Heritage or Hate? is a documentary which looks at the controversial use of Confederate symbols in public places. Much of the program focuses on the use of the Confederate battle flag. Those who support the flag say its beginnings were innocuous: merely a symbol of recognition on the battlefield for southern soldiers. Others, especially many African Americans, say the Confederate flag is a symbol of racism and hate. Those trying to preserve southern heritage and culture, however, say the flag was taken over by hate groups that misrepresented the true nature of the flag’s history.
The story unfolds through the eyes of those trying to preserve the heritage as well as those who have witnessed the Confederate flag “in their face” in efforts to intimidate them.
One of the primary characters is Walt Hilderman, a Civil War re-enactor. He cherishes history but recognizes that his great-great grandfather, a slave-owner and southern soldier in the War Between the States, never admitted that slavery is wrong. Now Hilderman finds he is fighting a losing battle to preserve the Confederate battle flag.
We also hear the story of Minniejean Brown Trickey. She is an African American, one of the Little Rock Nine, who could attend school only with the help of U.S. soldiers while protestors with both Confederate and American flags shouted at the students.
Throughout Heritage or Hate? viewers may find surprises, including why Lincoln head pennies ended up in urinals. Interviews also reveal how the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) is embroiled in a struggle over heritage, racism and a burgeoning secessionist movement. Yet we meet one SCV member, an African American who insists he never has experienced racism in the SCV.
The documentary shows conflicts in communities throughout the south and even one northern community. Lake City, Florida hosts the Battle of Olustee re-enactment each year. Yet in the background is controversy over the use of the Confederate battle flag on the city’s seal.
South Carolina is still struggling over the use of the Confederate flag on public property. Despite removing the flag from the state capitol dome, it remains on a soldier’s monument at the capitol; as a result, the NAACP boycott of the state continues.
In Charlotte, North Carolina the Sons of Confederate Veterans have been fighting the city’s removal of a Confederate flag and flagpole from a Confederate cemetery on city-owned property. Also in North Carolina, we meet a man who wants a monument to
Confederate soldiers removed from public because of the Confederacy’s association with slavery.
The documentary also shows disputes over flags in Georgia and Alabama as well as how students wearing clothing with the flag are handled in America’s schools.
Heritage or Hate? also shows the turmoil caused by an African American artist’s display of the Confederate flag hanging from a gallows at Gettysburg College, just outside the battleground where thousands died for the flag. SCV members protested the exhibition saying it was a “lynching” that was a hate crime against their ethnic group.
Though the scenes in Heritage or Hate? largely take place in the south, the controversy over the flag resonates in every corner of the nation. It is a classic clash between freedom of speech and the rights of others who are offended by that speech. This is an ideal topic for public television, a chance to open a dialogue over the contemporary issues raised by controversial symbols from our past.
G. Stuart Smith produced Heritage or Hate? in cooperation with WUFT-TV, the PBS station in Gainesville, Florida. It was a finalist in the New York Festivals History and Society Category. The documentary is airing nationwide through American Public Television.