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Protesters Take On LSU's Confederate-Style Flag

Photo credit: Anthony Moore
Protesters called the flags flown by Louisiana State University fans obscene.

Some 200 protesters demonstrated before a Louisiana State University football game against the purple-and-gold Confederate-style flags flown during sporting events.

"We see those flags as weapons of mass division on this campus and we take the issue very seriously," said Alicia Calvin, LSU chapter president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and one of the protest organizers. "This flag is obscene because African Americans have been terrorized throughout history by it. Anything deemed offensive can be banned from our institution."

The protest took place Oct. 22 before an LSU-Auburn University game. Calvin said the flag, displayed by many LSU supporters, has been viewed by the school's black students as a symbol of bigotry.

Collins Phillips III, another organizer and member of the student government association, said the purple-and-gold flag was placed outside LSU's African-American Cultural Center as the students met inside to mobilize for the protest. As the students prepared to leave to begin the march, police told them they would be arrested if they marched into the streets.

"I told them that we were going to still have the march," Phillips said. "I said they could arrest me right then and I would take full responsibility."

Phillips said a campus administrator told the protesters they could proceed if they walked in groups of 20.

Escorted by as many as 20 state troopers, the protesters walked through the masses of tailgaters. Signs with such slogans as, "LSU DIVERSITY" and "ESPN--Everyone Stop Promoting Negativity" were held as students came face to face with onlookers who jeered and shouted insults and racial slurs, said witnesses.

"While we were chanting 'Ban the flag,' and 'Don't play,' some of the tailgaters were yelling 'L-S-U,' and 'Go to Southern if you don't like it,' " Calvin said. "Some of them were even acting like monkeys and saying things like, 'Go back to Africa!' "

Kenneth Reynolds, a protester and a senior physical education major from Slidell, La., said some spectators grew rowdy while watching the demonstration.

"We had onlookers yelling, screaming, cursing," he said. Some protesters "were elbowed and doused with beer and water," he said.

Reynolds said none reciprocated with violence.

"No retaliation was taken because we figured that would have hurt the movement more than it would have helped," Reynolds said.

Phillips said the group's intent was to march two days later to LSU Chancellor Sean O'Keefe's office so its grievances could be heard.

Two hundred students did gather in front of the LSU Student Union on the morning of Oct. 24.

"Saturday's march was meant to get the word out and let everybody know that we want the purple and gold flag taken down," Phillips said.

According to Calvin, the Oct. 24 march to the Chancellor Sean O'Keefe's office was organized to draw attention to other issues as well.

"We are addressing things like the underfunding of African American events on campus, the lack of African American-tenured professors at LSU, as well as the Confederate flag being in LSU colors," Calvin said.

The students also wanted to use the march to magnify what they felt was a lack of attention to vandalism of the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity house. The only black fraternity house on campus, it was spray painted with the letters "KA."

"The purpose of Monday's protest was to send a wake-up call to the chancellor, who was not at the other protest," Reynolds said. "The question we, the students, wanted him to answer was, 'Why weren't you there? Do you care?' "

According to Phillips, O'Keefe came out and met with the protesters when they reached his office. Standing next to Phillips, O'Keefe said the Confederate flag was offensive. However, he went on to say that he "cannot and will not ban anything" because of the First Amendment right of free speech, a position O'Keefe explains on his Web site. O'Keefe said he would continue to publicly condemn the flag and make clear the university does not support it, Phillips said.

Another march was being planned, Calvin said.

"There'll be another one and another one until something is done," she said. "We need people to write letters to legislators and be on our side."

Calvin also made a plea to Southern University students for assistance. "We gathered lots of support from SU during Homecoming," Calvin said. "No matter what school we attend -- be it LSU or SU -- at the end of the day, we are still African Americans. What affects us affects you as well."

A.J. Griffith, a student at Southern University, writes for the Southern Digest.

Posted Nov. 2, 2005

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