Monday, February 20, 2006
By GARY EXELBY Daily Statesman editor

It wasn’t exactly the War Between the States. But debate between the descendant of a slave and that of a Confederate veteran over emblems of Richland’s mascot definitely livened up an otherwise-routine meeting Thursday evening of the Richland School Board.

"The last time I came to you to ask about the Rebel flag in the gym, I asked for a written explanation," said Richland alumnus Willie Clark. Noting he had received none, Clark said he had called, to hear that the flag was a "gift," return of which was seen as likely to offend the donor.

"Well, my view is: ‘what about us, as African Americans?’" he asked. "Either you didn’t take into account our feelings or you didn’t care."

Clark is black. "It’s very insensitive," he said, "and I’m surprised you let it stay."

Clark added he had stopped coming to games and graduations at the school after the flag had shown up in picture he had shot of his grandson’s graduation had ended up with footage of the Confederate Jack, generally referred to as the "Rebel flag."

"It’s worse than the swastika for me," Clark said. "Enough’s enough. I think it should be taken down."

After Clark had spoken, Dexter resident Bruce Hillis, a member of the Sons of Confederates, addressed the board. "I have six ancestors who were Confederate veterans," he said, "and as a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, I’m here to defend the good name of Confederate soldiers."

Hillis echoed an observation by Clark that Black History did not receive proper attention. "I ask you to celebrate African-American History," Hillis said, "and black Confederate veterans."

In noting to the board that some 65,000 blacks had served in the Confederate Army — including 10,000 in direct combat roles like infantry — Hillis pointed out the white and black troops had served under the Confederate Jack. "It was a battle flag," he said, "not a national flag.

"People call it the ‘Stars and Bars,’ but the Stars and Bars had one red stripe, one white stripe and another red stripe, with a blue field of stars. This is a blue Cross of St. Andrew on a red field."

He added the Confederate Jack had never flown over any facility associated with the slave trade, but only on battle fields and warships. "The American flag flew of slave auctions," he said, "but not this flag."

Hillis said the idea for the Confederate Jack had come from Confederate generals Joe Johnston and Pierre Beauregard, who had observed the Stars and Bars’ blue field could be (and occasionally was) mistaken for the American flag. He reiterated the significance of the Confederate Jack was exclusively military. "And it should fly over Confederate cemeteries," he said.

Clark responded that blacks had fought for the Confederate Jack because it had been the will of the individual slave’s owner to have him fight. Hillis responded that free or slave, blacks had fought for the Confederacy for the same reason soldiers everywhere had fought defensive wars: "because it was their home."

"I’m not saying the Confederate soldiers shouldn’t be proud," Clark replied, "but that flag has been used to oppress us."

As superintendent Ken Latham had indicated would be the case before Clark and Hillis addressed the board, the board took no action in open session on Clark’s request. Results of any actions decided in executive session were not known as of press time.

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