Friday, October 23, 2020

Flag flap: Article stirs debate around confederate flag in Tupper Lake

Some folks in Tupper Lake weren’t pleased with our publication of a photo showing a Confederate flag in a window there. They viewed it as a provocation intended to stir divisions.

Others apparently hoped the image in our September/October magazine would inspire their Town Board to adopt a resolution that renounced “symbols of racism and hate” that are “not beneficial to the community’s image.” That resolution failed for lack of a second last week.

I confess that the sight of a Confederate flag in New York — in Tupper Lake or any of the other places I’ve seen them in and around the Adirondacks — puzzles and saddens me. I’m sure that this reflex contributed to my decision to include the image in a story about how welcoming (or not) our region is to people who would come here to live or to visit this state’s enviable public wildlands.

Recently, after we published the story in question, I learned that my great-great-grandfather fought to preserve the Union. He lived west of the Adirondacks, in Oswego County, and he served in the 184th New York Infantry. I experienced a moment of unearned pride when I saw a photo of his headstone at Arlington National Cemetery. Yes, I know which flag is the flag for me.

That doesn’t mean I went out of my way to defame Tupper Lake. Our staff members visit that town all the time. I did on my way home from a camping trip and noticed the flag even before I knew our photographer also had seen and photographed it. It hung prominently in a window by State Route 3. How could we have missed it?

At the Adirondack Explorer, our motive for publishing the photo had nothing to do with pointing fingers or scolding any single community within the 6 million-acre park that we cover. Our story, about the state-sanctioned effort to build diversity and inclusion in the overwhelmingly white Adirondacks, simply aimed to point out the signals across our region that might be less than welcoming to all. Those included retellings of people’s experiences of driving while Black. Of hiking while Black. Of standing by a river while Black.

And they included an image of one flag displayed in a window for anyone driving east into the Adirondack High Peaks to see.

The Adirondack Daily Enterprise has reported on a couple of occasions that people in Tupper Lake objected to outsiders publishing such an image. In its coverage of a recent town meeting, the newspaper quoted one resident as saying this: “I have some trouble when an outside publication comes to our community and takes photos for the sole purpose of creating conflict where no conflict exists.”

Now, I admit, if all you saw of the package was this photo, juxtaposed as it was with a photo of an anti-racist banner in Saranac Lake, you could be forgiven for thinking the snooty magazine headquartered in that village 20 miles away was trolling Tupper Lake. But if you read the story, as I assume most magazine subscribers would, you would know that it’s Saranac Lake — not Tupper Lake — that paints the ugliest picture in it. Reporter Gwendolyn Craig wrote this description of Adirondack Diversity Initiative Director Nicole Hylton-Patterson’s welcome in our home base: “At the end of June, Hylton-Patterson, who is a Black woman, was on her regular running route when she saw a racist message, ‘Go back to Africa,’ spray-painted on a bridge in Saranac Lake. Days went by and Hylton-Patterson did not hear a word of outrage from the business community or local government.” Had we seen and photographed a Confederate flag in Saranac Lake while we were preparing the story, I’m certain we would have run it instead. Had we photographed the graffiti before it was removed, we might have debated using that. The contrast in messages would have been that much more striking.

Although we posted Gwen’s story on our website in August, that version did not include the offending flag photo. To see it, you had to buy the print magazine.

I have no good reason to believe that Tupper Lake is generally racist, and no inkling that it’s any more so than the rest of the Adirondacks. I’ve personally had nothing but good experiences in the community, and our magazine frequently features the thoughtful views of people who live there. The same photographer who noticed and snapped the shot in question also wrote and photographed a feature for us about Tupper Lake’s ski trails and the community spirit behind them. And while we’re talking about “outsiders,” I should note that the Explorer and our companion website, the Adirondack Almanack, have often paid tribute to Andrew Goodman, the 1960s civil rights advocate who grew up enjoying summers in Tupper before he was slain by Klansmen in Mississippi and had a mountain near town named for him.

Discussing race is rarely easy for white people in this country. I understand. My own family has 19th century ancestors buried on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line. It’s complicated. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t speak of it.

I won’t speculate on my grandfather’s grandfather’s reasons for fighting the Confederacy. I have to presume, though, that he would find it noteworthy that 21st century New Yorkers are displaying Confederate flags anywhere on his home turf.

Related Stories

Brandon Loomis is a former Adirondack Explorer editor.


34 Responses

  1. Zephyr says:

    That racist flag is certainly not welcoming to a lot of people of any color and paints a bad picture for any town. Unfortunately, it is also protected speech. The town could have taken the high road and denounced it, but decided not to. That says a lot to me about the people that live there. They own it now. I predict they will regret not taking a stand for what is right.

    • Daniel Bogdan says:

      I’m glad that it’s protected speech, now we know how certain people feel about it. And then we could react to it. Like voting these people out of office. It’s all about communication. Get out and vote! Get out and make your voice heard!

      • JohnL says:

        Bingo DB. One of the great things about free speech is you know what people are thinking, good or bad. Would you rather have a wound fester under the skin unseen, or be out in the open where you can deal with it? And yes, the 1st amendment allows us to say a lot of things. As it should.

        • Boreas says:


          I agree. If TL had the rebel flag on a “Welcome to Tupper Lake” sign coming into town, it would be one thing. That would be speaking for everyone. This isn’t the case. It is a handful of individuals who identify and want to display the symbol, and that right should be protected. Same if I want to fly the Nazi flag or display anti-Christian symbols or display anti-government anarchist symbols.

          As you say, one of the real reasons for the 1st amendment is to allow people to say or show how they feel, what they support, or what they abhor. It helps keep these thoughts above ground where they can be digested and dealt with socially and not criminally or militarily. Social and peer pressure can be immense – allow it to work. The 1st Amendment isn’t always the easiest basic right in our country to accept and live with, but it really is the building block of our nation. Citizens need to adjust their thinking to allow for ideology that differs from theirs. Difficult, but necessary in a free society.

  2. Joan Grabe says:

    Good God ! Is that flag still up ? This belligerent, “ in your face “ attitude in previous years would have brought immediate community disdain. Now we spout protected First Amendment rights to defend our lack of knowledge, decency and civility. Surely some people in the North Country can be counted upon to provide guidance not only to Tupper Lake but to all of us. Where are our clergy, our educators and our neighbors ?

    • 1st Amendment increasingly used to defend hate speech and representations thereof. Another Constitutional distortion, similar to that of the 2nd Amendment by the late and unlamented Justice Scalia. Libertarianism and Ayn Randisms run wild.

  3. William Montgomery says:

    Your article gave a nobody publicity. But to be fair, you also smeared a town by accident.

    • LAWRENCE KEEFE says:

      And the town chose to endorse and enlarge that smear by their lack of action. That was no accident; it appears to be a statement.

  4. Frank Frank says:

    I know people who thought it was cool and a sign of like saying im some kind of rebel but once you learn it offends people it becomes something else. Just because you have the right to do something doesn’t mean you should. What bothered me about the original article was nobody seconded the motion to discuss it it wasn’t even about removing it which I don’t think you could legally anyway. I guess nobody wants to go on record about where they stand . Strange times we live in

  5. jeep says:

    You know what really is offensive? The word ‘Adirondack’. Originated as a derogatory term given to the Algonquin tribe by neighboring Mohawk, meaning “barkeaters, or tree eaters”. For the Algonquin with deep pride in their hunting and gathering abilities this term is as offensive to the Alqonquin people as the “N” word is to African Americans. A time for Change is way over due! Lets get this “Hate Speech” out of this Magnificent part of NYS.

    • Phillip says:

      Jeep you are right on the money! As told to me by my elders when I was a child the Area within the park borders was referred to by all Natives as “Dish with on Spoon” No tribe claimed the area as their own, nobody lived in the area but all were welcome to Hunt and gather in the rich hunting grounds.
      We were never allowed to use the word Adirondack in or around our house hold. It is a very offense term, people have died over the use of this Word.
      Algonquin people used (and still do) the bark of the birch tree, along with the Chaga Mushroom which grows on it for Medicinal purposes. The Mohawks labeled them barkeaters (Adirondack) in a demeaning way saying the Algonquin are such poor hunters their people need to eat bark to survive.
      Some of you people are offended by 1 confederate flag! Take a walk with me and see the world through my eyes! Actually This publication could start to reverse the use of this derogatory term by changing its Name! What do you say?

  6. Randy Fredlund says:

    The Battle Flag of Northern Virginia is not limited to Tupper Lake. Way down south in Stratford, one can see this flag on a regular basis.

    What I was hoping to see in this article was the result of interviews with those who display this flag, so that we could all know why these people have decided to display a symbol of the Confederacy.

  7. Ben says:

    The confederate flag is symbolic of treason representing slave owning states. Our leaders need to speak out against what it represents. Citizens need to educate their children as to the flag’s meaning. The “deplorables” are among us. Shining a light on them and their behavior is the disinfectant.

    • JohnL says:

      Yes Ben, this ‘deplorable’ as you call me, is ‘among you’. Also Ben, your implication that ‘this deplorable’ agrees with the person displaying the Confederate flag is offensive to me. I, as you apparently do also, consider the Confederate flag as a symbol of treason and a dark period in our history. However, unlike you, I would fight to the death his right to display it.

  8. Rick Hart says:

    I find the quote from the local newspaper interesting. The person quoted says: “I have some trouble when an outside publication comes to our community and takes photos for the sole purpose of creating conflict where no conflict exists.”

    If accurate, and a Confederate flag can be prominently displayed in Tupper Lake with no conflict, that doesn’t speak well for the level of racism in the community. Seeing no problem with it means, in effect, acceptance of the message, of the regime which started the bloodiest conflict in our history to preserve slavery. Hopefully the quote doesn’t represent the opinion of most folks in Tupper Lake.

  9. George Whitman says:

    Get over it and move on with the Confederate flag. The younger generation is way too “fragile” on these issues of little real importance. You worry about social interplay and what people will think, like old ladies at a bridge club luncheon. Go chop some wood, shoot in your deer rifle…perhaps teach a neighborhood child how to fish. I for one, am sick to death of “30 somethings” wining about social injustice, Confederate flags, gender discrimination etc. Further, I bet your “grandfather’s grandfather” would have had more important issues in his likely difficult life, than the presence of a has been flag in someone’s window.

    • Matthew vogt says:

      ? the most interesting comment I’ve read. Let’s move on with the bull and move forward as a country. Let liberals keep crying while the rest of us keep living.

    • Greg Keefer says:

      Here, here … well said George.

    • Vanessa says:

      Hi there, millennial 30 something here! You rang, so I thought to stop by and mention that in his 20s, my grandpa starved in the mountains of Italy and fought with the partisanos to rid his country of fascism. He has a sharp sense of politics and public life, which he kept until he died- as did his father, and likely as did my grandpas grandpa! They passed it along alllllll the way down the line, and it’s in direct inspiration from him that I am proud to comment on public life. Many of us young rabble rousers are inspired by the older rabble rousers who roused some serious rabble when they were our age 😀 😀

  10. Shane Lamell says:

    You have 1 or 2 flags and you think the whole town and village are racists. Unless you live in Tupper Lake, as I do. Then you would not know that we are not racists. I’m sure their things in every town and village you could find something that makes them look bad in the news.

  11. David Gibson says:

    Thank you for stirring and for keeping on stirring on this topic, Brandon. Is this about Tupper? No. As you state this is a spotlight to shine and food for discussion in any town or community.The symbol when so visibly presented broadcasts a message of hostility along racial lines that is, given our history, undeniable. Tupper Lake’s councilman and his colleagues are to be commended for their community wide concern and for opening a community wide conversation around it that few if any other towns have opened (to my knowledge), including my own outside of the Adirondack Park (Ballston). The fact that Tupper’s resolution did not pass seems less relevant than their breaking of that ice.

  12. David Paul Medici says:

    What has concerned me since this Summer’s riots and the interplay of politics, Covid which was and is a situation we did not choose and yet has altered everyone’s perception of safety globally, I was ready for old wounds to open again among anybody who had a grudge, a bone, a cause, or a rebellious nature, to come forth and made their position known once again. Nothing to lose and something other than Coronavirus to focus on. To me it seems that hatred of everything drove people over the edge of reason all over the country. I am an Adirondacker bred, born and raised a Yankee, and being proud of my Northwoods heritage, and the history in those woods and waters, I have a fealty to uphold to who and what came before. To see the battle flag (Southern Flag) in a Northern town does not mean always what people necessarily think it means. If the US Flag was hung upside down in protest, I take umbrage with the statement. Flag burning evokes the same emotion. History is not to be ignored because it is uncomfortable. I have no doubt that British soldiers and the Union Jack were removed and desecrated when we won against them. But the history between our countries remains. If the man wants to have a Confederate Battle flag flying he should be able to fly it.

    After all we live in a Free country, don’t we?

    We are free to express our opinions freely, aren’t we ?

    It seems that along with common sense our entire civil liberties have been thrown up in the air, tossed on its side and reinvented so that an alterative expression to the wave of feelings were considered to be offensive to who ever you spoke to about them. I am about to be 55 years old. Raised in another time, raised from Depression parents that both were in WW II, my sense of honor and history is about as strong as you can get. Honor is not blind, dignity is never lost in standing up for what you personally believe is right for you.

    (standing down of my soapbox)

    • Zephyr says:

      Today the Confederate battle flag is in-your-face racist, period. I’m sick of anyone justifying it as something else. Nobody is saying a racist can’t fly any flag he wants to, but many feel the town should take a stand against it and state the town condemns such thought and symbols. Instead the town took a pass leaving a bad impression.

  13. JBF says:

    Keep stirring the pot until you create a mini Portland. Invite antifa. Feel satisfied.

  14. jeep says:

    Another offensive flag i see flying from porches in the area is the flag of the Boston Redsox! The last team in Pro baseball to integrate a full 12 years after the Dodgers signed Jackie Robinson to a Major League Baseball Contract. The Redsox, Owned then by South Carolina native Tom Yawkey proclaimed no N—– would ever play on his team as long as he had anything to do about it. In 1959, only after much pressure from the city of Boston with threatened the team with violating the Fair Employment Law did Yawkey call Up Pumpsie Green from its farm system. Yet these Racist still proudly hang this symbol of hate from their porches. I’m Outraged and you all should be too! Especially you Yankee Fans!

    • Joan Grabe says:

      I am not outraged by your pathetic attempt to trivialize a local issue that has caused the Tri-Lakes communities to discuss diversity and inclusion in a newspaper forum – Something the Tupper Lake City Council refused to do. Every baseball fan knows the sorry history of football and baseball team owners, not only Tom Yawkey. The histories of both those leagues is disgusting.
      But look at those teams today. It is a veritable United Nations out there ! I am not outraged but I certainly wish I could help you see why this is such an important issue.

      • jeep says:

        No Joan what is pathetic is the irony of your post. Are the people flying the Redsox flag simply doing so to let everybody know they support the current baseball team or, are they flying their fly in support of the old ideals of the racist filled teams of the past? Something that might been past on to them through generations of Sox fans. Fact is YOU DON”T KNOW! Are the People in Tupper Lake Flying the Confederate flag as a symbol of long ago racism or for other reasons? Fact is YOU DON’T KNOW! You been to Atlanta Lately? It’s a veritable United Nations!

  15. Michael Bobseine says:

    Thank you so much for fighting this anti racism fight. And shame on the Town Board members unwilling to provide a second for that resolution. Without a second there cannot be a discussion. That flag is chilling. To countenance the idea of it by not discussing it and symbols like it is cowardly.

  16. Debra Robinson-Jorgensen says:

    Enlightened by your coverage, the current political silliness shall pass, those living under the proverbial rock, as well. Amen to Mr. Goodman, and will look for his dedicated mountain….

  17. Phil Potter says:

    Some of us would prefer to live under a comfy rock, rather than on the leftward leaning, unstable platform currently in favor among those who considered themselves enlightened. My father, who was shot in the chest by an Imperial Japanese soldier, while invading a Pacific Island in WWII, said to me “those that talk the most (about their performance in the war) usually did the least. The same applies to this silly debate. Those who are caught up in the current rift over the alleged improper display of the Battle Flag, are misguided….and typically pampered individuals who have lived in a “bubble” of comfort and educational attainment. Their contributions to real life productivity being minimal, they seek to justify their existence, through pontificating upon current social issues which are of little concern to the class of people who built this country. We are not impressed.

    Further….I was born and raised in Arkansas, but choose to live in the Adirondacks. To me that flag represents Heritage not hate. I will never stand up for the Southern Antebellum system as it was, but I will offer as fact, the average poor Southern subsistence famer, was in the field fighting for the sake of honor and family. Probably didn’t grasp the complexity of the issues at hand, and certainly did not own slaves. The Southern cause was a fools errand, but that young man shot dead in the conflict, deserves respect for his sacrifice…which for him and his grieving family, had little to do with racial hatred and injustice. So to those contemporary, privileged, young, pampered and over educated yankees who don’t have a tempered perspective I will say…. as far as the Confederate flag is concerned…GET OFF OF MY CLOUD!

  18. Zephyr says:

    Interesting how the comments illustrate the problem perfectly. Look at the political map of the entire Adirondack region and if you didn’t already know it you will see it is staunchly red and conservative, which unfortunately includes a lot of racism. Frankly, I doubt many non-white people will find the region welcoming until the political climate changes, which it will inevitably as the old white guard dies off.

  19. Vanessa says:

    Two thoughts!

    – It’s reductionist to make this an argument about free speech because pretty much no one is saying that the state should force people to take down their flags. It’s the content of the message, not the message itself, that people take issue with.

    – The following deserves its own essay, but what’s most interesting about this “argument” is that we’ve got some folks that seem to think that their own interpretation of a symbol will somehow change meaning by sheer force of will. Like if they keep saying that “the confederate flag = heritage, actually”, that saying so will make this objectively true.

    Symbolism is collectively determined within specific contexts, and for better or worse none of us get to decide what big, well known symbols mean.

    There are people who have flown the confederate flag in the context of domestic terrorism against non-white people in 2017, 2019 and beyond – we don’t need to go back to 1860 for meaning here. Your own interpretation doesn’t make those people go away, no matter how hard you try, and critically – regardless of your intentions.

    IMO, talking to people about intentions is key to solving this one. I actually don’t think people’s intentions are always, or even usually, racist. There’s just a real bad lack of understanding that all of this discussion in the news helps alleviate.

    I’m glad the photo was published, therefore, and glad we’re talking about this.

  20. Wayno says:

    Something to consider. 150 years ago no resident of Tupper Lake would have tolerated it even being displayed. They would have considered it a banner of treason and slavery. They would, no doubt, have torn it down and burnt it for the symbol of hate and division that it is. Sad how the descendants seem to have lost the historical awareness to put that rag in perspective.

    • Zephyr says:

      Exactly! And, more than 400,000 fought and 53,000 New Yorkers died to rid the country of slavery and treason.

Wait! Before you go:

Catch up on all your Adirondack
news, delivered weekly to your inbox