Civil rights group challenging school’s Confederate symbols

SAMIRA JAFARI
Associated Press

PRESTONSBURG, Ky. – A civil rights group is challenging an eastern Kentucky high school’s use of the Confederate emblem as its school flag, saying the symbol is hurtful to black students at other schools.

Members of the Louisville-based Justice Resource Center met privately with Floyd County school officials on Monday afternoon to discuss their concerns over Allen Central High School’s prominent displays of the Confederate flag at the school and public events.

"The rebel flag to African-Americans represents something very bad – it represents slavery," said the Rev. Louis Coleman, head of activist group. "This community is still in the past."

After the meeting, Coleman and the Rev. Milton Seymore held hands with Paul Fanning, Floyd County superintendant, and Henry Webb, director of instruction, to pray for equality and understanding.

Fanning declined to discuss his opinions on the flag, saying it was an issue for the local school board. He promised Coleman that he would put the topic of Allen Central’s flag and mascot on the board’s January agenda for discussion.

Coleman, in a letter sent to county school officials Monday, said surrounding Allen Central’s all-white student body with Confederate symbols will not prepare the teens to enter "a diverse society where these symbols have already been eliminated."

Coleman also suggested giving nearby schools with black students the option of not participating in events where Confederate symbols are displayed, saying the flag creates "a very tense and negative atmosphere" for black student athletes.

Allen Central students have staunchly defended their Confederate emblems, saying they symbolize nothing more than strength, independence and pride.

They vocalized their support of the flag after a local school board member, Mickey McGuire, questioned whether the students should associate themselves with Confederate symbols during a board meeting in November.

"It’s our tradition," said Charles Randolph, 18, one of several Allen Central students interviewed by Associated Press earlier this month. "If I was black, it probably would bother me. But if they can understand it wasn’t put toward them in hatred, it wouldn’t be an issue."

In the past month, Allen Central’s school flag and mascot have generated hundreds of comments posted on blogs around the country, in addition to the phone calls and e-mails, mostly in support of the flag, flooding the principal’s office.

Black students at nearby high schools have said they resent the displays of Confederate flags, especially at sporting events. Most don’t do anything about it, saying the feel outnumbered in eastern Kentucky, where some school districts are 99 percent white.

Ted Honaker, one of two dozen black students at nearby Pikeville High School, said he’s against the Confederate flag. But the basketball player said he has no intention of stepping down from games against Allen Central, nor would he expect his team to boycott a game.

"It’s about respect," said Honaker, 17. "We can stick up for ourselves."

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