By Joy E. Cressler/Staff Writer
Jan 16, 2006,

It’s an ember still burning from the Civil War of the 1860s. Nearly 150 years after the war between the North and South began, the battle continues about a symbol which represents either heritage or hate, depending on which side of the flag a person views the controversy.

The flames were fanned into an open fire earlier this month when two Burleson High School students went home after administrators said the girls could not have their new, Confederate flag-covered purses at school.

When good friends Ashley Thomas and Aubrie McAllum, both 16-year-old juniors at BHS, returned to school on Jan. 3 after Christmas break, they discovered their parents had given them the same purses as gifts.

Ashley’s mother, Joni Thomas, said she found the novelty purse at Hulen Mall and paid $25 for it. Eager to show off their Christmas bounty, the girls brought them to school. Before classes resumed, however, as Ashley was talking to a group of friends, assistant principal Paul Horton asked her to come into the office, Joni Thomas said.

There, she was threatened with suspension if she didn’t empty the contents of her purse into a plastic bag so the purse could be confiscated until her mother could pick it up after school, Joni Thomas said.

She refused and instead called her mother.

“They’re suspending me for the purse,” Ashley told her mother. Joni Thomas said she went to the school to talk to Horton, who she said told her that the flag represented the Ku Klux Klan.

“My mouth hit the floor when he told me that,” Thomas said. “I told him she’s 16 years old, and that I had bought her the purse. I tried to lighten the conversation by telling him I was from New York.

‘You guys were shooting at us, remember?’ Besides, the KKK carries the American flag. It was insane.”

The Confederate flag, to some, has come to represent the enslavement of the black people by the Southern states who fought against the North during the Civil War.

“I didn’t mean anything racial by bringing the purse to school,” Ashley Thomas said. “I have family members who have married into the family who are black.”

Almost 2 percent of the district’s population is black, which is about 150 students, according to Richard Crummel, director of learning supports.

Attempts to reach the president of the Fort Worth chapter of the NAACP, the Rev. Nehemiah Davis, were unsuccessful as of press time.

The girls and their families are not without their defenders. Tom Jones, the commander of the Sons of the Confederate Veterans from the Pat Cleburne Camp in Cleburne, said what the school is doing is a disgrace.

“Somebody’s not informed about history,” Jones said. “It’s all about heritage, about those 380 decorated veterans out in the Cleburne cemetery who fought for what they believed in. It’s like we’re back under Reconstruction again.”

The father of the other girl, Rick McAllum, is a member the Fort Worth unit of the Sons of the Confederate Veterans, Jones said.
Another SCV unit commander, Melvin Burt of Cleburne, said the Confederate flag is a battle flag, not a national flag that represents a country.

“Everyone’s always tearing on that flag,” Burt said. “That flag doesn’t represent anything but a Confederate battle. I don’t have a problem with anyone else’s flag; I don’t know why they would have a problem with mine.”

But there is at least one more flag that indisputably stands a good chance of offending many, and that’s the swastika symbol, as pointed out by BHS Principal Paul Cash.

“What percentage is OK

[to offend]?” Cash said. “Even if only one student is offended, that’s one too many.”

The district’s policy says the dress code is in place, among other things, to prevent disruption. It also says garment decorations cannot be offensive.

More specifically, in bolded letters, the policy states, “At BHS there will be no tolerance for clothing or accessories that have inappropriate symbolism, especially that which discriminates against other students based on race, religion or gender.”

Cash cited previous disruptions at BHS and other school districts which have led or might lead to years of problems dealing with discriminatory behavior at extracurricular activities and other times.

“Other groups have worn [the Confederate flag] for hate and have done horrible things,” Cash said. “Other students shouldn’t be forced to look at it if they find it insulting and discriminatory. We’re not going to tolerate it. American soldiers, including African-Americans, died for the cause that flag represents. It’s an unfortunate thing that other groups have done what they have since then.”

Cash said he didn’t believe either one of the girls was being intentionally discriminatory by bringing her purse to school.

“But the question comes up — is it heritage or hate?” Cash said.

Cash emphasized that no disciplinary action has been taken against any BHS student for dress code violations this year. Others who have worn Confederate flags have been asked to remove them from view and have complied.

Joni Thomas said both girls brought their purses again on Jan. 4, were asked to go to the office and ended up going home with their mothers. The girls returned to school Jan. 5-6 without the purses.

Ashley Thomas said Jan. 9 that it was peaceful at school and no one said anything hurtful toward her, as had happened other days.
Joni Thomas said an attorney from North Carolina, Kirk Lyons, will be meeting with both families in the next few days. She said he volunteered to take the Thomases’ and McAllums’ case in a joint lawsuit the parents are considering against the school district.

Copyright © 2005 Burleson-Crowley Connection

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