Flag Controversy at Mr. Jefferson’s University

No, not the Confederate flag, but the Red, Black, and Green flag of black nationalism.

A troubling column in today’s Cavalier Daily, the student newspaper at the University of Virginia, is highly critical of some inflammatory rhetoric and graphics on the web page of the Griot Society, a black student organization.

The Griot Society was actually founded two years ago by an Assistant Dean of the University’s Office of African-American affairs. Its initial purpose was to provide support for students majoring in African and African-American studies, but it has recently become more political, and polemical, and is now concerned with “fighting for global justice among all oppressed peoples.”

The student columnist was bothered by a picture on the group’s home page of Mumia Abu Jamal, the convicted Philadelphia cop-killer, over a banner proclaiming “We Are All Mumia,” he was particularly incensed over the explanatory “mantra” accompanying and purporting to explain the Red, Black, and Green flag of black nationalism:

The Red, or the blood, stands as the top of all things. We lost our land through blood; and we cannot gain it except through blood. We must redeem our lives through the blood. Without the shedding of blood there can be no redemption of this race. However, the bloodshed and sorrow will not last always. The Red significantly stands in our flag as a reminder of the truth of history, and that men must gain and keep their liberty, even at the risk of bloodshed.

The Black is in the middle. The Black man in this hemisphere has yet to obtain land which is represented by the Green. The acquisition of land is the highest and noblest aspiration for the Black man on this continent, since without land there can be no freedom, justice, independence, or equality.

The group does not strike me as revolutionary. They are hardly likely to hike over to Monticello, liberate it, and declare a Republic of New Africa right here in Albemarle County. It is concerned with social and service functions like other student groups.

It’s too early to say how much of a controversy, if any, today’s column will spark, but it will be interesting to see whether any connections are made between this flag and the ongoing debates about the Confederate flag.

The Confederate flag, of course, is drenched in an oppressive history, but the Red, Black, and Green is not altogether innocent either. The “mantra” that the Cavalier Daily columnist finds so offensive, for example, was not written by UVa students; it is ubiquitous on the net, and elsewhere. The Kwanzaa Information Center, for example, uses exactly the same language to explain the flag, and continues:

The colors were resurrected by the Hon. Marcus Garvey, Father of African Nationalism, as the symbol of the struggling sons and daughters of Africa, wherever they may be. Since the 1950’s, when the independence struggle began to reap fruit, the Red, Black and Green have been plainly adopted by Libya, Kenya and Afghanistan. Other African States have included the colors Black and Red, combined with yellow or white.

The colors were established in 1920 as the banner of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), and adopted as the symbol of Africans in America at the convention of the Negro People’s of the World. It is a symbol of the devotion of all African people to the liberation of the African Continent, and the establishment of a Nation in Africa ruled by descendents of slaves from the Western World.

In addition, with the formation of the Republic of New Africa, it has become the symbol of devotion for African people in America to establish an independent African nation on the North American Continent.

I’m sure the UVa students who may metaphorically salute the Red, Black, and Green have no desire to hike over to Monticello, liberate it, and create a Republic of New Africa right here in Albemarle County. But then, many who have affection for the Confederate flag do not lament the passing of slavery and have no desire to repress blacks today.

The Confederate flag stirred controversy because it was flown by the state on public grounds. The Red, Black, and Green is not similarly flying over the Rotunda, but it is flying, even if only virtually, on a University of Virginia web site, put there by a student group (founded originally by a University official) that may be receiving some University, and hence public, funds.

I wonder if there would be opposition to a Sons of Confederate Veterans student web site electronically flying the Confederate flag. Ironically, a case in which the University of Virginia was the losing party probably means it cannot lower either the actual or the hypothetical flag. Rosenberger v. University of Virginia, 115 S. Ct. 2510 (1995), held that the University could not engage in viewpoint discrimination in distributing funds or services to student groups.

Say What? (2)

  1. Sean Ginnon September 6, 2003 at 4:10 pm | | Reply

    If you are stupid enouph to think that the confederate flag stands for hate you are mistaken. I am not a racist. I greatly admire those like Martin Luther King and others who have helped improve the lives of our black brothers. The rebel flag is an everlasting symbol to the great men who fought and died for the south during the Civil War. It is true some like the KKK do they not also fly an American flag also.

  2. SMITH September 24, 2003 at 10:00 am | | Reply

    I often wonder where this flag issue will take us in about fifty years time.Will Davis,Lee,Jackson,and Mosby be considered in light as equals to Hitler,Himmler,Goering,and Heydrick?It is such sorrow when Americans are being “re-educated” like Communists,in the interest of complacency for African-Americans….As an heir to the Confederacy myself,i can only imagine the eminent dangers in race relations,in coming from further antagonism on this issue.

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