Epsom School Board Votes Down Removal Of Mural Showing Confederate Flag

Sep 7, 2017

Credit Geoff Forester | Concord Monitor

At Epsom Central School, a mural map of the United States features a small confederate flag planted on the southeastern states.

Tuesday night, the Epsom School Board voted 3-2 to defeat a motion to remove or alter the mural to remove that flag. It's a debate that had echoes of the unrest surrounding Confederate monuments in other parts of the country.

Concord Monitor reporter Leah Willingham covered that meeting, and she joined All Things Considered to talk about the debate.

Listen to the interview:

How did the image of the Confederate flag on this mural come to the attention of the school board?

There was a concerned teacher or a group of teachers who actually noticed the flag several months ago. Actually, they said that it had been a topic of conversation actually for some time, but given recent events in our country I think it became more prominent and more clear that it was something that the school needed to have a discussion about.  And so they decided to bring it to the school board meeting and let the community members, students, and faculty have a conversation about it and decide what to do.

One of the people concerned about that flag was someone named Jan Santosuosso, a teacher at the school. Jan thought that flag might be too offensive. What was her argument?

Jan basically brought up the point that this flag, which is the Northern Virginia battle flag, that it's been used especially recently by the KKK and other white supremacist groups to support their causes and that you know even if it was intended originally to be a symbol of service or heritage or even something educational about the Civil War, it seems to have now taken on new meaning over time. Jan and a few other teachers, they were just worried that some students might feel unsafe or uncomfortable with the flag being there or you know even more so that maybe the flag was sending a subtle message of tolerance for racism.

And there was a counter argument to Jan's argument. What was it?

The people who wanted to keep the flag who were in the majority at the meeting, they were worried that by getting rid of the flag or even by altering the flag in any way, they would be either erasing or shying away from talking about some of the maybe more difficult or controversial moments in our nation's history. They weren't condoning the actions of the Confederacy or the KKK, but what they said over and over is that we need to talk about what's happening in our country; both what happened in the 1860s during the Civil War and what's happening now.

What was the tenor of the discussion last night? This is one of those issues that make people very emotional.

It was definitely an intense meeting. We were there for a while, like two hours or so, and out of the 40 people that were there, many people did speak up. And I think everyone tried their best to center the conversation around what would be best for the kids and not trying to attack individuals or to you know discuss viewpoints instead of attacking people, but I think it's hard to do. A lot of people came to the conclusion that this is something that's really great about the country that we live in that we're able to have these open discussions about these issues that are controversial or difficult to discuss and that we can use you know something like this as a teaching tool.

And if it's a teaching too, what are the lessons that might need to be taught about this according to your sources?

That history is complicated and that it never stops evolving and it builds on itself. And also that you know it's important to speak up when you have an opinion and things that you're seeing going on that you don't think are quite right or just to share your opinion that's something that we heard from a lot of the teachers and I know they said they were very proud that some students had showed up to the meeting.