She’s a former Nation of Islam member turned passionate defender of the Confederate flag — and her views on race, slavery and the South are guaranteed to stir up controversy.
Karen Cooper – a black woman who belongs to a pro-Confederate flag group in Virginia – told a documentary on the rebel flag that she believes it stands for far more than the South’s history of slave ownership, and views it as a symbol of rebellion against an overreaching federal government.
In an interview for the documentary “Battle Flag” she said “I actually think that [the flag] represents freedom… I’m not advocating slavery or think that it was right.”
She acknowledged that her support of the Confederate symbol was bound to turn a few heads.
“I know what people think about when they see the battle flag: the KKK, racism, bringing slavery back. So I knew it would be something for people to see a black woman with the battle flag,” she said.
Cooper said that before she moved to Virginia from New York, she had very different views on racism and the culture of the South. She told the documentary that before moving she belonged to the Nation of Islam, but reconsidered her views when she discovered how inclusive the area really was.
“[The Nation of Islam] believes all races should be separated,” she said. “But when I came down here, we were all together.”
Cooper said that the history of slavery should not be associated with the flag, because slavery wasn’t unique to the South, adding that “it was just something that happened worldwide.”
“Slavery is a choice,” she said. I say that because of what Patrick Henry said: ‘Give me liberty, or give me death.’ If we went back to that kind of slavery — no I couldn’t do it. Give me death.”
Rather than consider the flag an endorsement of slavery, Cooper argues it should be seen as the South’s struggle to declare independence from a burdensome federal government – a cause she says she can associate with.
“I feel I’m a slave now because the federal government does control me,” she said. “What gives them the right to tell me what to do?”
She said that she hopes her involvement in a local advocacy group for the flag will help convince people it is not about race.
“How can it be racist if I’m out there with them?” she added.