Downtown Confederate causes a stir

Dana Hatchett, Alligator Staff Writer Jul 7, 2015

A whirlwind of controversy is making its way across the nation regarding the flying of the Confederate flag on state grounds following the slaying of nine black people by a white supremacist in a Charleston, South Carolina church.

Many people across the nation are arguing the flag be taken down to honor the black lives that were lost during the horrific event. Other Americans have been fighting to keep the flag to conserve a part of American history.

And now the debate about items symbolizing the Confederacy has reached Gainesville.

A speakout against the Confederate statue in downtown Gainesville aimed to rally support for the fight to end “white supremacy and racist violence” will be held Thursday at 5:30 p.m. at the southeast corner of Main Street and West University Avenue.

Jesse Arost, one of the event organizers and the creator of the group’s Facebook page, “Remove the Confederate Statue! End White Supremacy and Racist Violence!” said the group wants the commission to visit the topic.

At the event, activists from local organizations are going to speak about their experiences combating racism, Arost said.

“If we listen to the work of the Confederate leaders themselves, as they were seceding from the union they were explicitly trying to form a new country that was completely white supremacists,” Arost said. “There is no way to separate Confederate symbols. There are ways to celebrate southern heritage without involving white supremacy.”

Arost said he is expecting about 90 to 150 supporters and 10 to 20 people opposing the cause to show up at the rally.

But while some groups aim to remove anything that could be associated with the Confederacy, others in Gainesville are unsure why the Confederate flag and related symbols are being brought up following the Charleston shooting.

“The media has a tendency to see a crime and blame every person who looks like that for that crime,” said Sherrie McKnight, the president of the Gainesville Tea Party and a South Carolina native.

Sean Adams, UF history department chair and an expert in slavery and history in the 19th century, said the Confederate flag’s historical context of being associated with the South has remained the same.

However, Adams said, the political context of the flag changed after the Jim Crow laws were abolished in 1965.

The flag should not represent a political or social context but rather a historical one, Adams said.

Hannah Lewis, 21-year-old UF art senior, said that while some view the Confederate flag as a symbol of southern pride, she believes it stands for racism and slavery.

“It’s on the wrong side of history and I am not sure why that is anything to be proud of,” Lewis said.

While McKnight said the decision to take down the Confederate flag and other items considered symbolic of the Confederacy is ultimately up to local and state governments, she does not want it to continue to be a rift inside the country.

“I would like our nation to see each other as people and not color,” McKnight said. “A great racial divide is being created.”

[A version of this story ran on page 4 on 7/7/15]

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