Pioneer Past: A history of activism

Maggie Chang, News Reporter

On October 4, 1971, a Whitman alum sent the school newspaper (previously called The Pioneer) a letter urging the editor to denounce the students responsible for flying the school flag backwards on the day President Nixon visited the Walla Walla community. On October 21, 1971, the letter was published in the Pioneer along with a response from the then current editor. Although the article was written years ago, many of the concerns voiced in this exchange carry over into modern day, considering the commonalities between both time periods – including nationwide anxiety over the President’s credibility and the increasingly tense political climate.




Whitman College

Walla Walla, Washington 99362

Dear Sir:

As a proud graduate of Whitman College and onetime Editor of the PIONEER, I respectfully suggest that you, as its current editor, should seriously consider a front page editorial in the next issue condemning those responsible for disrespectfully flying our campus flag backwards on the day President Nixon honored our community with his presence.

This shameful act should not be overlooked in the College newspaper, particularly when the President went out of his way to commend Whitman. No doubt, you will republish the story and a picture of Nixon’s acceptance of the Whitman College football jersey. That will not be enough to offset the stupid insult to our Flag and to the office of our President.

Irrespective of political considerations, you, as a newspaper editor, as a United States citizen should accept responsibility to patriotically denounce such an obvious affront to the College, this community and to our nation.

Such an editorial action will help to restore confidence in the integrity of the Whitman College PIONEER in downtown Walla Walla and among the Alumni of this great College.

Please publish this letter in the PIONEER.


[Authors name redacted]

Whitman College A.B. 1923


Editor’s reply:

In this complicated world, comfort may occasionally be found by slipping into a cloud of nostalgia and fantasy. However, this simplistic direction can never solve problems or answer questions, especially when dealing with such abstruse concepts as politics, citizenship, or patriotism.

You ask me to denounce a symbolic display of beliefs, irrespective of political considerations. Yet the very crux of your request grounds itself in political consideration (Politics – the policies, goals or affairs of the parties within a government.) I am dissatisfied with the politics of Richard M. Nixon. I want the Vietnam War to end; I want hedging on racial and social problems to end; I want concern for human beings and this land to take precedence over concern for bigger and better bombs which will destroy both.

I do not subscribe to flippant disrespect, but neither do I uphold amaurotic patriotism. I do not know exactly why students chose to fly the flag backwards when Nixon came to Walla Walla, except that they were expressing a dissatisfaction in a visual way. If their actions grew from an immature desire for attention or an incogitant rebellion, then I cannot condone them. But I believe that they were sincere in their complaint to Richard M. Nixon.

In contrast, [Authors name redacted], I find your concern for the President’s recognition of our own Whitman College, and his presence as some omnipotent force to be watched in awe, a shallow reflex. Failure to accept Nixon’s friendly banter with the team as a publicity stunt as it was is a sad denial of truth. Raising the meaning of this encounter to anything more is pure fantasy. This is not to say there is anything wrong with this play on the innocuous subject of football. Any political figure must kiss babies and eat apple pie to create a favorable image for the mass of voters who are “just plain folk.”

The insult was not directed to the flag, the office of the President, or democracy. It was directed to Richard M. Nixon, the man who is acting as the leader of this nation, the man who is not doing the job he should be doing. This action was a free expression of emotion and attitude which I see to be protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

A problem I see arising from this controversy does not deal even directly with the act of flying the flag sideways. My fear is that students will continue to complain and protest without coupling these activities with the tool of voting. Young people have been a vociferous political group in the past decade. But if they fail to take the opportunity to register their feelings through active solicitation of candidates and voting, they will not be exerting themselves to fullest capacity. That is my concern with a backwards flag, [Authors name redacted].

Patriotism is not synonymous with respect for the President; it is love and support for one’s country. And because of concern for this country, I criticize and question Richard M. Nixon, for his actions as President are not in the best interest of this country.

The integrity of the Pioneer is not dependent upon blind acceptance of anyone’s beliefs or policies, and it certainly cannot stem from any hypocrisy on my part. In all honesty [Authors name redacted], I don’t care about the reactions of the Walla Walla community or Whitman alums especially if you are asking me to ignore my own beliefs.

Gloria J. Harris [Former Editor of the Pioneer]