Black student from North Augusta sparks debate with Confederate flag

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COLUMBIA — A black college student from North Augusta who drew complaints for displaying a Confederate flag in his dorm room window said he sees the banner as a symbol of Southern pride, not racism.

Byron Thomas, 19, a student at University of South Carolina Beaufort, holds the Confederate battle flag that used to hang in his dormitory window. Thomas took the flag down at the university's request, but he said he's considering putting it back up after the officials relented.   Rachel Heaton/Associated Press
Rachel Heaton/Associated Press
Byron Thomas, 19, a student at University of South Carolina Beaufort, holds the Confederate battle flag that used to hang in his dormitory window. Thomas took the flag down at the university's request, but he said he's considering putting it back up after the officials relented.

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.

He said university officials asked him to take the banner down just before Thanksgiving after students and parents complained when they saw it on campus tours, but have since told him he can put it back up.

The freshman 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 because 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 makes him feel like “a half-citizen,” because 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 shares living space with three others, the 18-year-old from Walhalla, S.C., said.

He said the flag was on the inside of Thomas’ bedroom window, and it moved later to the window in their common living area. But the week before Thanksgiving, Thomas was asked by his hall director to take it down from the window and put it anywhere inside the student apartment.

Thomas then posted a video on CNN’s iReport Web site that has logged more than 69,000 views. An article in The Beaufort Gazette on Thursday touched off dozens of comments, both pro and con.

“I think he’s got a really good point. It’s just a flag, and in and of itself, it doesn’t have any racial meaning. It only has as much meaning as you put into it,” Reed said.

He described his roommate as a hardworking student who attends church services regularly and hasn’t let the incident interfere with his studies.

“Byron is really smart, very outgoing. He’s one of the nicest people you would ever meet, and he’d give you the shirt off his back,” said Reed, a biology major.

University spokeswoman Candace Brasseur said Thursday in an e-mail that about two-dozen students had raised the issue of the flag with the housing office or with a resident adviser. On Thursday, she forwarded an e-mail the school had sent to its students and staff, informing them that officials had asked Thomas to remove the flag “out of respect for his fellow students’ concerns.”

However, the e-mail added, because of “USCB’s firm belief in the First Amendment and its right of free speech, the University cannot and will not prohibit these flags or other symbols that our students choose to display.”

Thomas is free to return it to his window if he wishes, Brasseur said.

USC Beaufort is one of eight campuses in the University of South Carolina system and has about 1,750 students, of which about 16.5 percent are black, according to the school’s Web site.

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TK3
562
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TK3 12/01/11 - 07:32 pm
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He is right folks. He not

He is right folks. He not only appears intelligent but sincere in his view/belief and I thus salute him.

You guessed it...Frank Stallone
83
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You guessed it...Frank Stallone 12/01/11 - 08:15 pm
0
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Interesting young man and

Interesting young man and considering he is the type that would "give the shirt off his back" for another human says a lot. Rare character these days.

rmwhitley
5547
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rmwhitley 12/01/11 - 08:27 pm
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If there is a flag that
Unpublished

If there is a flag that reflects "racism", it's the Stars and Bars. For you of the northern persuasion, the American flag.

reba530
65
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reba530 12/01/11 - 09:13 pm
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Its so nice to see that
Unpublished

Its so nice to see that someone as smart as this guy can see beyond what most people think. Way to go Byron. I am proud of you. Never back down in what you believe in

nothin2show4it
120
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nothin2show4it 12/01/11 - 09:27 pm
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Yes Byron is right. I don't
Unpublished

Yes Byron is right. I don't have any kind of attachment to the flag and have never seen why it causes such an uproar. Some just look for things to argue about.

cool9209
0
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cool9209 12/01/11 - 09:52 pm
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Byron is only at the the

Byron is only at the the University of South Carolina Beaufort, because of others that died and suffered for him. If he was my son, I would cut off all allowances, and allow his independents and speech to be self supporting.

Bizkit
35632
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Bizkit 12/01/11 - 09:58 pm
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This is what the college

This is what the college experience is suppose to be about-critical thinking. You don't have to agree with him but you have to give him credit he is thinking out of the box. Most just follow the mold of ignorance and prejudice rather than examine a subject oneself to decide for yourself. He should apply the same to all of his education. Learn about the box and then be bold and contemplate what if.

Crime Reports and Rewards TV
33
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Crime Reports and Rewards TV 12/01/11 - 10:23 pm
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At least he studied up on it,

At least he studied up on it, what are the thugs "studying" that few ever condemn and disown them for? MLK did not die for the thugsters; he died for freedom to be your own man like this nice young man.
That flag was hijacked but it is now so sullied by that hijacking we would never display it because it was used in such a stupid fashion...

Asitisinaug
3
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Asitisinaug 12/01/11 - 11:10 pm
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He is a good person, studies

He is a good person, studies hard, attends church and properly expresses his views - he even adhears to the rules as he removed the flag upon request without complaint. What a great person.

Cool9209, it would seem that anyone who has a son like this should be PROUD and support him, even if you disagree.

mjct1
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mjct1 12/02/11 - 01:10 am
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The flag is a symbol of

The flag is a symbol of Southern Pride. The Southern Pride that it represent is the groups that adopted it. It just so happen that the Confederate Army, KKK, and other groups that did not want life to change from certain race control. THIS IS THE POINT YOU WANT TO FORGET. THIS IS THE POINT THAT WE WANT TO IGNORE THAT IS A PART OF HISTORY. Truth comes from acknowledgement and then acceptance. When we accept that racism is connected to this symbol then we can move forward to create a better atmosphere. In due respect, I am sure his Grandfather and older parents would be able to let him know about the family encounters with the people connected to the GROUPS that wanted that flag to be THEIR SYMBOL. As always, lets forget the racism of one man but point out the hate baiting of the other man.

Iwannakno
1533
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Iwannakno 12/02/11 - 01:14 am
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I never expect any of my sons
Unpublished

I never expect any of my sons to agree with me.Only respect my decisions of the way I run my home. To say that you would cut off your kids because they exercise a set of beliefs and principles that you yourself do not agree with makes me even prouder of him because he has studied with an open mind (despite your attempt to the opposite) and came up with his own set of beliefs that he wants to live by. I applaud him.

mjct1
3
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mjct1 12/02/11 - 01:28 am
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I wannakno-To also say that

I wannakno-To also say that some sort of punishment would not be given is a misbelief. If you are providing finance for a child, I am sure you will have rules, and the person must follow them to continue to receive your financial support. True, on his own money, do what you wish. On my money we have some terms. Come on, let's be real. Many times before, "While you are in school son, get good grades and I got your back, you go to partying out there, I will cut you off." Since your grades are failing because you are partying to much now son, I am not going to let you have may money. Son, you need to stay on campus, since you want to stay off campus, that's on you. IF you are not that way, OKAY, (HMMMMMMMM!).

Iwannakno
1533
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Iwannakno 12/02/11 - 01:37 am
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Well that's not how I
Unpublished

Well that's not how I parented with social decisions. Grades and actions are a seperate entity. I cannot tell my sons who to campaign for nor vote for and any parent should be happy their child is socially aware instead of trying to blackmail them into their way of thinking.

jamesnewsome
38
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jamesnewsome 12/02/11 - 05:49 am
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I applaud Byron for his

I applaud Byron for his decision not to be stereotyped by others. While the flag issue is controversial, he is correct in that Southern Pride does not have to be, nor should be racial.

Additionally, Byron's comment about not being an African-American is spot on. No one refers to me as English-American because I am white. A former President said, "There can be no divided allegiance here. Any man who says he is an American, but something else also, isn't an American at all."

If you don't know who said this, and you still object to Byron's position then you are only showing your ignorance. The young man is far ahead of his piers in my opinion.

My last comment is for the dozens of people who feel it necessary to vent anonymously on this forum. Byron has an opinion and freely expressed it, and identified himself with that decision - unlike others who have strong divisive opinions and hide behind pseudonyms.

mjct1
3
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mjct1 12/02/11 - 06:04 am
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Iwannakno- That is not

Iwannakno- That is not blackmail, and maybe so. The parent has a problem with a well intelligent child stating he does not see the family struggle and thinking that this history is totally untrue. The history is there, and you need to accept your past to understand what you are going to face in the future. Why is there an uproar with the present of Mr. Cain and now accepting the past of Mr. Gingrich.

Iwannakno
1533
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Iwannakno 12/02/11 - 06:17 am
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Sorry, but it is certainly
Unpublished

Sorry, but it is certainly blackmail when you tell your child you will agree with the same social convictions I have or I cut off your tuition. Monetarily as a parent, you have that right but expect a huge backlash from your child. I'm not a flag waver at all but it seems odd to me that only the rebel flag is brought into the argument when they wave the christian and american flags too. I would also add that the plight of jails filling up with young black males and the number one killer of black males being black males seems to escape the naacp and they waste money on a piece of fabric instead. Even going as far as boycotting an entire state which costs black people jobs. It's a waste of money and hurts blacks more than helps. It's a bandwagon and keeps people like Jesse and Al in the headlines because they don't know how to address the real problems of the black community.

copperhead
1035
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copperhead 12/02/11 - 06:29 am
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This guy is clearly a racist

This guy is clearly a racist and a hater! He wants to go back to when blacks were enslaved. It is very clear!

InChristLove
22485
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InChristLove 12/02/11 - 06:36 am
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Iwannakno, I have to agree

Iwannakno, I have to agree with your stance on this.

david jennings
624
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david jennings 12/02/11 - 07:18 am
0
0
Clearly Mr. Thomas has made

Clearly Mr. Thomas has made sure he will never be elected to high political office. Regardless of how " qualified" one might be," anything "you do from grade school until old age can and will be used against you. Never sit on the high court either.

Brad Owens
4906
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Brad Owens 12/02/11 - 07:41 am
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Maybe the SCV will pay his

Maybe the SCV will pay his tuition if his folks cut him off.

GodisSoGood
1045
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GodisSoGood 12/02/11 - 08:56 am
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Awesome story. So glad to see

Awesome story. So glad to see that there are some blacks who can see beyond color. Wish I could meet this guy....he seems like an awesome person. Iwannakno...you are right. the NAACP fails to notice the numbers of violent crimes of black on black. Funny how that gets overlooked. yet if a white kills a black, it's a hate crime. makes no sense to me.

kmb413
533
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kmb413 12/02/11 - 09:37 am
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mjct1, you assume he doesn't

mjct1, you assume he doesn't know the history, but the article clearly states, he came to know the meaning of the flag from research.

iLove
626
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iLove 12/02/11 - 11:04 am
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I wonder what type of
Unpublished

I wonder what type of research did he do...I also wonder if he had attended an HBCU in SC, would his views be any different.

College is all about critical thinking, but really. . . .?

This is the perfect story for the Augusta Chronicle.

Does this same way of thinking apply to the the word N****?
Young African Americans have adopted the word and changed the meaning, yet IT STILL HURTS to some people. I personally like the new meaning. (My friend, my pal, my homie)

I pefer the term African-American only because what the heck is a BLACK PERSON?

Did he research where that term came from?

Do we call people of Indian decent Olive?

IMO African Americans in America have NO IDENTITY. This is not their native land.

kmb413
533
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kmb413 12/02/11 - 11:01 am
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0
iLove, you have excellent

iLove, you have excellent points.

I could call myself Italian-American, but I don't, there isn't a point to it unless I want to show minority status. Not saying that African-American is only used to show minority status. I believe it was adopted to give a sense of being instead of just "black person".

I wish we were all as innocent as my 7 year old who just says "that person is brown". No racism, just a fact.

iLove
626
Points
iLove 12/02/11 - 11:10 am
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0
@ kmb413 "I wish we were all
Unpublished

@ kmb413
"I wish we were all as innocent as my 7 year old who just says "that person is brown". No racism, just a fact."

I agree! The joy of life that we get from children!

And for the record, ONLY a person of African decent living in America can use that term (N) in that way. i.e. Sherri Shepard vs. Barbara Walters

shrimp for breakfast
5641
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shrimp for breakfast 12/02/11 - 11:52 am
0
0
I grew up in Charleston where

I grew up in Charleston where the flag is everywhere. All my friends black and white never paid any attention to it and still don't. None of us knew it was an issue until people came to our city and tried to tell us what to think. You don't do that to a Charlestonian of any color.
We care about important things like what fish are biting, where the best crabbing spot is and the best time of day to go shrimping.
Yea that's right FOOD and especially seafood is far more important than an old flag.
It's such a weary subject. This horse has been dead so long that there's nothing left but sun bleached bones.

Patty-P
3520
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Patty-P 12/02/11 - 12:16 pm
0
0
'I wonder what type of

'I wonder what type of research did he do...I also wonder if he had attended an HBCU in SC, would his views be any different.'
Yes, I think his views would be different. History is what one interprets it to be, and according to the teachers perspective really.
I don't necessarily agree with the term 'African-American' either....if I am a descendant of Africa, so is everyone else - at least according to what I learned in college.

ALABAMA13
2
Points
ALABAMA13 12/02/11 - 01:31 pm
0
0
This is the type of person

This is the type of person who could be a great leader. just because someone says it or does it does not make it right. to My knowledge no one has ever been killed by a flag. WHY DO WE PUT SO MUCH EFFORT INTO HATING? WE ARE AMERICANS...IT IS TIME WE STARTED ACTING LIKE IT! THANK YOU BYRON FOR STEPPING UP.

Cadence
219
Points
Cadence 12/02/11 - 03:33 pm
0
0
Someone said "IMO African

Someone said "IMO African Americans in America have NO IDENTITY. This is not their native land." That offends me. It is an attempt to deprive black Americans from their heritage, to disenfranchise them once more, and to deny their citizenship. You have the right to say anything you please (or fly any flag you please) but I disagree with your opinion.

Brad Owens
4906
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Brad Owens 12/02/11 - 05:30 pm
0
0
Patty-P, I was born in

Patty-P,

I was born in Georgia, but I am African 100%

Brad

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