Across the South people are debating whether or not to take down Confederate symbols, from the flag recently removed from the South Carolina Statehouse to the statue of Jefferson Davis that was taken down a few weeks ago at the University of Texas at Austin.
Now WNYC’s “Studio 360,” the public radio arts program that airs weekly on KERA FM, is asking an unusual follow-up question. Is there a sign or symbol that everyone in the South could get behind?
“What would be the right symbol for the south that did not glorify slavery or segregation?” asks Kurt Anderson, the show’s host.
Studio 360 Redesigns is an ongoing series, and has tackled everything from redesigning Mondays to Monopoly boards. Producers asked Dallas firm 70kft to tackle the question.
Gus Granger, 70kft’s co-founder, says as a designer, a father, and an African-American, the challenge took on special meaning.
“I took on this project personally because I have three kids I am raising in the South,” Granger says. “And if I can also be part of elevating a dialogue around those flags, those monuments, and I have this gift of design, this business I have been blessed with, this opportunity which came up, I was enthusiastic about stepping up.”
Home base for the design firm is the 30th floor of a downtown Dallas office building. On a recent visit, everyone was gathered in the office “war room,” staring at a wall collaged with ideas, color swatches and variations on designs.
“The wall is covered with gosh, I’m looking at about fifty different designs printed off on a color printer,” says Granger.
The images aren’t cliché southern snapshots – there are no photos of barbecue or brisket, pecan trees or sweet tea. Though designer Michael Faevel says all those ideas were tossed around.
“There’s the Southern hospitality, that’s nice, we always talked about the Magnolia, that’s something typically seen in the South, there was the typical jokes of why not biscuits and gravy… ”
Instead, the designers split into two groups for the challenge. Favel’s team suggests replacing the flag with a word. No, not y’all. The word “rebel”
“I have experienced the south my whole life,” Favel says. “What are we labeled as? We can be labeled very negatively. As slow, or simple, and the word rebel came to mind, and I was like that’s not necessarily something that can be labeled as negative.”
The rebel team reveals their symbol so far – a lower case cursive “rebel” in the handwriting of none other than Martin Luther King.
“It start with looking at it on black and we did these overlays of these other southern rebels that we have falling into this category,” says Granger. “We have Truman Capote, we’ve got Jackie Robinson, MLK, Rosa Parks, Muhammed Ali, Mark Twain…”
Rebels v. Quilts
Designer Stefan Reddick is on the second team.
“I’m on team quilt, doesn’t sound as cool as team rebel.”
Team Quilt is exploring tapestries, stained glass, and other traditional symbols of coming together and community.
“We’re kind of getting away from the flag in general, looking for a symbol that embodies the modern South,” says Bailey Parkerson, who’s from Birmingham, Alabama. “Flags are for battles and quilts are for homes.”
Even though the Confederate flag is a symbol, it’s a powerful one. When “Studio 360” announced they were doing the project, they got comments from across the country questioning why redesign it at all?
Ultimately, the Dallas designers recognize their revamped Southern symbol might not end up on a bumper sticker or belt buckle. Alex Flores, who’s from South Texas, says that may not be the point.
“I think it’s something that should be more organic than say delivering a packet that says here’s you go, here’s your new brand guidelines for the South,” says Flores. “I don’t think it’s that cut and dry…it’s not so much about redesigning the flag but reintroducing a new idea. And if anything, if we can start a dialogue we’ll be happy that we’ve contributed something more than just a logo.”