Some folks in Tupper Lake weren’t pleased with our publication of a photo showing a Confederate flag in a window there. They viewed it as a provocation intended to stir divisions.
Others apparently hoped the image in our September/October magazine would inspire their Town Board to adopt a resolution that renounced “symbols of racism and hate” that are “not beneficial to the community’s image.” That resolution failed for lack of a second last week.
I confess that the sight of a Confederate flag in New York — in Tupper Lake or any of the other places I’ve seen them in and around the Adirondacks — puzzles and saddens me. I’m sure that this reflex contributed to my decision to include the image in a story about how welcoming (or not) our region is to people who would come here to live or to visit this state’s enviable public wildlands. Recently, after we published the story in question, I learned that my great-great-grandfather fought to preserve the Union. He lived west of the Adirondacks, in Oswego County, and he served in the 184th New York Infantry. I experienced a moment of unearned pride when I saw a photo of his headstone at Arlington National Cemetery. Yes, I know which flag is the flag for me.
That doesn’t mean I went out of my way to defame Tupper Lake. Our staff members visit that town all the time. I did on my way home from a camping trip and noticed the flag even before I knew our photographer also had seen and photographed it. It hung prominently in a window by State Route 3. How could we have missed it?
At the Adirondack Explorer, our motive for publishing the photo had nothing to do with pointing fingers or scolding any single community within the 6 million-acre park that we cover. Our story, about the state-sanctioned effort to build diversity and inclusion in the overwhelmingly white Adirondacks, simply aimed to point out the signals across our region that might be less than welcoming to all. Those included retellings of people’s experiences of driving while Black. Of hiking while Black. Of standing by a river while Black.
And they included an image of one flag displayed in a window for anyone driving east into the Adirondack High Peaks to see.
The Adirondack Daily Enterprise has reported on a couple of occasions that people in Tupper Lake objected to outsiders publishing such an image. In its coverage of last week’s town meeting, the newspaper quoted one resident as saying this: “I have some trouble when an outside publication comes to our community and takes photos for the sole purpose of creating conflict where no conflict exists.”
Now, I admit, if all you saw of the package was this photo, juxtaposed as it was with a photo of an anti-racist banner in Saranac Lake, you could be forgiven for thinking the snooty magazine headquartered in that village 20 miles away was trolling Tupper Lake. But if you read the story, as I assume most magazine subscribers would, you would know that it’s Saranac Lake — not Tupper Lake — that paints the ugliest picture in it. Reporter Gwendolyn Craig wrote this description of Adirondack Diversity Initiative Director Nicole Hylton-Patterson’s welcome in our home base: “At the end of June, Hylton-Patterson, who is a Black woman, was on her regular running route when she saw a racist message, ‘Go back to Africa,’ spray-painted on a bridge in Saranac Lake. Days went by and Hylton-Patterson did not hear a word of outrage from the business community or local government.” Had we seen and photographed a Confederate flag in Saranac Lake while we were preparing the story, I’m certain we would have run it instead. Had we photographed the graffiti before it was removed, we might have debated using that. The contrast in messages would have been that much more striking.
Although we posted Gwen’s story on our website in August, that version did not include the offending flag photo. To see it, you had to buy the print magazine.
I have no good reason to believe that Tupper Lake is generally racist, and no inkling that it’s any more so than the rest of the Adirondacks. I’ve personally had nothing but good experiences in the community, and our magazine frequently features the thoughtful views of people who live there. The same photographer who noticed and snapped the shot in question also wrote and photographed a feature for us about Tupper Lake’s ski trails and the community spirit behind them. And while we’re talking about “outsiders,” I should note that the Explorer and our companion website, the Adirondack Almanack, have often paid tribute to Andrew Goodman, the 1960s civil rights advocate who grew up enjoying summers in Tupper before he was slain by Klansmen in Mississippi and had a mountain near town named for him.
Discussing race is rarely easy for white people in this country. I understand. My own family has 19th century ancestors buried on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line. It’s complicated. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t speak of it.
I won’t speculate on my grandfather’s grandfather’s reasons for fighting the Confederacy. I have to presume, though, that he would find it noteworthy that 21st century New Yorkers are displaying Confederate flags anywhere on his home turf.