Charged Meaning of the Confederate Flag

June 25, 2015

Charged Meaning of the Confederate Flag

              Since the shootings in an iconic African-American church in Charleston, South Carolina, by a young white man full of hate, the governor has called for the removal of the Confederate flag from the statehouse grounds.

              Governor Nikki Haley performed a brave one-eighty from previous statements, saying that the ambush and massacre of nine members of the Emanuel African Methodist-Episcopal Church has changed the meaning of the Confederate flag.

              Long an eyesore for African Americans, some whites nonetheless defended the display of the Confederate flag as a fond reminder of a noble heritage, a respectful remembrance of those who fought for the South in the Civil War. Their defense was based on the First Amendment right to flap Confederate colors wherever they pleased. I suppose that if a person wants to decorate a bedroom wall with a Confederate flag, he has the right to shout his poor taste to all who enter. If someone wants it as a logo on his pickup, he has the right to alienate the majority of people who see it and then draw their own conclusions. It has no place on the lawn of the statehouse in Charleston.  

              Besides, the Confederate flag is an anachronism, representing a bygone patriotism. The fact that it is unappealing to those not of a like mind, is an encouragement to many flag-wavers. It says, “Look at me, I’m Johnny Reb.”

              Today, there’s a more insidious issue. Haters like Dylann Root gain encouragement from it. Having nothing healthier to identify with, Root brandished it as if to say the South got a raw deal by having to stay in the Union and figure a way to produce tobacco, sugar cane, and cotton without slaves. . . . Well, Root probably doesn’t know even that much history. He did fear African-Americans and saw their equality as a threat. He attached his own dissatisfaction to a black face, so much so that he could look at a group of them and shoot to kill. That flag is an emblem of hate, thanks to Root and others like him.

              I have never been particularly proud of the Confederate flag. The Sons of the Confederacy is one organization outspoken in defense of the flag. To them it pays homage to those who died in the bloodiest of wars. It was more than just slavery they fought for—it was an agrarian mindset and way of life that valued independence (except for that of the slaves and the poor sharecroppers) and states’ rights (but not the rights of humans not considered fully human). It should be noted that some who did not endorse slavery fought for the South because they felt exploited by the North and felt regional loyalty, Robert E. Lee being a prime example. And those profiting from the slave trade lived in the financial centers of both the North and South. Also, sentimentality for Dixieland was undergirded by the policies of Reconstruction and encouraged nostalgia for the flag. Ultimately, the Civil War wasn’t a clear battle of Good (North) versus Evil (South).

              Because of the haters, the Confederate flag has become an emblem of hate.

              I can acknowledge my southern roots without parading the Confederate flag.

              My great-grandfather, William S. Rude, got drafted into the Confederate Army in his mid-teens. His parents had sent him to the Virginia Military Institute, probably to keep him out of the fray. But he got kicked out for being “out of quarters” at night. Maybe he was out drinking , tom-catting, or playing a prank. He got the boot and went off to battle. He was injured and captured right away and sent to a former slave market that the Union had repurposed as a POW camp. There’s poetic justice in a former slave market being converted to a prison facility for captured Confederates, but I feel a bit sorry Grandpa Rude faced such danger and hardship, like thousands of others, at such a young age. It was winter, and he would have died of exposure, except the women of the city formed an adopt-a-prisoner program. His sponsor gave him a full-length wool coat that saved his life. They stayed in touch for years.

              The Last Will and Testament of another grandfather of mine (a great-great) passed along slaves to his heirs. He ordered that some be sold off and that others, mentioned by name, be given to his daughters and sons-in-law, along with the mules and livestock. Chills and a tinge of nausea visited me as I read that will. Not proud. So, while I like Margaret Mitchell’s narrative technique and character development, I’m not nostalgic about the dear ol’ South.

              Keeping in mind that they didn’t choose where they were born or how they would be raised to embrace certain now-reprehensible ideas, I don’t consider it a source of pride that my ancestors were enmeshed in that lifestyle. That’s why I don’t give a rip if I never see another Confederate flag.

              Too bad decent taste in this matter has to be legislated and fought out in the courts.

              The CSA flag belongs in an archive or museum, under glass, but put some moths in with it. It’s history, not an emblem of anything relevant or constructive today.

              I’m so happy that the Charleston community has bonded rather than fracturing into riots. Nothing but the force of love could accomplish this under these tragic circumstances.

              Those who cling to the old Confederate symbol do so from nostalgia and a misguided sense of importance of heritage and genealogy. In the name of love and unity with the victims of the Charleston community, I'm in complete agreement with the governor.

             

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