We tend to believe about the modern South that racial protests on campuses, Confederate flags, and the presence of Ku Klux Klan are vestiges of the bygone Civil Rights era in the 1960s. In this essay, CE Martin describes a similar scene at her old high school more than two decades later, and with a refrain, challenges the narrative that the movement put “all that,” as some people put it, in the past.
by CE Martin
It was the fall of 1993, my second semester of college at Western Carolina University. Classes were busy that day with writing and notes and attempting to solve the math equations where the correct answer always eluded me. I fell dramatically through the door to my dorm room, throwing my bookbag and landing on my teal and black comforter. My roommate followed shortly. In a brief moment of adulthood, we did not go to the cafeteria or out to the courtyard but decided to turn on the news. What we saw left us both dumbfounded though not at all surprised.
West Lincoln High School, our alma mater in Lincolnton, North Carolina was being displayed in all its racist glory. Our football field pressbox was painted with the Confederate flag, the same flag that hung below the American one on the flagpole, buffeted by the wind. The mascot was a cartoonish General Lee, fading on the bricks of a long-ago mural. It was 1993.
On the TV, there were students planted between the impatiens and small crepe myrtles. The reporter’s discourse covered up the exact words but they were chanting. There, amidst all those white faces, freckled, tanned, amidst the jocks and the nerds, was a lone Black young man. We knew him, had seen him in the halls. He was kind and smart, his skin ebony and beautiful. Students treated him well and wore that like a badge of honor.
Mere feet away was a crowd of angry Black men, young men, students from another school. Upset about the imbalance of white and Black on our campus, they matched the shouting, tone for tone. Fists were raised on all counts, and tensions were as thick as the blood in all their veins.
Finally, what sucked our breath into our then-thin bodies was that surrounding these teenagers were horses. The riders wore sheets with eyeholes crudely cut from a pair of scissors, maybe that morning. The reporter droned on. It was 1993.
The lone Black student proclaimed his loyalty to his school until he was hoarse.
I still don’t understand why.
It was 1993.
CE Martin hails from Tennessee and currently resides in the Upstate of South Carolina. Her creative nonfiction has been published in Emrys Journal and Crabcreek Review .