CHRISTIANSBURG, Va. (AP) — An NAACP leader in the Virginia town where students have been suspended over wearing Confederate flag emblems to school commended the teens Friday for standing up for their beliefs, but said he doesn’t believe they understand the pain that the symbol brings to African Americans.
Alvin Humes, president of the NAACP chapter in Christiansburg, Virginia, said he supports the local high school’s decision to ban the flag and believes that the debate could be resolved if the school would bring both sides together to have a discussion about the meaning of the flag.
“I wish that there was some kind of way that we really could have a dialogue with these kids ... and try to explain to them what they’re doing is not exactly right because it hurts people in this community,” he said.
The Christiansburg High School students say they should be allowed to wear clothing emblazoned with the flag because the symbol is central to their Southern heritage. An all-white group of students and supporters gathered outside the school Friday to urge the administration to reverse its policy a day after roughly 20 students were sent home for refusing to shed their Confederate flag gear before entering the school.
“We’re going to fight until we get our flag back,” said 17-year-old Melanie Chrisley, a senior.
Clothing emblazoned with the flag was banned at the high school in the small Virginia town just after the 2001-2002 school year, said school district spokeswoman Brenda Drake. There were several racially-motivated fights and altercations that year, in which the “flag was used to harass or intimidate others,” she said.
A new policy this fall also bars students from having the flag on their vehicles in the school parking lot.
Drake said no students were suspended Friday for dress code violations. Three students, who came to school wearing clothing displaying the flag, removed the items before entering the building, she said. Other students never entered, but Drake couldn’t say how many.
Several adults supporting the teens waved Confederate flags as students arrived at the school Friday and the group said it would be back Monday.
Senior Houston Miller said Friday that he’s considering suing the school. Miller has been leading the fight against the bans and said he will continue his efforts until the administration backs down.
Drake said the administration is standing by its policy.
“Our job is to maintain a safe and orderly environment in the school and a peaceful environment in the school,” she said. “The ban was put in this specific case to help maintain that positive educational environment.”
Confederate symbols have come under increased public scrutiny since the June 17 massacre of nine black worshippers at a church in Charleston, South Carolina. Dylann Roof, the white man charged in the killings, had posed for online photos holding the Confederate battle flag.
Christiansburg, a predominantly white town of about 21,000 in the Blue Ridge Mountains, is home to many who work at nearby Virginia Tech. Of the 1,100 students at Christiansburg High School, 83 percent are white and 8 percent are black, state data show.
Residents of the town had mixed feelings about the students’ actions.
Roger Gallimore, who has lived in Christiansburg most of his life, said he doesn’t think it’s appropriate for the students cause so much trouble over the policy. The 80-year-old white man who owns several buildings downtown said he feels like the teens are just trying to get attention.
“If they were my kids, I probably wouldn’t want them doing that,” he said.
But Bobbie Davis, a 55-year-old nurse who is black, said she thinks the students should be free to wear what they want.
“The flag didn’t kill the people,” she said of the massacre in South Carolina. “The person behind the gun killed the people.”