Friday, July 17, 2015

The Newcomb House Confederate Flag Has Come Down

Newcomb House After The Confederate Flag Was Taken Down on July 17 2015The so-called confederate flag has been removed from the Newcomb House. Several residents of Newcomb told me they made an effort to talk to the owner of the business to explain how damaging their actions are. It appears those conversations worked. An open sore in our Adirondack community has been bandaged – it hasn’t been healed.

The online response to yesterday’s report that the owner of one of Newcomb’s most well-known establishments had hoisted the confederate flag at a prominent location was varied.  I think it might be helpful to review a few of those responses here.

One Business Does Not Represent The Whole Town

It’s understandable that feelings are hurt when a community’s reputation is tarnished by the actions of the few.  An appropriate response would be to actively work to make your community a more welcoming place, not attack those who feel unwelcome or blame the messenger.

Criticizing Someone For Flying A Flag Is An Attack On Free Speech

The Newcomb House flew the confederate flag to make a statement – to exercise their free speech. Those who disagree with that statement also have the right to criticize it.  Nobody’s free speech has been violated. The Newcomb House is free to raise the flag again anytime they want, but now they more clearly understand what it would mean to their community if they do.

The Flag Does Not Mean What You Say It Means

Everyone is entitled to have whatever view of the confederate flag they want. We can criticize the views of others about the confederate flag, but we don’t get to define for others what they think about the confederate flag. Whatever its original intent, the flag has become a symbol of racist hate for most Americans and flying it sets an unwelcoming tone.

You Have No Right To Tell Me What To Say Or Do

Actually, we all have every right to tell others what to say or do – that is our right to free expression. We don’t have a right to force them to say or do something (that would be slavery). No one has forced the Newcomb House to say or do anything. Many have made it clear that they do not approve, and some have apparently been convincing enough to persuade the Newcomb House to take down a flag that is so offensive.

I think the bottom line is this. Anyone is free to have unwelcoming attitudes towards visitors, guests, or your neighbors. If you are going to stand on the side of the road in the middle of town and shout them however, expect that someone will criticize you.

Maybe that’s what has changed. Maybe it will be just a little friendlier in Newcomb now that those who are targeted by the confederate flag know that many in their community stand behind them.

That, it seems to me, is some progress – but not enough.

If we want people to visit the Adirondacks, to move here, or our children to stay here, we should be welcoming – not just tolerant.  The Newcomb House may never wash away this stain on its reputation, and may not even care to, but the people of the Adirondacks can.

They can take action by doing things that send a message that the Adirondack Park is a welcoming place, where people of all ethnicities, religions, and genders can find a spot to unwind or a spot to call home.

Photo of the Newcomb House today by Katie Richards.

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John Warren

John Warren has been exploring the woods and waters of the Adirondacks for almost 50 years. After a career as a print journalist and documentary television producer he founded Adirondack Almanack in 2005 and co-founded the geolocation services company Adirondack Atlas in 2015.

John remains active in traditional media. His Adirondack Outdoors Conditions Report can be heard Friday mornings across the region on the stations of North Country Public Radio and on 93.3 / 102.1 The Mix. Since 2008, John has been a media specialist on the staff of the New York State Writers Institute.

John is also a professional researcher and historian with a M.A. in Public History. He edits The New York History Blog and is the author of two books of regional history. As a Grant Consultant for the William G. Pomeroy Foundation, he has reviewed hundreds of historic roadside marker grant applications from around New York State for historical accuracy.

55 Responses

  1. I guess not associating themselves with treason was more important to the owners than giving the finger to liberal boogeymen.

    And well stated, Mr. Warren. Free expression works both ways. No one has the right to freedom from criticism.

  2. Joe says:

    Well written article with one exception: “The Flag Does Not Mean What You Say It Means”

    and yet “the flag has become a symbol of racist hate” contradicts the title of that one section, and forms it into an attack on those who believe the flag to be a symbol of southern pride. Additionally, this is entirely false.

    A flag, any flag, is a symbol, as you’ve clearly stated. Symbols are an expression by the individual/institution displaying it. Sure, it can be misinterpreted by the viewer but that does not change the meaning of the symbol, only the interpretation thereof. With most symbols, it is inherently the responsibility of the individual(s) displaying the symbol to describe it’s meaning. However, in regard to the Confederate Flag, the opposite has been the case; those who are interpreting the symbol, not displaying it, are defining it’s meaning.

    • Beth Rowland says:

      Agree completely, Joe, and that is the point these guys miss completely. By definition, a symbol is about interpretation. This mob mentality has accused those of us for whom it means (and has meant since childhood) something different have been accused of being misinformed at best and racist at worse. They aim to tell us what we think without ever considering another point of view. That’s stereotyping as well.

      Meanwhile, the real issues like guns in the hands of the wrong people, or voter suppression or economic inequality or poor educational opportunities or stereotyping by skin color are ignored and everyone gets in a lather over a symbol. That’s called deflection.

      But it apparently makes some of these folks feel good about themselves to put a “high horse” comment up, rather than actually doing anything about the needs referenced above.

      • Curt Austin says:

        This is crazy “up is down” talk. It often leaves thoughtful people speechless, but I’ll try:

        The “mob” you are referring to is the voice of democracy. Everything you dismiss as “politically correct” is a majority view, usually granting rights previously suppressed. It is seen as PC only by those who resist changes to our society.

        The important things you say are being ignored are certainly not being ignored. They are resisted mightily by those who generally object to PC; if you are feeling attacked, that’s why – you are not being ignored.

        You persist in thinking you should be allowed to use without objections a symbol with a widespread and ugly meaning. That’s an absurd expectation.

        The passion operating here is clearly not about “feeling good about themselves”; it is disgust.

        • Bruce says:

          This “voice of democracy” as you put it is nothing of the kind. The voice of Democracy is the MAJORITY. This confederate symbol thing is certainly not the majority of US citizens speaking, but a vociferous and powerful MINORITY who believe doing away with these symbols will make a big dent in racial discrimination. I seriously doubt it.

          Suppose I were from India, and prominently displayed a Swastika, which was a Sanskrit symbol of good luck or good fortune some 5000 years before Hitler adopted and stylized it. Am I a “traitor, or somehow “UnAmerican” because you interpret the symbol differently than I do?

          It is about “interpretation,” but just because your interpretation is different, doesn’t mean mine is wrong. Besides, the main part of the so-called Confederate flag is the “crossed stars and bars.” That happens to be part of some flags connected with the British Empire. Go up to the St. Lawrence thousand Island region, you’ll see lots of folks who display both American and British or Canadian flags. I see the Conferate flag as a statement of “I’m from the South,” and nothing more.

          We engage in many so-called “feel good solutions” which prove to have little or no effect on the overall picture.

          • AG says:

            Bruce that is rubbish. A person in GERMANY – even if of Indian descent flying a flag with a Swastika would QUICKLY be enlightened to what it represents in GERMANY.
            Even if you took out the racism associated with the Confederate flag (which you can’t because it certainly did embody the mindset) – the flag was of a group of defeated REBELS. Basically it’s no different than Colombia being forced to accept people who fly the FARC flag.

            • Bruce says:

              You missed my point.

              The real rubbish is the amount of time, money, and airtime a very vocal minority is wasting going after symbols, and the hysteria it’s generating. In the final analysis, racism in this country will not be changed one bit, because taking away “things,” whether public or private will not change what is in the heart..

              Martin Luther King knew racism was in the heart, not in things. To change racism, you have to change the heart. To assume someone is a racist just because they display the Confederate flag is just plain wrong.

              • Beth Rowland says:

                I got your point, Bruce, even if this particular mob (and, yes, what silliness: it IS a mob, NOT democracy) does not.

                You are absolutely correct. And all this attention to the Confederate flag thrills the NRA as it deflects from guns and NRA activities and focuses on a symbol. They could not have planned it any better.

              • AG says:

                You can never change people’s hearts. An individual has to do that. Using that as excuse is poor. There is a thing called common sense and common decency. If they flew a Nazi flag – would that be ok too? Since the goal of the Nazi’s was to uplift the German people? Give me a break.
                As has been repeated – this should have been dealt with 100 years ago – the flag doesn’t just represent racism – but also TREASON. Which nation allows a former treasonous flag to fly?? The whole notion is ridiculous.

                • Bruce says:

                  AG, I suggest you read your history. No one after the Civil War was tried or convicted of treason, even though going to war against the United States was considered a treasonous act under the Constitution.

                  After the war, the government wisely decided that COMMON SENSE should prevail, and paroled all participants in the Southern cause.

                  Following along with the hysterical mob mentality is not “common sense,” Common sense dictates that the people of this country have far more important things to concern themselves with, without the divisiveness this issue is causing Are you ready to start tearing down Confederate monuments at Gettysburg and elsewhere? That’s a big part of the anti-Confederate flag debate you subscribe to.

                  And yes, you can change the heart, by teaching your children respect for everyone who may be different, or have different ideas than you do. And it is a fact that grownups occasionally change what is in their hearts as well, although you make it clear that doesn’t apply to you.

                  • AG says:

                    Bruce – yeah sure they weren’t tried for treason – but it doesn’t mean it wasn’t. That’s called a compromise.

                    Well if you want to talk “common sense” – you shouldn’t want to fly a Confederate flag – just like you shouldn’t want to fly a Nazi flag – regardless of what you want them to stand for. That’s “common sense” to expect people to be in an uproar. Most “grownups” could understand that.

        • Beth Rowland says:

          Curt Austin, where on earth did you get the impression that the majority of people are anti-Confederate flag? Every poll I’ve seen says the opposite and, furthermore, the backlash to political correctness is beginning as such silliness is extended to monuments, roads and schools.

          I find suggesting that people who do not agree with you less than thoughtful is quite telling as well. And disgust works two ways.

          • AG says:

            “Beth” – very easy to say that when your people didn’t suffer under the symbol. I want you to go tell Jewish people that it is political correctness why they get offended when people use Nazi symbols. Come back and tell us how that works.
            Or why don’t you read history of what happened to people flying the Union Jack during the times of the Revolution. It’s amazing how hypocritical people are.

          • If a business owner put up a poster of bin Laden and flew the ISIS flag in front of his/her establishment, would you criticize this or would you bow to “political correctness”?

            I know that in the late 60s and early 70s, some anti-war protesters flew the Viet Cong flag. Fear of “political correctness” didn’t stop conservatives from attacking them.

  3. Justin Farrell says:

    God Bless America…
    Land of the offended, home of the soft!
    People are so damn sensitive these days!
    There is a guy who lives down the street from me here in Upstate NY who has an Italian Flag, a Boston Red Sox flag, a Dallas Cowboys flag out in front of his house….Now there’s something to be concerned about! Lol

    • So if someone put up a poster of bin Laden and flew an ISIS flag, you criticize those who were “offended”?

      Bear in mind that al-Q and ISIS have killed a tiny fraction of US citizens compared to the Confederates.

  4. Linda C says:

    Wow, I am a woman of mixed ancestry as is my husband and son. We seriously contemplated purchasing real estate in Newcomb because it felt like the real heart of the Adirondacks. No more. Any one have any idea of a town in the Adirondacks that would be more welcoming?

    • Theresa h says:

      Linda please do not believe everything you read. I grew up in Newcomb and the people are the friendliest kindest people on the earth. This author didn’t even take the time to interview the owner of the establishment before bashing an entire town. In my opinion he is an irresponsible journalist trying to jump on the PC bandwagon. Newcomb has exchange students from all over the world who love and thrive there

      • Linda C says:

        Thank you Theresa. That has been my experience of the people of the Adirondacks (especially the smaller towns). I cannot imagine why someone would fly that flag and yes it would have been nice to hear what they were thinking.

        I think the real question is: If I stepped into that establishment, how would they look at me? How would they look at my son – a young brown-skinned man with quite an Afro? Would they serve us? Would they stare us down? I am quite certain that no one would harm us but how welcomed would we be?

        I celebrate Newcomb’s exchange student policy and I hope that will bring change to the community.

        I wish Newcomb well.

        • Mechelle Roy says:

          Linda – Please don’t let this issue dissuade you. There are pockets of ignorance everywhere. In Newcomb, at least you can be aware of who holds negative values and who you can count on to defend whats moral and kind. The good people FAR outweigh the unenlightened.

    • JohnL says:

      Linda, you of mixed ancestry. If, indeed, you WERE really considering buying in Newcomb (which I seriously doubt), then going somewhere else is your prerogative. Go!

      • Linda C says:

        Ahh, don’t be a doubter John. We were working with Judy of Higher Places Realty. We were looking at a lovely house on Hudson River Road (I think it used to be called Dump Road). But you have given me my marching orders and go I will.

  5. Paul says:

    Well said John.

    • Linda C says:

      I am curious Paul. Which part was well said? That I should “Go!”?

      • roamin with broman says:

        He was probably referring to the author of this piece. Stop being so easily offended (and paranoid).

  6. Jeff Farbaniec Jeff says:

    Thanks go out to the owners of the Newcomb House for listening to their neighbors, hearing their community, and doing the right thing. Now let’s get on with Summer!

  7. Ken Tucker says:

    ‘All’s (obviously not) well that ends well’. eg Work to be done…obviously. #justsaying

  8. Linda Bisner Brewer says:

    It is not the flag that is going to scar the community, but the comments on these two articles. I am from the Adirondacks but have lived in North Carolina since 1981. I thought it was great that this man would wave the Confederate flag as a way of saying “let there be peace among all men”…..”all are welcome here”…or even….”I am for free speech as some has said”. Maybe you prefer he waves a white flag to symbolize that your beautiful little town “stands for nothing”.? The Civil War was a terrible war but it has been over a long, long time and today, the North and the South live peacefully amongst each other. There are more important things to worry about than a man who decides to fly the Confederate flag at his own establishment. The Confederate flag is a symbol of heritage, of pride….not of hate. Those who see it as that are the very ones you should be worried about.

    • AG says:

      southerns still hate the north… so while there are no bullets flying – it is not “peace”. you still hear the rhetoric “the south will rise again”. yeah though the confederate flag is a symbol alright – of people who sought to abandon this “union”. so you are right – it is “pride”. strange that in the bible belt they don’t get that the bible says “pride leads to destruction”.

    • Hawthorn says:

      The Confederate flag is a racist hate flag to most Americans. It is disingenuous to argue otherwise. You can have whatever beliefs and fly whatever symbols you want, but it is wise to be aware of what others think of those symbols. Don’t be surprised when you fly a pro-racism flag that you are seen as racist. You have that right, but you don’t have the right to tell the majority how to interpret your flag.

  9. Bob Kibbey says:

    Wow!!, can you imagine, 139 comments dealing with a symbol. Now that John has
    very well informed us, it’s time to get back to the the real problems e.g. how to manage
    the Adirondacks for all of us, young an old and those 100 yrs from now.

  10. Resident says:

    The confederate flag did not kill people in South Carolina. It was a sick individual. If someone has the US flag displayed and kills many should we take that down? This all would not have been an issue if what happened in South Carolina did not happen. People have read way more into this than there is. The publisher of this paper never interviewed the owners to see why. I know the owner and he is not racist. He has helped more people in this town than you could count, with little support from the residents.

  11. ethan says:

    I just want to say bravo, John. Thank you for raising awareness of this.

  12. Tim says:

    I STILL will never eat or drink there again, as long as the present owner(s) remain.

  13. Outlier says:

    Here’s a response that could be addressed: “We oh so tolerant progressives have made a mess with everything we’ve imposed, let’s blame the Confederate flag for our problems”.

    Kind of like the conservatives trotting out the flag burning amendment when they’ve got nothing else to offer.

    As George Carlin noted, “Flags are symbols. And I leave symbols for the symbol minded.”

  14. Bellota says:

    Linda says: “let there be peace among all men”…..”all are welcome here”…or even….”I am for free speech as some has said”.

    Then consider flying the flag representing the United Nations.

  15. Onno Oerlemans says:

    We certainly all do get too obsessed with and upset by mere symbols, as the great quote from Carlin above underlines. My guess is that the owner of the Newcomb House flew the flag in part because one of the things it represents (in addition to racism and a covert defense of slavery) is the “rebel” status of those who ride obnoxiously loud motorcycles–the Harley Davidson rebel wannabes. One of their acts of rebellion is is making utterly pointless noise, a permanent middle finger wagged at the rest of the world. I understand that some ADK businesses need to appeal to these people in order to stay in business, but I wish it were otherwise, or that they all rode quiet bikes, which certainly exist, and are also safer.

    • JohnL says:

      Wow, Onno, the North country colors are really showing through. Now you don’t want motorcyclists. I’ll bet the list of people you’d like to visit you up there is a lot shorter than the list of people you’d like to stay away. I thought you were all for ‘diversity’. My bad!

  16. Curt Stiles says:

    Well Done John Warren!!!!

    Best regards,


  17. Bob Meyer says:

    this episode has been a very valuable lesson in civics, community, race relations, history, free speech and the power of persuasion.. as well as common [read business] sense.
    congrats Newcomb!

  18. Bill Quinlivan Bill Quinlivan says:

    Bravo, John!

  19. Beth Rowland says:

    Looking back over these posts and the ones commenting on the original story, I am truly surprised at how when people disagree here, they resort to personal attacks.

    Simply because someone doesn’t see things exactly as you do shouldn’t mean you insult them—but apparently it does to Adirondack Almanack commenters.

    That speaks volumes and I think I’ll pass —I know, I know, now make lots of rude, personal attacks. That’s the MO here apparently.

  20. Gary F. Heurich says:

    As with the Nazi symbol and “Kristallnacht,” both benign in their original intention, regardless of its original meaning, the Confederate flag long ago became a symbol of one of the worst devils of our nature.

    While I wouldn’t either burn the American flag or embrace the Confederate flag, I respect that making illegal the burning of the American flag or preventing an individual from flying the Confederate flag are both a restriction on freedom of speech. The Constitution and Bill of Rights are not comprised of rights of convenience.

    True character is revealed in times of adversity. To adhere to, in this case, the principles codified by the founding fathers in the face of one’s personal distaste for a given act or thing is high and laudable character.

    But, that notwithstanding, the owner of the Newcomb House did the right thing for the Newcomb community, and for the broader community that is our country. And, regardless of their beliefs around the Confederate flag, they should be appreciated for their sensitive response.

    • John Warren John Warren says:

      Free speech includes the freedom to criticize the speech of others. No one forced anybody to do anything.

      • Jill says:

        Thanks for your coverage of this important story! My boyfriend’s house is DIRECTLY across the street from Newcomb House. It’s our weekend getaway place. We live in NYC and both VERY passionate about racial justice and civil rights. I was outraged about the flag going back up, and so glad they took it down thanks I’m sure to your story and others efforts. It was there a few years ago, and we complained to the Town Supervisor, and they took it down then. We have lots of friends and family of different races who come up to enjoy the beautiful scenery. Most of the people we’ve met from the town are wonderful. We LOVE Newcomb and will continue to advocate that it remain welcoming to ALL!

    • AG says:

      Gary F. – your response is an intelligent one… I take exception to it though. The “founding fathers” had no tolerance for persons who were loyal to England. They did not not tolerate the flying of the Union Jack. We have a romanticized view of the history of this country. The Confederate flag is treasonous in addition to a symbol of racism. What country tolerates treasonous flags?

      • Dave says:

        Well, I guess this country tolerates treasonous falgs, since the original stars & stripes flag represented a country that committed treason against England.

  21. Charlie S says:

    Justin Farrell says: Justin Farrell says: “God Bless America…”

    What is God?

  22. Charlie S says:

    Mechelle Roy says: There are pockets of ignorance everywhere. The good people FAR outweigh the unenlightened.

    I like your positivity Mechelle,though i wish i were more convinced.

  23. Mike says:

    The jukebox has Johnny Rebel songs on it in that place. Take a look yourself

  24. Mike#2 says:

    There has been another confederate flag flying for years at a property just east of the Hudson bridge on 28N in Newcomb, and there was no such reaction over all that time, so why the hysteria with this one?. I noticed this past weekend it was also no longer up either. We don’t seem to know why the Newcomb house decided to put the confederate flag up, but whatever their motivation, at least they were willing to quickly remove it. I always find it curious to see the confederate flag displayed anywhere in the north, whether at a property or as is more often seen on the back of a vehicle. Should we start taking down license plates of the many vehicles we see with that flag or bumper sticker. Relax people, just a few weeks ago it was flying at the state capitol of South Carolina! But I can tell you that to label the people of the Newcomb house as unwelcoming is completely inaccurate. They are welcoming enough to provide thanksgiving dinner for free to all who go. And for the person looking to buy property there, you won’t regret it, I’ve found it to be a most welcoming town to outsiders.

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