When Henry Darby raised questions about a Confederate flag on The Citadel campus a few weeks ago, the military college showed its class by responding with the appropriate concern and respect.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for some of the school's alumni.

Even though the issue of the Naval Jack in Summerall Chapel is over and done with, and even though the Charleston County councilman agreed to move on after a state attorney general's opinion said that the flag is legally protected, Darby is still getting hate mail.

He's gotten at least 200 messages by phone and email - and they are still rolling in. A good number of these messages come from people identifying themselves as Citadel alumni, several of whom address Darby with a very nasty racial slur that begins with the letter "N."

"I've been called a racist, a Communist and the N-word so many times I'm just immune now," Darby says.

When these dimwits use such language in their attacks, all it does is hurt their school and undermine the argument that their concern about protecting Confederate history has nothing to do with racial issues.

These people ought to be ashamed.

A little empathy, please

Darby did not stir all this up to grab headlines or create controversy.

Two of his constituents - white folks, by the way - expressed concerns after noticing the Confederate flag hanging in Summerall Chapel. They felt it was inappropriate.

A lot of people felt otherwise. After all, The Citadel played a major role in the War Between the States - it is part of the school's history. And besides, the flag is part of a display of more than 50 flags.

It's not like the flag was sitting on the Statehouse dome.

Reasonable people can disagree here, but there is no excuse for using racial slurs. Anyone who knows anything about history should understand how asinine and inappropriate that is. The Confederate flag has been co-opted by hate groups and was waved in the face of African-Americans by folks opposing their civil rights.

Yes, you can argue that flag was the banner of the rank-and-file troops in the Civil War, the vast majority of whom did not own slaves or believe that slavery had anything to do with their fight.

But the Confederacy was established by a bunch of rich white guys almost exclusively to preserve their right to own other human beings.

Anyone with good sense should understand why that is a tad insensitive. But apparently, some folks are short on sense.

Learn some history

Darby did not want any publicity about these personal attacks.

But he told Teddie Pryor about it, even showed the county council chairman an email from someone identifying himself as a Citadel graduate. The note suggested Darby's efforts had backfired and would cause him great harm.

The man claimed it was not a threat. Of course, he also said Darby is a racist, so what does he know?

Pryor was deeply offended by these attacks on Darby.

"He took the high road and these people took him apart, so I'm going to stand up for him," Pryor says. "His constituents brought this to him. It's his job. If somebody brings something to me, it is my responsibility to investigate. If the Sons of Confederate Veterans came to me and asked me to do something, I would do what I could to address their concerns."

Likewise, The Citadel was horrified to learn that people identifying themselves as alumni would address anyone in such a manner. Gen. Mike Steele, chairman of the college's Board of Visitors, says that's not the Citadel way.

"As an institution, one of our core values is respect," Steele said Friday. "We respect Councilman Darby's opinion and the county council's willingness to move forward. We have too much to focus on together as a partner with county council for this to continue to be a divisive issue."

That's exactly what Darby has tried to do, but answering all these calls and emails won't allow it. The fact that he takes the time to respond to people who call him racist, and then use racial slurs themselves, speaks volumes about the man. And his attackers.

But Darby says he holds no ill will toward anyone.

"I think people are sensitive about this issue, and some people don't know how to express themselves when they are angry," Darby says.

That is a kind assessment. Too kind, in fact.

The truth is, some people are just unreconstructed. And if these people spent half as much time studying history as they do trying to justify it, we'd be a lot better off.

When people use racial slurs while defending the Confederate flag, all it does is make Darby's concerns seem justified.

Reach Brian Hicks at bhicks@postandcourier.com