One of those life-altering occasions occurred to me in college. I was a member of the Student Senate at Clemson University, and usually we debated such banal questions as whether or not the male Senators should wear a coat and tie to the meetings. Occasionally, to the chagrin of the Deans, we actually dealt with something of substance. In the late 1960’s overt racism was a larger fact of life on our conservative campus than drugs. In the Deep South, the Civil War, over 100 years in our past, still stirred far more emotion than World War II. The Second World War was history. The Civil War seemed like a current event. The Confederate Battle Flag was prominently and vigorously waved at our football and basketball games.
Someone put forth a motion in our Student Senate that flaunting the Confederate flag should not be allowed in our sports arenas. Ours was a newly integrated campus. I was against the motion. I was proud of my Dixie Heritage. I did not think of myself as a racist. I loved the Deep South. I loved our songs, our heroes, our food (grits, fatback, collards, barbeque, turnips, okra and cornbread), and the Rebel Yell (mine was louder than anybody’s). My accent, then and now, is deep-fried and smothered in red-eye gravy. I was and am about as Southern as a human can be!
But I was in college, getting a “liberal arts” education, and for the first time in my life, I was aware of a larger world. I had never been in school with a person of African heritage until I got to college. In my culture, we still used the “N” word casually.
A pretty Jewish coed sat beside me during the debate on the motion to ban the waving of the Confederate flag in the football stadium. She whispered to me, “Waving the Confederate flag in the face of a black person seems to me to be no different than waving a Nazi flag in my face.”
I had never thought about that! She was right. Period. I learned something that day. I voted for the resolution. I am pleased to say that Confederate flags are no longer waved at Clemson University on game day in the stadium.
Something shifted in me that day. I changed an old way of thinking. I grew up a bit.