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Man Who Hung Confederate Flags Calls Them 'Beautiful,' Says He's No Bigot

By Allegra Hobbs | August 24, 2017 3:59pm
 William Green said he would have taken down the Confederate flags hanging in his windows if he had been in the city when recent events in Charlottesville occurred.
William Green said he would have taken down the Confederate flags hanging in his windows if he had been in the city when recent events in Charlottesville occurred.
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Paul Bakija/Inset Courtesy of William Green

EAST VILLAGE — The tenant whose apartment window display of Confederate flags sparked mayhem last week called them "beautiful" historical symbols that have nothing to do with racism — claiming had no idea about the controversy his display caused because he was out of town.

William Green, 43, said he was shocked to return to his apartment at 403 E. Eighth St. after a weekslong vacation to discover the extent of the outrage his two Confederate battle flags had suddenly created, moving one man to hurl rocks at the building and another to punch through Green's apartment window while he was away.

The flags had been there for roughly a year, and Green had never received a complaint, he said.

He acknowledged that he understood the recent events in Charlottesville, Virginia, prompted the sudden outburst, noting that if he'd been home at the time, he probably would have taken the flags down

"If I was here in the city when all of that happened I likely would have taken them down myself, but I was not here when that happened," he said of the Charlottesville incident, in which a woman was killed after a white supremacist rally where many of the attendees carried Confederate flags.

"If my neighbors had come to me, face to face, then I would have [taken them down]," he said.

Instead, he was alerted to the mayhem via email by his landlord, who later filed a lawsuit against Green to keep the flags down and threatened to evict him. The owner dropped the lawsuit just two days after it was filed, records show, and Green said they are back on good terms.

"He was panicking," he said of property owner Charles Yassky. "And who could blame him? It's still hard to believe."

However, Green maintained that the display shouldn't be conflated with bigotry.

"[Racism] is still is a problem, that I agree, but pegging the Confederate flag as a symbol of it isn’t helping anybody," he said. "It is a gross misrepresentation of that flag. It really is a beautiful flag representing sacrifice and commitment."

Alarmed locals started circulating photos of the flags hanging in the windows on social media days after the deadly Charlottesville rally, with some of the comments on widely shared Facebook posts suggested throwing rocks or bricks through the windows. 

A man was then caught on video Wednesday morning hurling rocks at the building and yelling that the flags must be taken down, calling their presence a "hate crime." 

Then, on Friday night,a DJ who lives around the corner from the building became so agitated by the flags he climbed down the fire escape and punched out one of Green's windows. He was arrested that night and charged with criminal mischief

Because the flags were lit up in the windows at night, many assumed Green was home and refusing to confront his neighbors. 

But the tenant had been in the Pocono Mountains with his boyfriend since earlier in the month with limited Internet access, and his lights were automated to give the impression he was home as a way to discourage break-ins, he explained.

Green insisted he originally put up the flags because he loves their historical significance, which he argued had very little to do with slavery. He claimed both the Union and the Confederacy agreed during the Civil War that "the institution [of slavery] had to go, but the problem was figuring out how it would go."

Green's explanation of the flag's significance that he submitted to his landlord after he was asked to take them down reads: "THE DIXIELAND FLAG WILL ALWAYS REPRESENT THE 400,000 CONFEDERATE FATHERS THAT LOVED THEIR COUNTRY THE WAY THEIR GOD LOVED THE WORLD."

Additionally, a pair of Iron Cross flags that previously adorned his windows — which he said represent Imperial Germany, not Nazi Germany — as well as the Israeli flags that hung there were meant to be tributes to the history of the East Village, he said.

"The history of this neighborhood is German and Jewish," he enthused, adding the Iron Cross was the "flag of the German immigrants who came here."

Originally from the Jersey Shore, Green's father was a cross-country truck driver whose trips gave him an appreciation for Southern culture.

"My early childhood memories are in his truck going up and down the Eastern seaboard and into the Midwest, so I have an appreciation for the honest, simple, hardworking nature of Southern culture that still pervades today," he said.

Green said he has lived in the East Village since he was 17 years old, when he got an illegal sublet in the Jacob Riis Houses across the street. He has lived in his current rent-stabilized apartment since 1996.

The lawsuit filed against him last weekend dredged up old baggage between he and his landlord from a 2006 eviction attempt, he said, adding they are now on good terms.

Commenting on DNAinfo's story on the lawsuit, he said the suicide attempt alleged in the suit was a lie.

Green's recent troubles haven't stopped with the flag display, as he was recently expelled from the College of Staten Island after a spat with his professor over his thesis on Thomas Jefferson, he said.

Asked whether he planned to keep the flags down, Green said the Confederate flag would stay down for at least a year, though he might reintroduce the Iron Cross flags to mark the 100-year anniversary of the fall of the German Empire.

So far, there haven't been any run-ins following his return to the East Village, he said, adding he just wants to move on and put the whole conflict behind him. He doesn't even hold a grudge against Keen for punching his window, he said.

"There's a great wisdom to forgiveness," Green said.