Wednesday, August 25, 2004
By Dan Majors, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The very idea of a lynching — execution, especially by hanging, without due process of law — goes against everything that America stands for. We are guaranteed that protection.

The Confederate flag, however, is accorded no such protection.

At least that is the contention of a Florida artist who plans to hold a mock lynching of a Confederate flag when his exhibition opens at Gettysburg College art gallery in the coming weeks.

Now, people have been hanging the Confederate flag — and, more precisely, the Confederate battle flag — for decades. Most of those folks live Down South, in states that actually were part of the Confederacy during this nation’s Civil War. And they hang it proudly.

But there’s no shortage of bumpers and belt buckles sporting the polemic icon in these parts. Even though it’s my suspicion that a great many of these Pennsylvanians clinging to their Confederate flag stickers might have lost an ancestor or two in the battle against the South.

Still, that isn’t what has them spinning in their graves in and around Gettysburg.

According to Mark Scolforo, a reporter with The Associated Press, the sacrilege is John Sims’ purported art project. At least, that’s the opinion of some Gettysburgers.

Sims, 36, is an artist and teacher down in Sarasota, Fla. He is an African-American. And much of his art focuses on flags. He has interpreted the Confederate flag in pink and purple or in the red, black and green of black nationalism.

Sims, a black man who once displayed one of his colorized Confederate flags at a Ku Klux Klan rally in Florida, called Gettysburg "the perfect place" to launch a project he describes as "a battle of symbols."

That’s what has caught the attention of the Schmucker Art Gallery at Gettysburg College, where Sims’ "Recoloration Proclamation: The Gettysburg Redress" opens Sept. 3. The artist calls Gettysburg "the perfect place" to launch a project he describes as "a battle of symbols."

The exhibition will start with Sims "lynching" a Confederate flag on a 13-foot-high gallows.

That’s if the show opens. There is a campaign afoot in Gettysburg to cancel the show.

"The point of the exhibit is the flag has taken on a set of meanings," gallery director Molly S. Hutton told Scolforo. "The nature of exhibition is it’s controversial — we expected some controversy."

Well, they got it. So much so that gallery officials held a meeting Monday with the college president and borough authorities to discuss security. The tab for which, according to Mayor William E. Troxell, could exceed $120,000.

And that’s just for the day the show opens.

"We haven’t had any open threats of any kind, but we feel that we have to be prepared," Troxell said.

Well, you go messing with a battle flag, you better be ready.

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