A black college student has won the fight to keep a Confederate flag in his dorm room after school officials initially told him to take it down.
The University of South Carolina Beaufort told 19-year-old Byron Thomas on Thursday he could keep the flag up, after the freshman was told two weeks ago to remove it because of student complaints.
University spokeswoman Candace Brasseur told the Beaufort Gazette Thomas was initially asked to remove the flag because it violates a student code of conduct discouraging bigotry, but the school’s legal counsel ultimately advised the university to allow him to display the flag.
When he was first told in November to take the flag down, Thomas posted a four-minute video on YouTube saying he views the Confederate flag as a sign of Southern pride, not of racism, and was not going to remove it. The video was re-posted on CNN’s iReport, where it has been viewed more than 70,000 times.
“It’s not racist for me,” Thomas, a Georgia native, said in the video. “All it is is a symbol that I see as a sign of respect, and people don’t want to see it that way.”
Before the school relented, Thomas said he felt his First Amendment rights were being violated, and said he considered legal action if he was not allowed to display the flag.
A class project made him come to the realization that the flag’s real meaning has been hijacked, he told the Associated Press in an interview. He said he wants people to carefully consider issues of race and not just have knee-jerk reactions to symbols.
“When I look at this flag, I don’t see racism. I see respect, Southern pride,” he told the AP. “This flag was seen as a communication symbol” during the Civil War.
Thomas said he also dislikes the term “African American” because it makes him feel like a half-citizen.
“I was not born in Africa, I was born in Augusta, Georgia,” he said in the video.
Thomas said he’s received a huge outpouring of support since the ordeal began.
“I’ve been getting a lot of support from people. My generation is interested in freedom of speech,” Thomas said.
He said he talked to his parents — who grew up amid the Civil Rights movement — once the uproar started and said they weren’t happy about his decision to display it, though that probably won’t keep him from putting it up again.
“I don’t want to make my parents mad,” he said. “I may wait until Monday to put it up.”