A map of the United States, without a certain flag 

  • The Confederate flag on a mural just outside the gymnasium of the Epsom Central School. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • The Conferate flag on a mural just outside the gymnasium at the Epsom Central School. GEOFF FORESTER

Monitor staff
Published: 7/1/2020 5:58:56 PM

Pat Connors, the principal at Epsom Central School, wasted no time Tuesday erasing a symbol of hatred that had only grown more prominent amid a growing civil rights movement.

By a 3-0 vote, the school board chose to cover up an image of the Confederate flag – tucked in the southeast corner on a hallway mural showing a map of the United States – with “an image or images as determined by the administration.”

Then, immediately after the vote, Connors, Assistant Principal Jon Herod and a school secretary went downstairs and covered the offensive flag with primer. It will remain that way, blank, until Connors and Herod decide what symbol should take its place.

The map, with innocuous paintings of a steamship on the Mississippi River, a horse-drawn coach further west and more, was criticized three years ago, when equality under the law had not been pushed to the forefront like today, but was certainly a problem that still needed a lot of attention.

Three years ago, the board listened to some residents who wanted the status quo, and voted to keep the Confederate flag on the mural.

“Thoughts have changed over time,” Connors said in an interview this week. “There have been associations (connected to) hate groups. The removal had to take place. I wanted all students and families to feel welcome at school.”

The George Floyd video that surfaced in May was the catalyst, bringing other videos – past examples of black people shown getting roughed up and bullied by cops – to the forefront, as well as history lessons about slavery, lynchings and the Ku Klux Klan.

And as the country continued to look at itself in the mirror and decide what it wants to represent, the passion to address inequality in civil rights, many believe, has been more palpable today than it was in the 1960s.

Sensitivity toward the plight of African Americans is on the rise, creating hope for fairer treatment by police and improved educational opportunities.

“The flag didn’t belong back then, it didn’t belong three years ago and it doesn’t belong now,” said Dave Cummings, who was the board chair in 2017 and has emerged as a leading voice on school matters. “Fortunately, we have the opportunity to make a small and meaningful change, and I applaud the community for coming out and supporting change.”

Jan Santosuosso has also emerged as a force for change. She initiated the first meeting to discuss the flag three years ago, rubbing some people the wrong way because she lived in Northfield and her perseverance wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

“I wanted to honor the purpose of the mural, illustrating historical events in America,” said Santosuosso, a teacher at Epsom Central. “My opinion is to put in a different symbol that depicts the Civil War without being hateful or controversial.”

Conversely, on a subject filled with minefields, those who see value in keeping certain symbols worry they’ll be labeled in an unfair way.

That last time, Mike Wiggett, the current board chair, was a board member and motioned to keep the flag where it was. He said at that point, “We went with the wishes of the people who showed up that evening.”

Commenting on Tuesday’s big change, Wiggett said. “The time has changed and the flag has changed over the years. It’s being associated with hate groups, and removing it puts this whole thing to rest.”

The space is covered with primer. Connors said he and Herod have been talking to staff members about what should replace the flag. He mentioned the Dobbin House in Gettysburg, destination for the eighth-grade class trip, which stood witness to the bloodiest battle of the Civil War and is now a restaurant.

“You can see how it was part of the Underground Railroad,” Connors said. “You can see where people hid. It was the first stop on the Underground Railroad north of the Mason-Dixon Line.

“You could learn from the trip and see the historical significance.”


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