Thomasville yearbook recalled due to Confederate flag on cover
On May 29, Thomasville City Schools announced that the Thomasville High School yearbook was being recalled due to the image of a Confederate flag on its cover.
Within hours, the story was picked up by local media. By 7 p.m. it went national, with The New York Times, one of many, sharing the story from the AP Wire Service account.
The Thomasville City Schools’ press release stated that the Office of the Superintendent was informed Tuesday of “an inappropriate picture that was placed in a collage on the Thomasville High School yearbook cover” and that all the yearbooks were being recalled. According to the press release, the yearbook’s title, “Blast to the Past,” reflected the editorial staff’s intention to look back at the school’s history, and that is why the cover used photos from previous volumes dating back to the 1930s. The press release concluded by stating that the recalled yearbook will be reprinted with a different cover. “We apologize for such an egregious error and vow to have a system in place to prevent such mistakes from happening again.”
Interviewed by FOX 8, Thomasville City Schools Superintendent Dr. Catherine Gentry called the image “hurtful and harmful.” The Dispatch quoted Gentry as saying, “I’m not sure what the reason was, whether it was missed, whether it just did not stand out during the proofing process, there could be a million reasons. It was not something that was caught by the students or the teachers or that stood out to them.” Gentry also stated, “I don’t have any sense that it was malicious or intentional.”
Gentry noted that the image was reported, “by a member of the student yearbook staff after seeing the finished product.”
An employee of the school, who asked not to be identified, shared a photograph of the yearbook cover with YES! Weekly.
The photo that inspired this controversy can be seen at the bottom right of the collage. It depicts the class of 1968 holding the words “Go Dogs” in front of a Confederate flag. Of the dozen or so images in the collage, it is one of the largest and least obscured, and the only one in color.
Senior class president JacQuez Johnson, who is African-American, believes that the yearbook staff may not have noticed the flag in the photo’s background. According to the March 28 Dispatch article “Student sets goals as future leader in Thomasville,” Johnson is the chairman for the 13th Congressional District Young Democrats of North Carolina, has interned with Thomasville mayor and city government for the past three years, and is on the Thomasville Recreation Department volunteer board.
In a live video that Johnson posted on Wednesday night to the Facebook group “Citizens of Thomasville, NC,” he said that he wanted to give “a clear understanding of what exactly happened, and how the students at Thomasville High School actually feel about this, because there are going to be a lot of mini-narratives coming out.”
Johnson identified himself as the student who reported the image to the administration. According to the Dispatch, Superintendent Gentry said the initial complaint came from a member of the yearbook staff. Johnson, however, stated he was one of the first people to receive a yearbook, “as a gift” from the yearbook staff, and that the photo “wasn’t the first thing that popped out at me.”
“As soon as I realized it, cause I was the first student to realize it and get it out there to the administrators to know, the administrators worked swiftly,” he says in the video. “I know without a doubt this was a mistake,” adding, “it was extremely easy to overlook.” He praised the school’s administration for “working on ways that we can fix this.”
Johnson’s also said that he hoped Thomasville will “use this as an opportunity to figure out ways we can learn from our past and move forward together as a community. That’s what we should use this opportunity as, not as an opportunity to throw shade or to throw heat any one person because it’s not any one person’s fault.”
The Confederate flag, Johnson said, “has no place in our community, has no place inside of our school, and we understand and we recognize that.” He concluded by urging his viewers to share his video as widely as possible “before the news takes it and twists it into something it is not.”
The high school has gone through multiple principals in the last two years. In early January, Leslie Kinard, who’d been its principal since 2017, left to become principal of Ferndale Middle School in High Point. Dr. Esther Coble, Randy Holmes, and Charlene Watson-Faulcon served as interim co-principals until March, when the Thomasville Board of Education named Calvin Freeman as the new principal at Thomasville High School.
Despite being displayed by contemporary advocates of “Southern heritage,” the Confederate flag was actually a controversial symbol in this part of North Carolina even before the Civil War ended. As reported in the December 2016 article, “The Triad’s real Confederate heritage,” many Piedmont tradesmen and small farmers violently resisted what they considered the oppression of the Richmond aristocrats who controlled the Confederacy.