I had the pleasure of meeting the Charlotte picture-book author Tameka Fryer Brown in person earlier this month when we both participated in the “Freedom to Read” panel discussion event sponsored by the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library. During this panel discussion, we talked about the importance of providing children with books that address the realities of American society and history, including the issue of racism. In this context, Tameka mentioned her new picture book titled That Flag, which deals in part with the history of the Confederate flag. Although I had previously read some of Tameka’s earlier picture books, I had not seen That Flag. When the panel discussion ended, I asked Tameka if I could take a look at her copy of That Flag. She handed it to me, and I read it right away.
Illustrated by Nikkolas Smith and published by HarperCollins, That Flag is told from the point of view of Keira, a Black girl growing up in the contemporary South. Her best friend is Bianca. Although Keira and Bianca are from different racial backgrounds, they see themselves as “almost twins,” especially when they are at school. However, Bianca’s family flies the Confederate flag in the front of their home. The display of this flag creates a tension between Keira and Bianca, and this tension intensifies when Keira begins to learn about the history of the Confederate flag. Tameka does an excellent job of presenting the history of this flag from its origins during the Civil War to its contemporary associations with various racist hate groups, but she always keeps her focus on the relationship between Keira and Bianca.
A few days after the “Freedom to Read” panel discussion, I contacted Tameka and asked her how she came to write That Flag. Here is what she sent to me:
On June 17, 2015, a young white man attended evening Bible study at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina. At the conclusion of the class, he took out a gun and began shooting the church members. He killed nine of them. The investigation into this mass shooting revealed the murderer to be a white supremacist whose goal in targeting the historically significant Black church had been to initiate a race war. The investigation also unearthed several social media posts with photos showing him brandishing the Confederate flag.
As if the mass murders had not been devastating enough, a public debate arose soon after about that flag, as to whether it was indeed a racist emblem used throughout history to terrorize and oppress, or merely an innocuous and misunderstood symbol of Southern heritage and pride. So many people seemed to be either ignorant or in willful denial about the Confederate flag’s problematic origins and contemporary use, I knew a more fact-based truth about its history needed to be shared with our children as early as possible. Studies have proven that signs of racial prejudice can be seen even in preschoolers, thanks to the societal messaging they receive daily. To have any hope of abating bigotry, seeds of empathy, equity, and justice must consistently and intentionally be planted in kids’ hearts while they are untainted and receptive enough to fully embrace them. As a children’s book author, writing That Flag was my way of doing all of the above.
That Flag is a picture book about best friends divided over the meaning and significance of the Confederate flag. Unfortunately, no publisher was willing to buy it in 2015. A couple of editors suggested I rewrite it as a middle grade, but my heart was convinced it needed to be a book for younger readers. With no takers, I put the story away and focused on other manuscripts.
In 2020, the tide turned. As our country was purportedly in the midst of a “racial awakening,” I decided to tweak it a little and send it out again. This time, multiple editors expressed interest in the story and it went to auction. Between the book’s sale in 2020 and its publication this year, the book-banning movement in the United States has intensified significantly. To date and to my knowledge, however, That Flag has yet to be challenged or placed on any banned lists. For that, I am sincerely grateful.
As a Southerner, born and bred (with almost 30 of those years spent as a Charlottean), I pray That Flag will not only spark conversation among young readers and adults about the true origins and history of the Confederate flag, but that it will also provide insight and understanding as to the degree of fear and emotional pain the public veneration of it continues to cause so many Americans…including me. Surely there are more unifying, less traumatic representations of Southern heritage we can all celebrate.
For readers who want to know more about Tameka, That Flag, and her other picture books, please click on the following link: https://tamekafryerbrown.com/
I congratulate Tameka on the publication of That Flag. I enjoyed reading it, and I think it would appeal to anyone in Storied Charlotte who is committed to providing children with books that acknowledge the true complexity of our history.