Editor’s Note: After years of seemingly going under ground, the shocking massacre of nine people at at a Charleston, SC church and the hate-filled manifesto of the man accused of killing them has put the Confederate Flag back at the center of controversy. It has reignited the age-old debate as to whether it stands for heritage or racism. Former NFL player and longtime college football coach Billy Joe has a story about coming face-to-face with the confederate flag on a historically black campus in the deep south. This is his account, posted to his Facebook page.
“As the head football coach at a college located in the deep southeast quadrant of our country, on the first day of my summer football camp practice, a campus policeman informed me that the police chief wanted to speak to me at the campus police station. I knew my meeting with the police chief had to be extremely important because it is common knowledge that no one interrupts, disrupts or corrupts my football practice sessions.
While we were in route to the campus police station, I asked the campus policeman, “what’s this all about.” He said your white freshman football kicker parked his motorcycle in front of the campus police station (for safekeeping) and the motorcycle has a CONFEDERATE FLAG on it.
Upon arriving at the campus police station, the police chief said, coach, it’s disrespectful and may be quite dangerous for a white kid to display the confederate flag on this campus. He said it may pose a problem when the students return from their summer break. He said it was his responsibility, as the police chief, to maintain a safe environment on campus. I agreed with the chief.
I looked at the motorcycle, and initially, I could not find the confederate flag. I thought it would be waving big, loud and proud on the handlebars. However, I located the confederate flag on the back fender underneath the seat. Though, what was most disappointing to me was the fact that the confederate flag was no bigger than a POSTAGE STAMP! First, I laughed uncontrollably at the small flag, and then I was perturbed with the police chief for interrupting my practice session because of an almost microscopic size confederate flag. Secondly, then I realized the size of the flag was inconsequential. It still portrayed the same message to African Americans and other United States citizens: It implied racism, bigotry, prejudice, injustice, enslavement, hangings, rape, Jim Crow laws, segregation, treason and etc. I knew my white kicker was not a racist. The coaching staff and I vetted him thoroughly during the recruiting process. After all, he was just a freshman and a nerdy 18-year-old white kid attending a black college in the South. He had adopted the black hip-hop genre: He had the black hair (tight curls/dreads), the language (ebonics), the mannerisms and black friends. Just like Rachel Dolezal, the white lady who represented herself (passing) as a black lady, he could’ve been mistaken for a black person if he had darken his pale face, like Dolezal.
I returned to practice and immediately pulled my kicker to the side and asked him why would he display a confederate flag on his motorcycle at a black college? He said, it was not out of disrespect. He said, “I just thought it was cool.” I said, emphatically, that it was definitely not cool. He said it was not about racism or heritage. I thought it was a strange way to show his “coolness.” But as an old head football coach, there are many things I don’t understand as to why young people say and do what they do… I just surmised that he probably forgot to take it off of his motorcycle before coming to his first college football practice at a black college.
But, some of my black football players, not out of disrespect, call their female friends “bitches” and “hoes.” But, not out of disrespect, some of my black football players call their male friends niggas and nigger. It’s obvious that some hip-hop youngsters send misleading and mixed messages in their verbiage. Nonetheless, I explained to my kicker that displaying the confederate flag at a black college is similar to Lady Gaga wearing her famous meat dress to the zoo and jumping into the lions den; it was similar to a person wearing a jacket with swastika emblems and nazi flags on it to a Jewish synagogue; it was similar to a black person attending a Ku Klux Klan cross burning rally with his white wife. There are some things that are not wise to do…even though it’s not illegal.
He said, coach, if you don’t mind, I’ll run to my motorcycle and take it off now. I said no…just don’t return to practice and campus with it on your bike tomorrow. He said, yes sir. He was an excellent academically oriented student athlete. He was an outstanding teammate at the college for four years. He was an extraordinary kicker. He helped us win several games with his foot; and he baled us out of a few games with just seconds left on the clock.
The confederate flag has no place on a black college campus. It has no place on government buildings. After all, the Confederacy (with the flag) tried to overthrow the United States government, and were defeated. Because of their rebellious and treasonous action, there is much disdain for the Confederacy and the flag in the United States. The Confederacy and the flag are part of the United States of America’s past. And that past remains in the history books and museums, not on the property of government buildings.
Similarly, the nazi flag and swastika is a shameful symbol for the German government, and it is not displayed on government buildings. The nazis, their flag and Adolf Hitler, were defeated in World War II. It’s equivalent to…the Confederates, their flag and Jefferson Davis, being defeated in our Civil War.
I believe Abraham Lincoln and General Ulysses S. Grant made a huge mistake, after General Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox, when they allowed the treasonous southern rebel soldiers to walk away from the war with absolutely no retribution. Abraham Lincoln allowed the rebels to walk away with their confederate flag, and no Nuremberg type trials, or no prison time for Robert E. Lee and his generals. Jeff Davis, the president of the Confederacy, was the only high ranking Confederate official to spend time in prison for treason. He was only incarcerated for two years.
There would be no confederate flag controversy if the rebels were tried in our federal courts for crimes against humanity. Why was “ole Dixie” allowed to keep and fly the flag after losing a war to the United States of America?
The rebels should have been stripped of everything! There should just be one flag displayed in the United States on public buildings, the American flag. Put the confederate flag in a museum! The rebellious 13 Confederate States of America, in essence, got away with murder…over 600,000 killed in the Civil War. Ludicrous…just to waive the confederate flag and to maintain slavery. As a matter of fact, some slaveholders were so obstinate, that to avoid losing their slaves, they move their plantations to remote areas in South America, especially Brazil.
There were more people killed in the Civil War than all the other wars in the history of the United States of America, combined.
I am elated that our Governor, Robert J. Bentley of Alabama, decided to take down the confederate flag (without coercion) from Alabama’s own state grounds. He said, of course the massacre in Charleston, South Carolina had something to do with his decision. My cynical intuition and mental telepathy tells me that he was also trying to stay ahead of the posse, for the state that was the “Cradle of the Confederacy.” When corporations and big businesses got involved in this controversy and stated their disapproval of the confederate flag, governors, politicians and racists got the message, “you’re going to lose taxes and jobs in your State.” All of a sudden, the hyperbole about southern pride and southern heritage goes out the window.
A similar scenario happened in the “Heart of Dixie” with college football. The Southeastern Conference (SEC), the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) did not permit African American football players to enroll in their colleges as student/athletes until they had begun losing games (pride, prestige and money) to other colleges with African American football players. All of a sudden, southern pride, southern heritage and racism disappears from the surface when money and winning football games matters to previously segregated and racist colleges in the south.
African Americans and other fair-minded citizens simply want justice and equality; the racists don’t necessarily have to like us. We just don’t want them to act violently on their racist impulses. I say to the confederate flag lovers: Why did you allow racist people and hate groups to hijack your confederate flag, without so much as a whimper or a whisper from you, until now? Removing the flag is just a gesture and a symbol. It will not solve any of the United States woes, or save lives. But it will bring the south into congruency with the rest of the country and the world. Stop romanticizing the antebellum South and it’s icons. Although, don’t forget your historical past with the confederate flag – but just imagine your great future without the confederate flag.
Written by Billy Joe 🇺🇸
Billy Joe coached at Cheyney, Central State, Florida A&M and Miles. He won six Black College Football National Titles and is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame.