A Symbol of Hate

The Confederate flag (one of three flag designs used by the Confederate States of America… The flag pictured in the video is commonly referred to as the Confederate battle flag) is cut in two, part of this heinous symbol of racism and racist violence remains on its flag pole attached to the side of a garage in a yard strewn with many objects. The other half of the flag has been nailed to the same side of the garage. Perhaps the nailed half of the flag is a symbol of the effort of its owner to preserve this representation of hate?

While I photograph the flag from across the road and prepare to shoot the video of the school grounds and school campus that border the property on which the flag is displayed (elementary, middle, and high schools occupy the campus of Taconic Hills Central School District), a man comes from beside the garage and waves to me. The First Amendment protects the display of this flag.

The flag is not in the Deep South, but in a rural community in upstate New York near a farm that boasts a gay liberation flag and a newer Black Lives Matter banner displayed on the front lawn of its farmhouse. Between 10 and 15 miles away is the city of Hudson, a bastion of gay rights and a city with 25% of its population made up of Black residents.

I have passed this symbol of hate displayed on the garage for years, traveling on a road that leads in and out of the Berkshires of western Massachusetts. Each time I pass the flag, intense feelings of revulsion, hate, and disgust build. Now, with the documented rise of racist hate growing across the US and fueled by the racist and anti-Semite in the White House (along with his fellow travelers), this symbol takes on more meaning.

Countless numbers of schoolchildren are exposed to this flag daily, and at least twice daily if their trips to and from this school campus use the roadway that I often travel.

I wondered what these kids thought? Had teachers and school administrators talked to them about the significance of the Confederate flag in US history? Had school personnel made any links in formal instruction between the push for justice for Black people in the US compared to this symbol of hate? Had parents discussed the flag with their children?  Less than 10 miles away from the site of the battle flag, on a county road just off of the Taconic Parkway, the “Don’t Tread on Me” (The Gadsden flag associated with the American Revolution that has been co-opted by the radical right) flag is displayed on a flagpole at the edge of a house lot. Many associate the Gadsden flag with those in the US who champion unlimited gun rights. One such flag hangs in the foyer of a local gun shop in nearby Massachusetts.

A call to the Taconic Hills Central School District School for comment on the Confederate battle flag was answered, but I could get no one to comment for this article. I would have liked to have found out what the school administration’s points of view were about the flag’s proximity to the school campus, whether discussions about the battle flag are incorporated into school lessons, and if students, parents, or teachers had commented about the issue.

As a writer, I could not go onto the property where the Confederate flag flies and interview either the owner of the property or others who may live in the house on that land. It is an instinctive revulsion at what that symbol represents that stopped me at the property line.

I emailed a person in a supervisory position at the nearest major newspaper, the Times Union, to learn whether the flag had ever been covered in an article and my email was not answered. A search of the Internet yielded no information or articles about that flag.

Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer. He is the author of Against the Wall: Memoir of a Vietnam-Era War Resister (2017).