Monday, November 21, 2011

Fraternity members want to set the record straight

“The KAs, one of the school's largest and most prominent Greek-letter organizations, were known for parading the Confederate flag at public functions. At this game, they stood proudly with the flag. It seemed like they had some sort of alluring allegiance to it. It was as if they were bound by some irrevocable oath to gleefully wave that flag, widely recognized by black folks as a symbol of unbridled bigotry.”

November Ever After
From Chapter Three … Chilly Racial Climate

       Editor’s Note: The day before the plane crash, there was an ugly on-campus racial incident that occurred after an intramural football game involving the all-white fraternity Kappa Alpha Order and Black United Students, the black-student organization at Marshall University.
       The free-for-all started when three white males ran through a crowd of black students waving a Confederate flag. The violence resulted in three white students being admitted to the hospital. There’s a chapter in the memoir November Ever After which provides a detailed account of this episode. On that day, the climate was right for a bloody race riot to take place on the MU campus.
       There are members of the Kappa Alpha Order who are not pleased with what was written in the book about their fraternity as it relates to the racial confrontation.
       Today’s blog entry features comments from four Marshall alumni who are members of the Kappa Alpha Order. I will address their comments in a separate blog entry which will run on tomorrow, November 22nd.
Gary Sweeney
Continued success with your fine book. I enjoyed reading November Ever After and still support it because it’s a good read and because it's the perspective of a college student's experience in dealing with death and losing best friends.
       But I did take exception to your comments that the KAs were racists and how we paraded the Confederate Battle Flag around campus with an attitude of shoving it in folks’ faces!  Our flag was an icon of the old South and its rich history.  I am positive that other races do things that offend whites. However, as young college guys, we did not "slice" people up because we disagreed with their ideas. The Confederate flag was flown by our Marshall Kappa Alpha Order fraternity, just as it was on most campuses that had KA chapters across America.
      You probably don’t know that the Kappa Alpha Order, a religious organization, founded after the life of Robert E. Lee – with the motto of "For God & Womanhood" – was not a brotherhood of bigotry or hatred.  Just ask Maurice Cooley (MU’s Student Relations Center director) about our friendship cultivated during this era.  The KAs, Kappa Alpha Psi (Cooley’s all-black fraternity) and selected sororities always worked side-by-side during Homecoming, building floats for the Homecoming parade.  We were brothers and sisters – black and white!
       I did not know the difficulties that blacks (mostly athletes) faced at Marshall in the late 1960s.  I cannot fully understand what the Confederate flag meant to blacks.  I did not walk in their footsteps nor did I participate in freedom marches during their fight to earn civil rights.  I can only imagine the horror that blacks faced and I get angry when I watch movies of blacks being beaten, having dogs turned on them, and being knocked down with high-pressure water hoses.
       I graduated from Marshall in 1969 and was not on campus when the intramural football game between BUS and the KAs ended in violence, with some of our white brothers being slashed with a knife or razor blade by some BUS members.  At that time, I was stationed at Ft. Lee, Virginia and was on my way to Southeast Asia to represent our great country in a place called Vietnam. I grew up in West Virginia and never witnessed racism until I entered the US Army in 1970.  Perhaps, you found whites to be racist while growing up in Jacksonville, Florida.”

 Mike Chandler
The late ‘60s and early ‘70s brought tremendous change in our lives with the Vietnam Conflict, the Civil Rights movement, the sexual revolution, war protests, etc. 
       Up until that time, the Confederate Battle Flag was nothing more than a symbol of brotherhood, pride and celebration of our spiritual founder, and of the South. All these things helped us to bond together, and made me feel that I was a part of something unique and special.  Perhaps blindly, as I would later learn, I just never associated that symbol in a racially negative way, though I was becoming aware that some others did.
       The summer of 1968 was marred by the Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. assassinations. All hell was breaking loose as I began my teaching career that fall in inner-city
Cincinnati, Ohio at a predominately black school.  It certainly could not compare to Vietnam, but there were days I felt deserving of combat pay.
       Looking back, with a better understanding of the history of what was happening around us, I can remember some of the black friends of our youth distancing themselves from us as we got older.  I am certain, they were being instructed by their older generation to “know their place,” just as my mother was telling me the races should not be mixing.  Thank God, at the ripe old age of 92, she has greatly softened that stance. Her world is a better place. Much of her loving physical care is being provided by the off-springs of those she once resented.
       I had the opportunity last winter to spend some time with (black MU graduate) Walt Garnett, who co-owns a Wild Wings restaurant in
Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.  He has fond memories of Marshall, including several KAs who he considers his friends.  He told me he was the butt of jokes, and wouldn't want to repeat some of the names his own (fraternity) brothers would call him, after a night of partying with his white buddies. 
       For him, it was all in fun, and I am sure he has no regrets.  As I observed him in his restaurant interacting with customers and friends, all of whom were white, it brought comfort in knowing that most of us have moved on from those difficult times and remain united as brothers and Sons of Marshall.
       I will purchase November Ever After, if for no other reason than to get a better sense of the author's perspective.  I heard him doing a radio interview in
Huntington (West Virginia) recently and he has put a lot of time and energy into publishing a history of that brief period of our lives.  And, like Dave (Ferrell), that "incident" – of which I have no personal knowledge – is only a very small fraction of the total work, which deals primarily with the aftermath of the crash.”

Dave Ferrell
I do not recall this incident. At the time, I was en route to Vietnam
       This I do remember.  We took great pride in a lost cause by seeking to achieve those attributes of character and integrity displayed by Robert E. Lee.  When we (Kappa Alphas) flew the Confederate Battle Flag, I never recall any one doing so in a sense of racial hatred or discrimination.  I never even recall any slurs or comments made in the KA house that would smack of racial animosity. 
       Our concerns and focus always centered on a viable fraternity, brotherhood, gaining an education and adapting to a traumatic decade in America.  I still have my KA flag from the 1960's tucked away in a safe place and I still do not consider it a symbol of hatred, even though others may perceive it that way. 
       The brotherhood we shared was greater than any incident that others recall.”

Mark McClellan
I can understand blacks being offended by the Confederate Battle Flag. But I certainly can't accept physical violence as an answer to what they perceived as an insult.  We were pretty young and sometimes thought only of ourselves and not what our actions construed to others. 
       We had one tradition to emulate and others saw it another way.   A book presented as historical insight that only shows one side of a story isn't worth reading unless the author lets us know that it is a one sided view.
       I remember the one, maybe two parties we (KAs) had with (all-black fraternity) Kappa Alpha Psi, and I have no bad memories of them. As we reflect on the great days of our youth at Marshall, there were plenty of things done by all manner of students that didn't sit well with other students. Thankfully, we were not so stupid to slice or punch those with views that were different from ours. 
       As we mature, we learn to not necessarily agree with others views, but to better understand why they feel the way they do.  It is unfortunate that a book in which the KAs are presented as racist, doesn't reflect that they were 20-year old college students celebrating some of the values of one southern icon, while possibly not trying to be politically correct enough to mourn some of the other things that were part of the South.”

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