"I know it's kind of weird because I'm black," Thomas said in a video he posted online in response to his school's request that he take the flag down.
Thomas, who says he prefers to be called black rather than African-American, adds that he believes the Confederate flag is a sign of Southern pride, and not racism. The University of South Carolina Beaufort has since relented and said Thomas can put the flag back up in his room if he wants.
"When I look at this flag, I don't see racism. I see respect, Southern pride," Thomas said. "This flag was seen as a communication symbol" during the Civil War, he added. "I've been getting a lot of support from people. My generation is interested in freedom of speech."
The university received about two-dozen complaints from students and families visiting around the Thanksgiving holiday, said spokeswoman Candace Brasseur. In response, the university sent Thomas, his fellow students and the university staff an email asking that the flag be removed from public view, "out of respect for his fellow students' concerns." However, Brasseur said the university has since reversed itself, electing to permit Thomas to put the flag back up; because of the school's "firm belief in the First Amendment and its right of free speech, the University cannot and will not prohibit these flags or other symbols that our students choose to display," she said.
However, there is one obstacle potentially greater than peer pressure or university rules that may prompt him to Thomas to take the flag down: his parents. He says his parents are not fans of his decision to hoist the flag--and, well, they are paying his tuition bills.
"I don't want to make my parents mad," he said. "I may wait until Monday to put it up."
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- Byron Thomas