LATTA, South Carolina – A 15-year-old girl led a small protest march Monday against her high school's ban on Confederate flag clothing, which she is also challenging in court.
Candice Hardwick walked with about a dozen people, about half of them family members and some wearing Confederate T-shirts, a few blocks to her school. Hardwick wore a Confederate belt buckle and button and had the Confederate flag on her mobile phone cover. She removed those items before entering the school, where she is a sophomore.
The battle flag was used by the Confederate pro-slavery states during the U.S. Civil War. While considered a symbol of heritage and pride for many southerners, it remains a symbol of racism and oppression for other Americans.
Hardwick says she wants to wear the emblem to pay tribute to ancestors who fought in the Civil War. She said she has been forced to change clothes or turn her shirt inside-out, and has been suspended twice and threatened with being kicked off the track team.
John Kirby, school superintendent, said Monday that officials "have clothing issues every year ... and we've handled it consistently every time."
Among those marching with Candice was a black man, H.K. Edgerton, board chairman of the Southern Legal Resource Center, the group that filed a federal lawsuit in March on her behalf.
"She's made a stand for her Southland," said Edgerton. A former local leader of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in North Carolina, he is known for dressing up in Confederate gear to emphasize what he describes as the role blacks played in voluntarily supporting the South in the Civil War.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1969 that the First Amendment protects students' political expressions during school hours so long as they do not substantially disrupt the education process.
The high court has not ruled specifically on whether a student may wear Confederate symbols. Three years ago, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta upheld a lower court ruling allowing a school to ban the Confederate flag.