COLUMBIA, S.C. – A Black college student who drew complaints for displaying a Confederate flag in his dorm room window said he sees the banner as a symbol of Southern pride and not racism.
The 19-year-old student at the University of South Carolina Beaufort took the flag down at the university’s request, but he said he’s considering putting it back up after the officials relented. Byron Thomas has drawn nearly 70,000 views since he posted a video online in which he acknowledges: “I know it’s kind of weird because I’m Black.”
In a telephone interview Thursday, Thomas said a class research project made him come to the belief that the flag’s real meaning has been hijacked. He said he wants people to thoughtfully consider issues of race and not just knee-jerk reactions to such symbols.
“When I look at this flag, I don’t see racism. I see respect, Southern pride,” he said. “This flag was seen as a communication symbol” during the Civil War.
Thomas said university officials asked him to take the banner down just before Thanksgiving after students and parents complained when it was seen by them on campus tours, but have since told him he can put it back up.
The freshman from North Augusta said his generation can eliminate the flag’s negative power by adopting the banner as a symbol of Southern pride.
“I’ve been getting a lot of support from people. My generation is interested in freedom of speech,” Thomas said.
But Thomas says his parents don’t like the flag and he’s concerned about their point of view, particularly since they pay his bills.
“I don’t want to make my parents mad,” he said. “I may wait until Monday to put it up.”
He said he’s unhappy about such things as labels, and he doesn’t like the term “African-American,” which he said makes him feel like “a half-citizen,” since he wasn’t born in Africa.
Thomas’ roommate Blane Reed, who is White, said in a separate telephone interview that he never heard any complaints after Thomas put the flag up shortly after Labor Day. Each student has a separate bedroom and share living space with three others, the 18-year-old from Walhalla, S.C., said.