. He also spoke about a southerner who designed the national flag for the Confederacy, not the battle flag, who thought the flag would be hailed as the “white man’s flag.”
“The Confederacy was really about nothing else other than white supremacy and protection of slavery and the heritage is hate. You can’t really separate those two,” Cowan said.
Mathis said that people from the South should be proud of where they came from, but need to understand that there were three different flags Confederate armies used throughout the war. He said the meaning of the flag is not what someone wants it to mean.
“The original meaning is there and it’s always going to be there and if you’re going to wave the flag I would encourage you to actually know what the history of the flag is and where it comes from,” Mathis said.
Mathis said that when he sees the flag, he sees hate and not heritage.
“I think of how the flag means segregation and means we are not equal to each other,” he said.
Kershaw mentioned the time after the Civil War where the National Democrats became the party of civil rights and Republicans used white racial resentment to gain office.
“So this isn’t just about a flag its kind of a long history of using symbols and language for political gain,” Kershaw said.
Kerchis discussed the topic in a way that made it more of a moral and ethical question for reflection. He talked about the power of symbolism flags contain. He said flags have a meaning and that when one looks at a flag they’re filled with passion and an emotional force tied to nationalism or regionalism.
“If a picture is worth 1,000 words, a flag is worth 2,000,” Kerchis said.
Kerchis wants to recognize the symbolic nature of any flag and believes it can’t be taken lightly. He said rights are tricky, with even freedom of speech restricted to some extent.
“Having the right to do something does not mean that doing it is right. We need to think about our fellow citizens and our common humanity. We need to combine respect and sensitivity,” Kerchis said.
Tabor covered usage of the flag and how it was flown on the U.S.S. Columbia during World War II and raised over Shuri Castle in Okinowa. It was also used by the Dixiecrats and the KKK, along with being used to protest the desegregation of schools.
“We’re told the Confederate flag represents heritage not hate, but why should we celebrate a heritage grounded in hate a heritage whose reason for existence was the exploitation and debasement of a significant number of its own population,” Tabor said.
After each panelist had spoken the discussion took questions from students in the audience. Questions consisted of whether the flag should be banned and how it should be dealt with to make sure the flag isn’t flown in the future. Both Tabor and Kerchis agreed that education was the best way to deal with it.
“I hope that eventually we’ll create some people who are more educated or less ignorant or more sensitive or more caring and respectful and so fourth. You don’t legislate morality and value,” Kerchis said.
Phi Alpha Theta is planning more events this year, their goal being to educate about what’s going on right now with the current generation.