Hundreds of VSU students, alumni and Valdosta citizens gathered on VSU’s Pedestrian Mall Monday at 3 p.m. to show support for the American flag, in the exact same spot where Air Force veteran Michelle Manhart was detained by police on Friday for attempting to take the American flag from protesters who were walking on it.
Numerous American and “Don’t Tread On Me” flags waved in the wind as demonstrators united to show their opposition to protesters who walked on the American flag Friday.
“I’m out here today because my grandpa didn’t get shot at Pearl Harbor for someone to walk on my flag,” Kelley Neidlinger, senior history major, said. “I think walking on the flag is the most inhumane thing you can do. If another country walked on our flag, we would view them as terrorists, and I’m not sure why we’re not viewing (the original protesters) as terrorists as well.”
Students from the “Black Lives Matter” campaign also joined the flag supporters, holding signs promoting black justice.
“The (signs are) more or less to mitigate both sides here,” said Travis Edwards, anthropology major, as he held a “Black Lives Matter” sign. I don’t necessarily agree with the methods used by the original Black nationalists; however, I agree with their message that there is an extreme inequality problem and oppression problem in America.”
Protesters who walked on the American flag Friday were also on the Pedestrian Mall Monday, and two American flags lay on the ground as students argued with the original protesters on issues such as white privilege and the proper treatment of the American flag.
EJ Sheppard, a VSU student who walked on the American flag Friday, said white privilege still exists in America.
“White privilege is…(a) privilege that white people have that is allotted to them because of the system of white supremacy, which was built on African demise,” Sheppard said.
One VSU student, a white female, asked Sheppard what he sees when he looks at her.
“I do not see a friend,” Sheppard said. “I do not see a beneficiary to my existence. Especially if you’re not using your white privilege to take down the system of racism and white supremacy, which is plaguing my existence and the existence of my people.”
Sarah Cruz, sophomore legal assistant studies major, eventually picked up the American flag from the ground, folded it with the help of a nearby veteran, and held it throughout the protest.
Lenisa Farmer, junior mechanical engineering major, watched the protest as a bystander.
“I feel like (there are) a lot of emotions going on. It’s not about race right now. It’s about freedom; it’s about your rights.”
During the protest, people chanted “USA,” sang the national anthem and waved flags. Three vehicles pulled up alongside Odum Library with flags hanging off the vehicles.
A couple of students gave speeches to the crowds on the greatness of America and the need for all races to unite as one group.
“We want to show unity on campus, that we are all together,” Lewis Cureton, a member of VSU’s Black Student League, said. “We are not divided by race, creed, color; we are united by the America we stand in, no matter the history it has.”
SGA President Tyler Barker attended the protest, but only to watch over students, he said.
“I respect the right of every U.S. citizen and their right to protest and their right to freedom of speech,” Barker said. “That’s not saying that I agree or disagree (with the protest). I’m just simply out here to make sure that the safety of our students is upheld.”
SGA Vice President Nicholas Buford also walked among the crowd on the Pedestrian Mall and expressed optimism regarding the protest.
“I feel very good about what I’m seeing, (which) is different students from different backgrounds together standing behind the flag,” Buford said. “I want it to be clear that the students who protested Friday, they are not a symbol of Black leadership on this campus, and they are not a top movement when it comes to civil rights on this campus.”
After chanting from the steps of Odum Library, most of the crowd moved to Palms Quad and continued the protest before the group disbanded. Others stayed behind, surrounding and debating with Sheppard and others from the group who walked on the American flag Friday.