Classrooms were noticeably empty at Dowagiac Union High School on Thursday. It’s been almost a week since administrators banned students from wearing anything with the Confederate flag.
Since then, things at the school have been tense, “It’s been really hectic, pretty awkward,” Brittany Williams said.
Thursday was a half day for students, Williams and her friend spent the day downtown trying to escape the controversy at the high school.
“They need to stop. They’re doing it on purpose just to agitate people,” Williams said.
To her, it’s not just the Confederate flag she finds offensive, it’s the students who are wearing it and their reasoning behind it. “A lot of them don’t interact with black people,” Williams said. “So a lot of them, I think, are being racist.”
“We’re just standing up for what we believe in,” Wayne Matthews said. He’s one of the students who helped pass out t-shirts before school Wednesday morning. His mother made 32 Confederate flag t-shirts and stacked them up in the back of her trunk.
Williams lives next door to the Matthews family, “They’ve never liked us and we never did anything to them, so I do think it’s because we’re black.”
Matthews said this has nothing to do with race; it’s about his right to freely express himself. To him, the Confederate flag does not represent any one race. “It stands for people that believe in what the Civil War is about and it stands for Southern pride,” Matthews said.
So far, the battle over the Confederate flag has only created more boundaries between different races and groups at the high school. Threats of violence have been exchanged both at the school and on the web.
Matthews said when he walked into school in his t-shirt, another student threatened to beat him up. “I was confronted by one, a colored kid and he was calling me names and stuff.”
Police officers have posted up outside the school for the last two days, and the school’s administration told students they are looking into all of the threats. The students who wore the Confederate flag t-shirts to school on Wednesday did not return the next day.
Gabrielle Williams said she’s not sure how the students will heal, she said this has turned into another race war and it will be difficult to move on from here.
“People that are still angry about it, people that won’t let it go,” she said. “I really think that they’re going to be targeted when this is all over with.”