New symbol applied to a flag, flying on a flagpole. Blue and red diagonal stripes intersect from the left and right.
New symbol applied to a flag, flying on a flagpole. Blue and red diagonal stripes intersect from the left and right.
Gus Granger
Sep 7 · 4 min read

In the summer of 2015, I began conversations with the producers at WNYC Studio 360 about our team working on their latest project in their redesign series — imagining a symbol to represent the modern South.

This invitation arrived in the wake of the terrorist attack in Charlottesville, Virginia, which reignited the debate about how the Confederacy is celebrated and memorialized.

In many ways, we were the right team at the right time to take on this challenge. A team led by two creative directors directly descended of civil war veterans from both sides of the conflict. Both genuinely driven to bridge the divide of rancor and try to start a conversation that might begin to have people to listen to each other and heal old — generationally old — wounds. No small task. Some might say, and did say, we were foolish.

The result of the project was electrifying. Starting on September 23rd, the radio program about the project aired to millions over the course of a week, to NPR affiliates across the United States and to a global online audience.

We earned praise from Fast Company, Brand New, and even AL.com, the largest news site in the Deep South state of Alabama, and provoked distain from the Tea Party, Dixie Outfitters and from a most unexpected, that I learned about from an old friend via Facebook:

Screen shot of a Facebook messenger exchange, letting Gus know that Rush Limbaugh is talking about the project on his program
Screen shot of a Facebook messenger exchange, letting Gus know that Rush Limbaugh is talking about the project on his program

Rush Limbaugh and his 16 millions listeners. Each time a news story ran, in the social media verse we would get a new peppering of applause, criticism and the occasional threat. One local woman even threatened us with a boycott.

Back home, the Dallas Observer’s Jim Schutze wrote a cover story about our adventure, one that I found to be the most thoughtful analysis of not just the project but the south and its struggle with its past.

Photos of Dallas Observer newspapers on display in newspaper boxes and a tray.
Photos of Dallas Observer newspapers on display in newspaper boxes and a tray.
Photo of the seven person creative team at 70kft. They have bars as a graphics over their eyes, to obscure their identities.
Photo of the seven person creative team at 70kft. They have bars as a graphics over their eyes, to obscure their identities.
Photographer Sebron Snyder, created an image for the Dallas Observer cover story that perfectly captured the atmosphere around the office at that point.

Without a doubt, we were proud of the work. We were proud of the conversations the project provoked. But there was a new energy permeating the office — fear. We’d had a couple of phone calls come in that were concerning. We were locking doors that formerly didn’t need to be locked. We were engaging our building’s security guards for additional vigilance. We had a tension between wanting to shine a spotlight on the project and that same spotlight illuminating a team of people that could potentially be targets of neo-Confederates.

Stefan Reddick and Gus Granger speaking about the Modern South project at the 2016 AIGA National Design Conference
Stefan Reddick and Gus Granger speaking about the Modern South project at the 2016 AIGA National Design Conference

The following year, after giving a presentation about the project at the AIGA National Conference in Las Vegas, designer, author and activist Mike Monteiro attended our session and asked why we stopped pushing the project. We’d struck a nerve and had an opportunity to make an even bigger impact by stepping on the gas, instead of hitting the brakes. My answer? My team didn’t sign up for activism. We’d increasingly felt like targets, and it’s something that I wasn’t comfortable imposing on our people and their families. One person expressed fear looking into their backyard at night, wondering if someone was looming in the shadows and interested in registering their disapproval with an act of vandalism or violence. It was enough.

To date, this project is something I’m the most proud of. Proud of the team and the small impact we’d made on the discussion of race, history and justice.

You can see the full project here at thesouth.us

Gus Granger

Written by

Personal blog for Chief Creative Officer for Cyxtera, a global data center and cybersecurity leader—the new home of the award winning 70kft creative team.

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