Why Are There Confederate Flags in Franklin County?

After the horrific violence in Charlottesville this summer, debate all over the internet sparked about freedom of speech and the right to fly Nazi and Confederate flags. Obviously the whole event was shocking and shameful, but the sight of the Confederate flag didn’t disturb me as much  as it seemed to other people, and I had to ask myself “Why doesn’t it?” I realized it’s because I see it everyday! On sweatshirts, as bumper stickers, on cellphone cases, nail art and more. I began thinking about how the role of this flag has been something that is prominent in my community for years. Just two years ago, there was a Black Lives Matter demonstration outside my school, which was met with a student driving past the crowd with a giant Confederate flag. More recently, the poet Rajni Evans visited last year to perform pieces centered around racism and police brutality, and before he began, in walked a student in a Confederate flag t-shirt. I want to know how Rajni felt then, and how the black students that go to my school feel when they see a symbol of the enslavement and systemic oppression of their race.

I asked my former teacher Peter DeLauriers about my idea to create a film about the role of the Confederate flag in Franklin County. I asked him. “In the South, people who choose to don the Confederate flag can fool themselves into thinking it’s a symbol of their heritage, but why is it so prominent in a town like St. Albans, Vermont? In the first state to abolish slavery, it was where the northernmost battle of the Civil War took place, and the last stop on the Underground Railroad before Canada!” He told me. “The people who wear the flag don’t know why they do it. If you asked them, they couldn’t give you an answer.”

This got me thinking, for my project, is it even worth asking someone why if they have no answer?

I explained my thinking to my best friend Marlena. She told me, “No, that needs to be an essential part of your film. Watching someone struggle for an answer about why they’re wearing the Confederate flag sends a strong message about hereditary racism that you are trying to showcase.” I also shared with her my desire for this study to be focused on Franklin County. She advised against it, saying “You have to find out where else this is happening to fully prove your point. Is this a problem in Stowe? I have no idea! Shining a light on it across the bleeding-blue heart of Vermont is going to send the message that we still have work to do.”

Lastly, I asked another friend and classmate, Jens Verderber about my fear of comparing the Nazi flag and Confederate flag in the context of Charlottesville. He told me “There’s really no difference between them. They both symbolize genocide, but we only acknowledge one as bad because it’s a crime of a foreign government.”

 

Citations:

Venturo, Sophia . “Peter DesLauriers on the Confederate Flag in St. Albans.” 17 Sept. 2017.

Venturo, Sophia .”Marlena Valenta on the Confederate Flag in Vermont.” 22 Sept. 2017.

Venturo, Sophia . “Jens Verderber on the Confederate and Nazi Flags.” 21 Sept. 2017.

Sophia Venturo

5 Responses to “Why Are There Confederate Flags in Franklin County?

  • Sophie, I think this is incredibly powerful. What Jens said, about how we only view Nazi flags as offensive because it was a foreign crime, got me thinking. How can we change this American attitude that our government can never do anything that is worse than something a foreign government can do? How can we diminish this feeling of superiority? But I suppose this goes back to race and how America was built on the thoughts of a White man and White superiority. Do you think Americans will ever see their own crimes as equal to the crimes of someone else? I love your idea and I think it will reveal some really interesting things.

  • Sophie,

    I think this would be a fascinating — and tricky — project. But I agree with Shannon and with some of the people you interviews — it would be worthwhile.

    The difficulty, of course, is that for some the reasons for displaying the Confederate flag are complex — it’s not simply racism any more than the flag represents genocide. There is a fabulous writer I know, Robin MacArthur, whose book of short stories, Half Wild, was a finalist for the Vermont Book Award. She has one story that truly captures the complexity of racial attitudes in Vermont — that often they are tied with economics and ignorance more than actual racism.

    So I agree with what one friend said, this is a film where you want to capture people’s first answers, HOWEVER, I do think you need a plan for how you are going to do the interviews, how they are not going to be immediately confrontational. Perhaps talking to some TV reporters might get you some tips on how to approach people who may not want to speak or who are very defensive about their positions. It’s all about building trust. AND it’s about your desire to get to the complexity and to be fair.

    Happy to help.
    gg

  • I love this idea, Sophie! I wonder how aware Vermonters are of this issue. I noticed that you were able to identify why you were not as bothered by people flying/wearing the Nazi and Confederate flags as you thought it would be normal or even right to be.

    There is an NPR story that aired yesterday: Why A Confederate Flag Flies In Upstate New York: http://www.npr.org/2017/09/30/554698449/why-a-confederate-flag-flies-in-upstate-new-york – I wonder how this story could impact your thinking around your topic.

  • Ceci Lewis
    5 years ago

    Sophie,
    This is an incredible topic. There is so much potential to uncovering a variety of issues regarding the Confederate Flag and why it is a symbol of whatever it may be for the person who is associated with it. Some of the ideas I immediately thought of when I was reading your post was: a) race (as mentioned by S. MacDonald), b) economic disparity (as mentioned by GG), and c) personal awareness or the desensitizing of America (as you and Sydney Cole mentioned). Additionally, there could be a rebel spirit that some teens might identify with, or perhaps even an ancestral identity. As I write, I realize that you have a huge topic on your hands here. Whether it is uncovering why the flag itself is so contentious, or why individuals are invested in it seems to be a major focus, but what will you do with the information? I always tell my students, if you have ten people, you will probably get 12 answers. 🙂 How might you consider looking at your topic so that it: a) won’t be leading in the responses you get (remember, research is an honest and open exploration into a topic), and b) it doesn’t polarize. I look forward to seeing what you come up with as you develop this idea even further. Now is the perfect time to have conversations centered on all the issues surrounding your topic.
    Thank you.
    Ceci

  • Zymora Davinchi
    5 years ago

    I really appreciate this post, especially when you compared the confederate flag to the Nazi flag. They are both symbols of terrorism, and both responsible for mass murder and the systemic oppression of marginalized people – historically and in present day (Look at Charleston Church Shooting in 2015 – Dylann Roof). People cannot deny their historical contexts, their ignorance just perpetuates white supremacy and antisemitism. Once, a swastika is brought into the world, it’s a swastika, no matter how one dresses or interprets it. Therefore, when someone denies the blatant racism that the confederate flag symbolizes, it’s automatically an invalid argument – It has nothing to do with their southern pride (they aren’t even southern, nor did their ancestors fight for the confederacy, that’s just an excuse to perpetuate racism). The Confederacy’s constitution was equally about protecting their state’s rights, as it was about owing enslaved black peoples. For example, Article I Section 9 (4) reads “No bill of attainder, ex post facto law, or law denying or impairing the right of property in ***** slaves shall be passed.” Again in Article IV Section 2 (1) “The citizens of each State shall be entitled to all the privileges and immunity of citizens in the several States; and shall have the right of transit and sojourn in any State of this Confederacy, with their slaves and other property; and the right of property in said slaves shall not be thereby impaired.” Therefore, the confederate flag is not only a racist symbol, but a symbol of 400 years worth of enslavement, genocide, and dehumanization that the confederacy wanted to continue to enforce. Also, another big argument that I hear when dealing with individuals that are pro the Confederate flag is that it represents their patriotism and love for this nation. However, Confederates were secessionists meaning that they wanted to leave this union (the United States), and form their own country. That is literally the complete opposite of being proud to be an American, or patriotic. Actually, when the 13th Amendment was passed to abolish slavery, the south refused it – completely disobeying our US constitution, and abiding our constitution is one of the most “American” characteristics that one could possibly obtain when we fought for years against British rule to finally introduce to the world our own constitution. People do know why they proudly fly the Confederate flag, and that’s to illicit fear and mark their territory.

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