Black student wins fight to hang Confederate flag, but decides not to

Jan 27, 2012
BEAUFORT CO., SC (WTOC) – Life has changed for 18-year-old freshman Byron Thomas since December when he sought the right to hang a Confederate flag in his dorm room.

Thomas, a student at University of South Carolina Beaufort, will be on Dr. Phil next month and MTV is talking to him about being part of their series True Life.

Click here to view photos of the student, his dorm room and the flag

Life changed the moment he went on YouTube and shared his thoughts on the Confederate flag and defended his right to hang it. His life changed, and since then, so has his mind.

"I feel like a coward because I don’t have it up in my window," Thomas said after he won approval from the college to display the flag.

Thomas won the right to hang the Confederate flag in his dorm room window, but now says the fight is over. After being advised by the university, he says, to not hang it up, the flag remained folded up in his room.

"I just don’t want to go through all that stress of people hounding me and then supporting me," Thomas said.

Online, there was support echoing his beliefs.

"Southern pride is not always about racism or I hate black people," one man said in a Youtube video.

However, critics were just as venomous in their opposition. "You just have to have that damn flag up? You just have to have it up? Freedom of speech?"

"There was lots of negative comments which made me feel uncomfortable for me having my flag in my room," Thomas said.

While his roommates and fellow students did not all agree with his outlook, they were able to have a civil discussion.

"They thought it was a unique a black person didn’t see it as a racist symbol," Thomas said of his roommates. "I was happy about how students reacted and treated me during all of this firestorm of over an issue that got our school national attention."

Byron appeared on CNN, his own Youtube video went viral, and after his story aired on WTOC at the beginning of December, he was invited to Hollywood for a visit to the Dr. Phil show.

"I think it will be very interesting for people to see how Dr. Phil reacts and see how the crowd reacts," he said.

The Confederate flag went back up in December and came back down a week later and will stay down, though Thomas admits he really wants to put it back up.

"There is something missing. My Confederate flag," he said.

Instead, Thomas will keep the conversation of racial stereotypes alive.

"It doesn’t make any sense that we are still fighting or arguing over the same stuff our parents did. So, hopefully my generation can get it right," he said.

So, the flag will stay out of the window. Thomas remains on the USC-Beaufort South Campus student senate and will be the focus of discussions next month when the university hosts an event focused on racial equality.

Thomas says he will discuss with fellow students why he chose to hang the Confederate flag and why he won’t put it back up.

The school is also expected to re-visit the topic of what is acceptable, and unacceptable, in regards to students hanging items in their windows.

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