Hickory Daily Record
March 30, 2004

The controversy over the Confederate battle flag at South Caldwell High School has been resolved with the rescinding of the flag ban. Caldwell County School Superintendent Tom McNeel is to be commended for choosing attitude over icon.

McNeel has made his position abundantly clear: Nothing will be allowed that contributes to racial disharmony. Students may wear the flag on their clothing, but inflammatory or hateful language, slogans or actions will not be tolerated.

That approach will require sensitivity and greater understanding among everyone at South Caldwell.

Some people say the flag shouldn’t be displayed under any circumstances. Others say the Confederate emblem is not a statement of hatred, but an expression of Southern pride.

McNeel is trying to satisfy both sides of the argument.

In effect, McNeel is expressing a belief shared by many people – that content of character should be the basis for judging individuals, not one’s choice in apparel. His approach will demand thought and consideration of those things that inspire unity and those that engender schism.

It is often difficult to comprehend the isolation, the demeaning condition of segregation and the enmity and disillusionment borne of racial bigotry.

It’s also frustrating to many people who simply don’t view the battle flag as a symbol of hate or a tribute to slavery that the regional icon should foster preconceived notions they feel are unfair.

But nobody has to experience prejudice to know it’s wrong and hurtful. Nobody has to be called names to realize slurs are divisive. And hurtful.

The students, parents and faculty at South Caldwell have a tremendous learning opportunity if they can get past knee-jerk reactions that push people further apart instead of bring them closer together.

Everyone concerned must realize that Principal Byron Jones did what he thinks is right. Superintendent McNeel did what he thinks is right. And the students, white and black, must take great pains to prove what they have done and will do is not rooted in malice. They must show that character is the most important element in conduct and interpersonal relationships.

Each person has the right to feel secure about themselves and their surroundings. Anyone who would maliciously violate that security must be held accountable. McNeel promises that’s the case at South Caldwell.

It seems, then, that everyone at the school will have to be taken at their word. If that can be accomplished, it will be a great achievement indeed.

It’s up to the students to prove McNeel’s attitude-over-icon approach can work. They’re being asked to display decent behavior and understanding – something many adults have yet to master.

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