A Ban on Hate, or Heritage?
Georgia School Divided Over Confederate-themed Shirts
The assault on our Heritage continues.

CANTON, Ga. -- At the beginning of the school year, Dixie Outfitters T-shirts were all the rage at Cherokee High School. Girls seemed partial to one featuring the Confederate battle flag in the shape of a rose. Boys often wore styles that discreetly but unmistakably displayed Dixie Outfitters' rebel emblem logo.
But now the most popular Dixie Outfitters shirt at the school doesn't feature a flag at all. It says: "Jesus and the Confederate Battle Flag: Banned From Our Schools But Forever in Our Hearts." It became an instant favorite after school officials prohibited shirts featuring the battle flag in response to complaints from two African American families who found them intimidating and offensive.

The ban is stirring old passions about Confederate symbols and their place in Southern history in this increasingly suburban high school, 40 miles northwest of Atlanta. Similar disputes over the flag are being played out more frequently in school systems -- and courtrooms -- across the South and elsewhere, as a new generation's fashion choices raise questions about where historical pride ends and racial insult begins.

Schools in states from Michigan to Alabama have banned the popular Dixie Outfitters shirts just as they might gang colors or miniskirts, saying they are disruptive to the school environment. The rebel flag's modern association with white supremacists makes it a flashpoint for racial confrontation, school officials say.
"This isn't an attempt to refute Southern heritage," said Mike McGowan, a Cherokee County schools spokesman. "This is an issue of a disruption of the learning environment in one of our schools."

Walter C. Butler Jr., president of the Georgia State
Conference of the NAACP, said it is unreasonable to ask African Americans not to react to someone wearing the rebel flag. "To ask black people to respect a flag that was flown by people who wanted to totally subjugate and dehumanize you -- that is totally unthinkable," he said.

But the prohibitions against flag-themed clothing have prompted angry students, parents, Confederate-heritage groups and even the American Civil Liberties Union to respond with protests and lawsuits that argue that students' First Amendment rights are being trampled in the name of political correctness.

"This is our heritage. Nobody should be upset with these shirts," said Ree Simpson, a senior soccer player at Cherokee who says she owns eight Confederate-themed shirts. "During Hispanic Heritage Month, we had to go through having a kid on the intercom every day talking about their history. Do you think they allow that during Confederate History Month?"

Simpson said no one complains when African- American students wear clothes made by FUBU, a black-owned company whose acronym means "For Us By Us." Worse, she says, school officials have nothing to say when black students make the biting crack that the acronym also means "farmers used to beat us." Similarly, she says, people assume that members of the school's growing Latino population mean no harm when they wear T-shirts bearing the Mexican flag.

Simpson believes the rebel flag should be viewed the same way. The days when the banner was a symbol of racial hatred and oppression are long gone, she contends. Far from being an expression of hate, she says, her affection for the flag simply reflects Southern pride. "I'm a country girl. I can't help it. I love the South," she said. "If people want to call me a redneck, let them."



(SEE Ban on Heritage, page 2)