Tom Petty, decades after making the Confederate flag a part of the iconography of a tour, has come out strongly in support of South Carolina lowering the flag on its statehouse.

Tom Petty On Confederate Flag

“In 1985, I released an album called Southern Accents It began as a concept record about the South, but the concept part slipped away probably 70 percent or so into the album. I just let it go, but the Confederate flag became part of the marketing for the tour,” Petty explained in a piece for Rolling Stone. “I wish I had given it more thought. It was a downright stupid thing to do.”

Petty went on to explain that he’d used the Confederate flag to illustrate the character from whose point of view he sang “Rebel.” After using the flag onstage while performing the song, it started to follow him. Even two years later, Petty’s fans would still show up at his concerts with Confederate flag bandanas and other merchandise. Uncomfortable with his association with the flag, Petty gave a speech asking his fans to stop bringing it to shows.

“Fortunately, that went away, but it left me feeling stupid,” Petty wrote. “That’s the word I can use. I felt stupid. If I had just been a little more observant about things going on around me, it wouldn’t have happened.”

Growing up in the South, Petty has an understanding of the culture that still proudly waves the rebel flag. He understands its ties to Southern pride, separate from its racist connotations. However, he doesn’t think that the two things really can be separated, particularly for a black person looking at the flag.

“It isn’t necessarily racism. They just don’t like Yankees. They don’t like the North. But when they wave that flag, they aren’t stopping to think how it looks to a black person,” wrote Petty. “I blame myself for not doing that. I should have gone around the fence and taken a good look at it.”

Broadening his message, Petty went on to write about the ways in which race issues still plague the United States, especially when it comes to police brutality and incarceration rates.

“As a country, we should be more concerned with why the police are getting away with targeting black men and killing them for no reason. That’s a bigger issue than the flag,” wrote Petty. “Years from now, people will look back on today and say, “You mean we privatized the prisons so there’s no profit unless the prison is full?” You’d think someone in kindergarten could figure out how stupid that is. We’re creating so many of our own problems.”

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