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National Politics Thu Jun 25 2015

The Battle Over the Confederate Flag

Image: Confederate flag supporter Karen Cooper shares her story in the documentary "Battle Flag"

As the nation mourned the victims of the terrorist attack in Charleston, South Carolina, images of suspected gunman Dylan Roof featuring the Confederate flag sparked a movement calling for the flag to be removed from statehouses and store shelves. But some claim the flag is not a racist icon and should remain as a symbol of Southern heritage.

Battle Flag brings the personal stories of people on both sides of this debate into focus. By combining short documentary interviews with additional resources, the multimedia project adds some much-needed depth to the discussion.

"When it comes up in the news so much of the conversation is on, 'do we put it up or do we put it down?' But I'm curious about the individual people, why a personal issue is also so emotional for some people," explains producer Logan Jaffe.

Among the subjects is Karen Cooper, an African American woman from New York who now lives in Virginia and regularly flies the Confederate flag to protest big government.

"I think it represents freedom -- it represents people who stand up to tyranny, and by my being out there I hope you see this is not racist," she says in the documentary.

On the other hand, there are the African American students at Washington & Lee University who see the flag as a symbol of racial intimidation. They organized and convinced the university to remove the Confederate flags from the chapel where General Robert E. Lee is buried.

Jaffe, who's also a producer for WBEZ's Curious City, and co-producer Zachary Sigelko began the project after a visit to Virginia piqued their curiosity.

"We took this ghost tour and the tour guide kept referring to the Civil War as 'The War Between the States' -- and we were like, 'Something is a little strange here,'" Jaffe said.

Soon they headed South to interview flaggers, reenactors, organizers and protesters about their take on the Confederate battle flag, thanks in part to a grant from Chicago Filmmakers.

The national dialogue was nowhere near as widespread while the two were filming as it is today, and yet everyone still seemed to have an opinion.

Neither Jaffe nor Sigelko support raising the flag, but they said it's important to remember that those clinging to them aren't necessarily racist.

"How people feel about the flag has so much more to do with their personal identity and how they view themselves," reflects Sigelko.

"I think we need to allow people room to let themselves to be changed or to at least grow their understanding of what it means. However you come to the documentary, you'll see people as people and not just as representatives of an entire organization," Jaffe said.

Visit the Battle Flag website for more videos and resources.

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