virus: This is also memetics

Wade T. Smith (
Sat, 20 Mar 1999 20:08:03 -0500

Pair redo Stars, Bars in hues of liberation

Confederate flag becomes 'threads that connect us'

By Curtis Wilkie, Globe Staff, 03/20/99

CHARLESTON, S.C. - It's not yet in the same league as Nike's swoosh, but a jazzed-up version of the Confederate battle flag is creating a buzz as the logo for a new clothing line created by a pair of minority entrepreneurs in the city where the Civil War began.

By overlaying the Stars and Bars with the red, black, and green associated with the Black Liberation Movement, Sherman Evans and Angel Quintero believe they have found the perfect trademark to represent the business they call NuSouth.

''We're not trying to change history; we're making it,'' said Quintero, a
native of Cuba.

Added Evans, a black man born in Columbus, Ohio: ''It's not about being in your face, it's about coming together.''

He points out that NuSouth added vertical lines, like prison bars, to the edges of the flag ''for closure'' to the old conflict between North and South, black and white.

The NuSouth gimmick ''does not bother me,'' said Republican state Senator Glenn McConnell of Charleston, a leading figure in the campaign to preserve Confederate honor. ''The true meaning of that emblem is in the battlefields, the graveyards, and the hearts of South Carolinians.

''The flag is used by different people for different purposes,''
McConnell said. ''If this helps get us closer to its real meaning, then that's good.''

The Confederate battle flag is a controversial symbol in South Carolina, the first state to secede from the Union. The banner still flies atop the state capitol in Columbia, and various attempts to remove it in recent years have failed, despite a clamor by a growing number of blacks in the Legislature.

David Beasley, a Republican governor, was defeated last year after he became identified with the flag fight. First, he antagonized his conservative constituency by proposing to move the Confederate banner; when he failed to persuade the Legislature to support his proposal, it was regarded as a sign of weakness.

Evans says NuSouth is not interested in the ''political rhetoric'' swirling around the battle flag. ''We're not concerned about what's flying on top of the capitol as much as what's going on inside the capitol,'' he said.

In their pleasantly funky NuSouth shop in a fashionable corridor of historic Charleston, Evans and Quintero talked about their initiative the other day. Both men are 35 and wound up in Charleston via separate routes a dozen years ago. Yet, as Evans says, ''Everyone has Southern heritage.''

Early in the 1990s, they became partners in a local record company and came up with the flag idea for an album cover featuring a rap band named Da Phlayva.

''It was in the middle of the rap wars between the East Coast and the
West Coast, and our record label was getting no recognition,'' Quintero recalled. ''So we took the flag, which was the biggest symbol for the South, and said, `Why don't we change the colors?'''

Experimenting on a computer, they superimposed red, black, and green on the flag. ''It was like a light coming on,'' said Evans.

The flag dominated the rap group's jacket cover. The words on the front were, ''The future is Da Phlayva.'' The back side said, ''The past is the past.''

No breakthrough resulted for Da Phlayva, but promotional T-shirts bearing the retooled flag caused a stir in 1994 when a black 10th-grader was suspended by her white principal for wearing the shirt to school in Goose Creek, S.C.

Interest in the symbol was further encouraged, Evans and Quintero say, when several people wore the shirts to the Million Man March, a massive African-American demonstration in Washington in 1995. ''People saw it there and liked it,'' Evans said. ''Everybody got the message and wanted one.''

Two years ago, when the pair began their NuSouth clothing line on a few hundred dollars, they had the flag embroidered on their first caps and T-shirts. The two men won't disclose revenue figures, but they say sales took off, and now they're marketing sweaters, jackets, and pullovers nationwide, with a catalog going out this spring to a mailing list of 100,000.

The slashing NuSouth logo is so startling that it nearly springs off the page in ads in recent issues of GQ and Rolling Stone. The ad's copy plays on words from Martin Luther King Jr.'s ''I Have a Dream'' speech: ''For the sons and daughters of former slaves. For the sons and daughters of former slave owners. Threads that connect us. Words that free us.''

Evans says that 70 percent of NuSouth's sales are to white customers.

The line is already popular at House of Culture, a boutique in Boston's Back Bay.

''We've had some of their pieces, and they've done good,'' said Patrick
Petty, the store owner. ''It's teased people and whetted their appetite. We're expecting the full line this spring, and we're already getting calls from people who want to know when it comes in.''

NuSouth is opening its second store in downtown Atlanta in June. Evans says he and his partner would also like to develop an apparel line in a joint venture with the Atlanta Braves, because ''they are the team of the New South.''

Ted Turner, the Braves' owner, has not returned NuSouth's calls, but that has not discouraged the enterprising duo from Charleston.

''We're targeting where you don't expect us,'' said Evans. ''We're
looking at the Republican national convention next year. ... We intend to take on Tommy Hilfiger and all those guys, so they can't say we're just whistling Dixie.''

This story ran on page A01 of the Boston Globe on 03/20/99. Copyright 1999 Globe Newspaper Company.