Recently, Black high school students in Rome, Ga., protested displays of the Confederate flag at their school and were subsequently suspended.
The flag remains a controversial symbol at times used to directly challenge and intimidate Black people demanding equality and justice.
Over the summer, PBS released a documentary exploring the history of what is commonly referred to as the Confederate Flag and the fight to remove it from the South Carolina state Capitol. A two part exploration, “Downing of a Flag” features interviews with Rep. Jim Clyburn, South Carolina Lieutenant Gov. Candidate Bakari Sellers and activist Bree Newsome.
The film is a South Carolina Education Television production in partnership with Strategic Films, founded by Duane Cooper, who also served as executive producer on the project. Cooper recounted the murders of nine people at Mother Emanuel AME Church and the subsequent debate around the flag as an impetus for the project.
“Instead of just talking about what happened in 2015, we thought ‘well, how about we just go back and start from the beginning of how this flag came to the grounds of the State House in South Carolina,” Cooper explained. “It was put up in 1961, in recognition of the centennial anniversary of the start of the Civil War, which also started in South Carolina.”
The documentary goes beyond the simplified heritage versus hate debate, interspersing commentary from elected officials, historians, and even members of the Sons of the Confederacy. Despite having a variety of voices, the documentary avoids trying to both sides the Confederate flag but provides context for understanding the debate.
“In going back to the beginning of when it first went up in South Carolina, it mirrored what was going on across the country, and specifically in the south,” Cooper continued. “And it wasn’t our goal to convince people by the end of the film if they believe the flag represents hate or heritage or whatever it’s allowing the experts on the issue to talk about it, and then by the end, I think folks can kind of make up their mind and determine exactly what this symbol represents.”
Cooper didn’t want the documentary to function as a debate but a free-flowing conversation, with context and good information. There are points in the film that focus on the broader history of the south, the Confederacy and even the process of enshrining the “lost cause” ideology across the country.
He also highlighted the need for more educational documentaries, given the lack of civic education and accurate history being taught in schools.
“It is a part of U.S. history, very important for U.S. history, for not just Black people, but for all Americans,” Cooper said. “There’s not a Black story, this is not a story of just African Americans; this is a story of America.”