I was in big trouble on a number of occasions because starting when I was only four or five years old in Kindergarten, something basic in my understanding about government and, and social relations forbid me from saluting the flag. And at that time, when I was four or five, which is, say, around 1930 or so, the requirement was to pledge allegiance by extending your arm forward like this. It was only several years later that the authorities figured out, well, this is a little bit incorrect because of the way it was done in, in Hitler Germany. And so they corrected it and pulled the- so that now and, and later on you pledge allegiance by holding your hand to your chest. But whether it was out here or down here it was still, I felt, an unnecessary kind of act of super-patriotism. And saluting a flag and- a piece of fabric, you know- I thought that I could be a better citizen by really being one than identifying myself with a, with an object. I don't know that I can explain it that way, but anyway I ran into trouble every time I would move on to another grade of school. So in the first grade, the teacher sent me to the Principal and I had to explain things to the Principal. And no matter what he said I was not going to salute the flag, and he recognized that early on. And, and then each year I went through the same thing. Each new teacher had to be informed- from my being the only one that would refuse to pledge allegiance- that I wasn't about to do it. And so I got away with it. But many years later, which is to say maybe five years ago, I was helping someone make a film in Sing Sing- the famous prison not so far from New York. And I was accompanied by a writer who took me to Sing Sing because he was doing a special thing with a group of some 15 prisoners who were all graduates of college but got their degree from studying those four years in prison. And they were typical of that prison population- black, Puerto Ricans, pretty much. And so the thing was that they were asked to write something autobiographical. And then, that each person would get up and talk about it. Well, one of these prisoners, a black guy, got up and told the story of how he refused to salute the flag. And for reasons that went even beyond mine; because he felt that the country wasn't quite worth that kind of devotion as long as there was so much anti-black prejudice. And he said that his, in his experience if he refused to salute the flag, he was sent to the Principal, the Principal gave him a note to give his father. He gave the note to his father and his father beat him up so badly that he ended up in the hospital for eight days. And- but, of course, he couldn't talk about how it had happened because he didn't want to get his father in trouble. Well, when I told him my story, we connected so- so beautifully and we remain good friends to this day.
Albert Maysles (b. 1926), known for his important documentaries on Muhammad Ali, Jimi Hendrix and The Beatles, pioneered the documentary style known as Direct Cinema. He helped create techniques still widely used in modern documentary production, as well as many of the techniques used in reality TV.
Title: Refusal to salute the American flag from a very early age
Rebekah Maysles, daughter of Albert Maysles, is an artist living between New York and Philadelphia. She has her own line of clothing, Blackberryrose, and co-runs the store Sodafine in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, New York, a vintage and handmade store that sells clothing, books and other products made by artists.
Sara Maysles, daughter of Albert Maysles, is currently doing her BA in East Asian Studies at Columbia University, and working as an Archivist of the photographs and photographic material at Maysles Films Inc., Albert‚s film production company. She spent ten months out of two years working with Tibetan refugees at a center in Nepal, and continues to travel back and forth between America and Asia.
Tamara Tracz is a writer and filmmaker based in London.
Germany, Sing Sing, New York, Adolf Hitler
4 minutes, 37 seconds
Date story recorded:
Date story went live:
24 January 2008