7/17 UPDATE: The Newcomb House has taken down the confederate flag. You can read about it here.
The folks at the Newcomb House have raised a flag – one flown by white supremacists and traitors – the so-called confederate flag. Let me start by saying that although I’m troubled that they took down the American flag to raise the flag of an enemy of the United States, they are free to raise whatever banner they like on their flagpole. That’s part of the free expression we enjoy (but which the Confederates States of America did not).
At the same time, I’m free to call them to the carpet, as we used to say in the submarine service. It’s a despicable act to fly a flag in support of America’s sworn enemies, past or present. It’s an ignorant, arrogant, and anti-social act to fly a flag that symbolizes opposition to civil rights, and that insults your neighbors, guests, and visitors. The people of Newcomb should be ashamed. I know many are.
In Newcomb, they decorate the graves of veterans while the flag of the enemies of those same veterans flies overhead. The 157 men who left Newcomb (among 474,000 New Yorkers), to defend the United States of America against a treasonous confederacy deserve better. Most Adirondackers who know their family history have a story of someone who served, suffered, or died during the Civil War. In my own family, several men were killed. One died in an enemy prisoner of war camp. While two members of my family were away defending the United States, their family farm was burned and pillaged and their teenage brother hung from a tree in the front yard. That’s the heritage of the confederate flag the Newcomb House is celebrating – it’s a direct insult to veterans and their families.
The confederate flag entered the public realm during the worst excesses of Ku Klux Klan terrorism and Jim Crow’s denial of basic civil rights. Long part of Klan meetings, it was brought into the streets by white supremacists. It’s the flag of terrorists, used to symbolizes a xenophobic hatred, not just against people of color, but also against the Catholic, Jewish, and Eastern European people who live in Newcomb. The Newcomb House is flying a flag that insults their neighbors.
Of course being offended is easy to dismiss. After all, who isn’t offended occasionally by the ignorance or insults of others? But the flag flying over the Newcomb House also injures the community’s well-being.
While Adirondack communities struggle to keep their small schools afloat, Newcomb Central School has been celebrated for bringing in students from around the world to keep their doors open. On the way to school those students now pass a banner that says “you are not welcome here.” It’s a shameful act to invite someone to your community and then insult them. No doubt many parents now paying tuition to Newcomb will reconsider that choice.
The Newcomb House is attacking the livelihoods of their neighbors, and not just those who work at the school. Two other important economic drivers are also threatened. The State University of New York Environmental Science and Forestry program brings many students, academics, and scientists to Newcomb. It shouldn’t need to be said that they are not all white, and many will be appalled by the hatred on display. Local lodging, campgrounds, outfitters and other businesses will all be impacted by the unwelcome tone set by the Newcomb House.
For example, the second Adirondack diversity symposium, sponsored by the Adirondack Diversity Advisory Council (ADAC), is scheduled for August 15th in Newcomb. ADAC’s invited guests being met by the confederate flag is unacceptable in my view, and I will push the ADAC to move that event to a community that is more welcoming. I will be one of many who will not suffer the embarrassment (to myself and my community) by bringing visitors, students, or colleagues to Newcomb.
What should be done?
Those who know the owners of the Newcomb House should talk to them personally about the way they are insulting their neighbors, damaging their community’s reputation, and the negative impact their actions have.
Community leaders should be particularly outspoken and should address this situation in personal conversations and in letters to the editor of their local newspapers. They should develop and implement a strategy aimed at fostering a community that is welcoming to all people, regardless of ethnicity (or gender, ability, or class).
Elected and appointed boards – political, educational, veterans groups and others – should pass resolutions in support of diversity and denouncing the Newcomb House’s attack on members of the communities they represent. This is a time to hear from the Newcomb Central School Board, the Newcomb Town Board, the Essex County Board of Supervisors, the Adirondack Park Agency, the SUNY-ESF Board of Trustees and the President of SUNY-ESF, the New York State Outdoor Guides Association, the local chapters of veterans organizations, the local historical society, and any group whose members this confederate flag targets.
Everyone with a stake in Newcomb’s reputation as a destination, everyone who cares about how their neighbors are treated, how children are treated, or how veterans are treated, should act to protect their community from the harm being done by the Newcomb House.
Photos, from above: Confederate flag flying over the Newcomb House (photo by Steve Signell); the bloated body of a dead Union solider; and a white supremacist holding a confederate flag during the 1965 march in Selma.