Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Clemson History Offers Perspective for Flag Debate

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Clemson History Offers Perspective for Flag Debate

Article excerpt

Clemson University is a state agency as well as a university. As a state agency, we are governed by the laws and policies of the state of South Carolina and therefore have a stake in the development of such laws and policies -- a stake that encompasses the current debate regarding the Confederate flag that flies over our state Capitol building.

As a university, Clemson does not have a formal role in determining the outcome of the flag debate. But universities do have a role in our society to provide unbiased information that can lend perspective to such debates, whether the information is the result of institutional policy or one individual's reflections. The following is based on the latter.

In December, I assumed office as Clemson University's 14th president, and part of my preparation has been a study of the history of Clemson. There is one aspect of Clemson's history that I find relevant to today's discussions of the Confederate flag.

As I began my Clemson education in the early 1960s, the university was changing rapidly. We had successfully made the conversion from an all-military college for men to a coeducational civilian university, thanks to the remarkable leadership of President Robert Cook Edwards and the Clemson Board of Trustees. However, other important changes were coming as Clemson prepared to change from an all-White institution to an integrated institution. African-American students peacefully enrolled at Clemson University led by architecture student Harvey Gantt. It was a process that showed the best of Clemson University, and it was described in the national press as "integration with dignity."

As Clemson's population became more diverse, we became more aware of existing symbols that represented our university at sports and other public events. These symbols included the playing of "Tiger Rag" and "Dixie," as well as the Tiger and Country Gentleman mascots, and the Confederate flag. Clemson officials listened carefully to our new, more diverse student body. It was clear that some of these symbols were stronger than others in representing the kind of place Clemson wanted to be and the kind of future Clemson envisioned for itself.

Again, President Edwards and the Clemson Board of Trustees led Clemson University into a bright future, maintaining aspects of its traditions -- including "Tiger Rag" and the Tiger mascot- and letting the other symbols -- the Country Gentleman mascot, the Confederate flag and "Dixie" -- be a part of Clemson's past. …

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