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Band program provokes calls, comments

Friday, September 04, 1998

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Woodland Hills School District spokeswoman Vicki Fassinger fielded calls from Civil War buffs rather than concerned residents yesterday, following the high school marching band's postponement of a Civil War program.

But a number of students said the issue provoked angry feelings and disputes in district schools.

Fassinger said she received no complaints about the program yesterday, though high school Principal Howard Weber spent the day talking with people who had concerns about the program, originally planned for Wednesday. Fassinger spoke with Civil War re-enactors supportive of the show who wanted to talk to students about the war, she said.

In the program, now planned for 7 p.m. Wednesday in the high school stadium in Turtle Creek, half of the band represents the Union and half the Confederacy. An "abstract" flag representing the North and an "abstract" Confederate flag are on the field, Fassinger said.

Some black students in the school district say the Confederate flags and the song "Dixie" should be pulled from the marching band's planned routine because they're insensitive and racist.

"I don't like it," said Richard Cunningham IV, a sophomore at Woodland Hills High. "It's a real sensitive thing and a lot of people are mad at school."

He said several fights nearly broke out yesterday among students who disagreed on the issue.

"It got real heated," said Cunningham, of Braddock.

Melodie Ferguson, a freshman at East Junior High School said "Dixie" and the Confederate flag are as despicable to her as they were to her father when he attended high school in West Mifflin and a visiting school band played "Dixie."

"The flag represents racism and hatred and it makes me think of the Ku Klux Klan, and I just don't like it," said Ferguson.

Black parents opposed to the song and flags are continuing to call for the removal of "Dixie" and the flags.

"I strongly hope and believe that this can be resolved in a very short period of time," said Urban League President and Chief Executive Officer Esther Bush, who spoke out on the issue after the league got calls from concerned black parents.

"I don't believe that the band director was trying to do anything wrong or be offensive. ... Out of innocence this has arrived (but) it's offensive and we have to respond to it."

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