Meet the Southern, African American artist who paints the Confederate flag

CHARLESTON, Va. -- Leo Twiggs, a son of the South, sees life as a series of crossings. That's why the 83-year-old artist has spent four decades painting a recurring symbol: The Confederate flag. He has finished hundreds of them.

He says he paints the Confederate flag as a symbol because he thinks "the South is full of contradictions. We've got Southern hospitality and then we have segregation, and they seem at opposite ends."

That flag resurfaced in Charlottesville over the weekend.

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Artist Leo Twiggs says he paints the Confederate flag as a "tattered and worn relic of the past."

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Twiggs first saw both as a boy in South Carolina, watching klansmen wave it as they paraded through his hometown. Segregation marched through his life, too.

"You couldn't go to any of the white schools," Twiggs said.  "I went to NYU because at the time the state would pay your way to another university ... Paid me to go away."

In 1970, he became the first black student to earn a doctor of arts at the University of Georgia. Twiggs became one of the South's most acclaimed artists.

His paintings of this flag represent his journey and the South's.

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Leo Twiggs

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"I make it a tattered and worn relic of the past that should be in a museum and yet we see it flying around as if the war is still going on ... alive and present," Twiggs said.

It was for Dylann Roof. After he massacred nine black worshippers at the Mother Emmanuel church, South Carolina lowered that flag over the state Capitol. It faded from view, much like in the paintings of Leo Twiggs.

"I call it our finest moment," Twiggs said. "Mother Emmanuel is not an isolated incident. It is part of the African American story. It is the stony road we trod. I hope these flags create an atmosphere for conversation ... what can I do?"

Charlottesville reflected the message of Leo Twiggs: Something America has yet to cross over.

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Leo Twiggs in the process of painting.

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  • Mark Strassmann

    Mark Strassmann was named CBS News Transportation correspondent in August 2011. He has been a CBS News correspondent since January 2001, and is based in the Atlanta bureau.