Brian Burgess shows off his new rifle in the bedroom of his family’s trailer in Princeton, W.Va., Saturday, Nov. 14, 2015. “If an enemy came up the road right now, only thing I would have to do is holler real loud and they would all join the fight. We’re all kin here,” says Burgess.
A poster of Christ covers the boarded up entrance of a warehouse in Princeton, W.Va., Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2015. Christianity is the primary practiced religion in Princeton, however resident Linda Burgess asserts about their beliefs, “I believe in the good lord above, I just don’t go to church. Too many hypocrites inside a church.”
Devon Burgess, 9, holds a tin of chewing tobacco while watching TV in his trailer home in Princeton, W.Va., Saturday, Nov. 14, 2015. Burgess lives in the four-room trailer with his parents and five siblings. Burgess’ brother dressed up as the KKK for Halloween. Burgess comments, “I got to say for myself I got some buddies that are black, but I stand for the rebel flag.”
On Halloween, 2015 a local news station out of Princeton, West Virginia reported two trick- or-treaters dressed in the white robes of the Ku Klux Klan. The broadcast suggested two teenagers, ages 14 and 15, were sending an unspecified white supremacist message to threaten the area. One of the boys was the son of Brian and Linda Burgess. The Burgess’ are not members of the KKK, but see their son’s costume as no different from dressing up as a scary clown. It’s this kind of ignorance that’s easy to resent, but they also live in an America that is slowly disappearing. These photographs of the Burgess family explore how symbols associated with slavery and racially motivated acts of terrorism such as the Confederate flag and the masks of the KKK can become symbols of pride and personal identity. None of the six Burgess children have cell phones, but they all know how to shoot a gun, chop wood, fix cars, and take care of their younger siblings. They have a deep sense of family loyalty. The Burgess’ cannot clearly articulate the history of the KKK, or indeed the Confederate flag. It’s become a brand, a sort of prideful Redneck hipsterism, along with the increased sales of camouflaged overalls; it’s about “rebel” status and having a sense of power or control despite crushing poverty.
When events like the shooting in Charleston, South Carolina in June 2015 throw symbols like the confederate flag into the spotlight, and the racist rhetoric of Donald Trump has contributed to-or at least not diminished- his lead in the polls, it’s troubling to realize that a significant percentage of Americans must support these symbols and ideals- but who are these American citizens, and what is driving them to identify with symbols of hate? It’s important to get to know the Burgess family; not in an attempt to somehow justify their actions, but to understand the idea of “Rebel Pride” and what it means in an America still torn by racially motivated violence.Follow