Dixie Rising

A new clothing line uses the Confederate Flag to instigate conversations about race relations in the South

| July-August 1999

  • The use of the Confederate flag remains a source of contention in the United States.
    Photo by Fotolia/Carsten Reisinger

In Columbia, South Carolina, it flies over the capitol building. In Georgia, you can find a replica of it on the state flag. All over the South, it appears on license plate replicas. Today, more than 130 years after the Civil War, the Confederate flag remains as much a part of southern life as biscuits, gravy, and grits.

For many southerners, the ubiquitous Stars and Bars are a painful reminder of the region's tortured past, a relic of antebellum culture that's best erased from the collective memory. For others, the flag represents a proud era of southern solidarity, a way of life that's worth preserving. This debate has long polarized people who love the South but have very different ways of showing it.

In recent years, two young southern entrepreneurs have added a whole new twist to the flag debate. Sherman Evans and Angel Quintero, owners of a store called NuSouth in Charleston, South Carolina, five years ago launched a line of clothing that reconfigures the Confederate flag to make a point: The background is still red, but the bars are black and the stars are green—the colors of African liberation.

As Jack Hitt writes in GQ (Nov. 1997), the impact was immediate and incendiary—on both sides of the fence. Shellmira Green, a local African American student, was suspended from her high school in 1994 for wearing a T-shirt featuring an early version of the design; principal George McCrackin claimed the shirt was “disruptive,” an inappropriate in-your-face reminder of a discredited tradition. Evans and Quintero, meanwhile, claim they have been the target of death threats from southern-fried extremists demanding that the pair stop desecrating a historic treasure.

“I like to say that if you don't get it, then you're either still a slave or a slave owner,” Evans told The Oxford American (Jan./ Feb. 1999). “NuSouth offers an opportunity for dialogue. That's the real solution to race relations: dialogue.”

The flag was created as CD cover art for Da Phlayva, a local rap group. The T-shirts were an afterthought. Later, when Green's suspension earned the design some notoriety, the NuSouth clothing line was born. In recent years, it has expanded to include men's dress shirts, vests, and windbreakers, as well as a limited selection of women's clothing.

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