|Albany State Seeks Dialogue With Confederate Re-Enactors After Parade Controversy|
|By Emily Quartimon|
The marching band director at Albany State University and the leader of a group of Confederate Civil War re-enactors plan to visit each other's homes to discuss their differences after the band had refused to march in the Albany, Ga., annual Christmas parade as long as the re-enactors -- carrying the Confederate flag -- participated, the band director says.
Director Michael Decuir eventually changed his mind. The band performed, and so did the Confederate re-enactment group. Police provided protection.
In the end, Decuir said he decided it was better simply to agree to disagree and to foster a dialogue on the issue.
Many African Americans view the Confederate flag as a symbol of slavery, while supporters say it's a symbol of the South's heritage. Decuir said his initial decision not to submit an application to participate in the downtown parade Dec. 6 was mainly because of "philosophical differences" over the flag.
The re-enactors were informed two weeks earlier by the city that they would not be participating because Albany State's band refused to march if the re-enactors marched also.
To resolve the issue, both parties met with officials of a city that is still trying to emerge from its anti-civil rights image of the 1960s. In 1961 and 1962, Albany was the site of protests in which hundreds, including the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., were jailed and massive boycotts staged.
The re-enactors were re-invited, although Harry Robertson, a member of the re-enactors, said in an interview with the Albany Herald that, "We don't want to make any people in town uncomfortable."
"We did not have a negative or political meaning behind us marching," added Robertson, 47. We just wanted to march to show our support to the community."
According to the 2000 census, the city's African American population is 60.1 percent and whites are 37.8 percent.
During a Dec. 4 news conference announcing that both the marching band and the re-enactors would participate, Mayor Tommy Coleman, who is white, said that to prevent controversy, future participation would be by invitation only and that the city would require that all entries in the parade have a Christmas theme.
Albany State's band has been a part of the parade since it was revived in 1990.
Decuir, who was born and raised in New Orleans, has been at Albany State for three years. He had taught for three years in New Orleans and nine years in metro Atlanta.
As assistant band director, Decuir said he had observed the Confederate re-enactors in previous parades and was offended by their flag.
This fall, with the retirement of the former band director, Decuir took over.
"At that point, I said when I become band director, we won't participate in any event that's glorifying the Confederate flag and the Confederacy," said Decuir.
He said he explained to a representative of the city's Water Gas & Light Commission, which sponsors the annual parade, "that I have 'philosophical differences' with the Confederate flag. She then decided to take the Confederate group out so that Albany State would march," he said.
Decuir said that the re-enactors then went to the news media.
"Of course, now what we have is an argument, not a discussion, because unfortunately we haven't been able to discuss the virtues of the Confederate flag and the re-enactors, what they have to do with Christmas, and whether or not ASU and myself should tolerate and embrace that as a part of history and Southern culture," Decuir said.
The Confederate flag symbolizes a desire to go back to slavery and "the good old days," and the romanticizing of what was a terrible time in this country's history, he said.
"This country was at war with itself, the North against the South. There's nothing good about that. It represents a desire to keep Africans slaves," he said.
Agreeing to participate after all "was a very difficult decision," Decuir said. "After a lot of soul searching, I decided that it would probably be best for the community, my students, and this area that we accept the city's invitation."
But Decuir said the university needs to have a forum where people can discuss the issue, where both sides, re-enactors and people who disagree with them, can feel comfortable coming to the university to talk about it.
"We need to seriously look at the parade next year," he said, "in terms of whether that is a Christmas theme or not, a military re-enacting group."
"I think with this Albany area, the healing process never did take place from the civil rights era," he said. "I think that most communities such as Montgomery; Birmingham; Jackson, Miss.; New Orleans and Atlanta, that after integration there was a healing process to whatever degree, that people agreed to disagree and that people accepted one another on a much higher level."
Decuir said he believes the healing has never taken place and that it could be because King did not succeed in Albany. "Eventually the protesters' energy, and the money to bail out protesters, ran out," as the Encarta Africana encyclopedia says.
"I think that hard feelings from that generation are still prevalent because so many people are still alive," Decuir said. "The only way to heal is to discuss the issues and listen to both sides of the story."
Decuir said his band members supported him. "Some did not like it and I opened it up for anyone's comments. Some members said we should have stayed out and continued to make our statement," he said.
"Others, particularly those born and raised down here, thought that it was best that we marched because it would be good for the city of Albany that we show everybody that we are above all of this other stuff."
He also said that one young lady told him that they need to remember that Christmas is for the celebration of Christ, not a band and not a flag.
Decuir said that he has no ill feeling toward the re-enactors, and he said that he had called and spoken with Robertson, a member of the 2nd Georgia Military Cavalry, the re-enactor group.
"We actually had a good conversation. He seemed to understand our position, though; and he reiterated to me that they are not prejudiced people," Decuir said.
"He recognized the fact that people like the Ku Klux Klan have used the flag as a symbol, and from the re-enactor's standpoint, the KKK are wrong and are the worst of the worst."
Decuir said the re-enactors portray actual battles and that knowing history is important.
"My point to him was that I never had anything personal against them. It was the symbol of what the flag represents, and Mr. Robertson understood that and that it was the city that kicked them out of the parade," he said.
He also said that Robertson called him back several times to ask the band to march because Robertson's group didn't want Albany State's band absent from the parade.
"Out of all that, we agreed that we were going to continue this dialogue. He's inviting me over to his home and I'm inviting him over to mine and we are going to talk about why I'm offended by the flag and why they look at the flag as something with pride," Decuir said.
With the parade issue resolved, Decuir said he still feels uncomfortable. "I still worry about how others are going to see not only my band, but myself," he said.
"I don't want people to think that I just sold out or made a stand and now I'm taking a step backwards. Though it may seem that way, I'm not. I just see that this way is the best thing for us to do."
He said he wanted to do the parade hoping to get a positive out of a negative and maybe for ASU to host a forum for people in the community where they can come together and discuss the issue.
"We can't live in a world alone; we are all depending on each other," he said.
For example, Decuir explained Dr. King's last Christmas sermon.
"The sermon said something like, 'When you pour coffee in the morning, the coffee beans may have come from a Colombian farmer from South America. If you like tea, the tea may have come from a farm in Asia, and the sugar may have came from a sugar cane in Louisiana, while the toast bread may have come from some wheat in Nebraska. And when you put gas in your car, the oil comes from the Middle East.'
"I was thinking about his sermon and what his message was, and that is we are all dependent upon each other in this world," Decuir said.
The Albany area won't have potential if there is separation, and that the only way the area is going to reach its full potential is if people agree to disagree, he said.
"So with all that, that's why I decided we were going to do the parade."
Posted Dec. 15, 2003
|Posted Dec. 14, 2003|
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