Ever since the Confederate Flag was removed from the top of the SC State House back in the year 2000 I had had it in my mind that it had been placed somewhere on the west side of the State House grounds. Last year on a visit to Columbia I was strolling around the university area and downtown and I walked up the stairs of the State House. I've always liked sitting up there.
It's hard for me not to envision that horrific photo taken from the same spot in 1865 looking out on the city burned and destroyed. I try to picture in my mind that horrible day and week, and I give thanks that the cause of so many of my great great grandfathers (and one great grandfather) did not in the end prevail.
It's perhaps part of the uniqueness of southern culture and identity that I have always had a tendency to consider myself first a southerner and South Carolinian, and then an American. I exaggerate somewhat but the association with my home state and region is deep.
And I always thought it a profound offense to the people of my home state to have the Confederate battle flag flying on top of our State House. I say that as a son of the Confederacy many times over.
What surprised me last summer sitting up top of the State House steps was finding the Confederate flag in such a prominent position on the grounds. Looking FROM the State House steps toward downtown it is the Confederate flag one mainly sees. Approaching the State House from Main Street the flag is perhaps even more prominent now than when it was on top of the dome. I had just been unaware of this the last ten years, and was quite taken back.
I wanted to write about it then but a SC friend suggested it would not be appreciated and might close doors for me as to work in my state. It's pretty sensitive stuff apparently.
Southern secession, the Civil War and the Confederate Flag are an unexcisable part of the history and heritage of South Carolina and many other states. I'm not sure these things should be celebrated, but they should be remembered, and there is a place for monuments and flags and exhibits in their memory. Just not in front of the State House. It its current position and prominence the Confederate flag's presence feels more like a celebration, or if not that a direct statement as to a current identification with the Confederate cause.
The Confederate flag is also, quite understandably and rightfully, a cause of profound offense to a very large part of South Carolina's population. Try as many do (in needful revisions to revisionist history) to disconnect slavery causally from the Civil War, well, it is just not credible. In fact the inordinate political turmoil and sectional politics of the latter first half of the 19th century was due largely to the slavery question and rooted deeply in and around the institution of slavery. There is a direct organic line of causality between the very first importation of African people's here as slaves and what eventually became our darkest hour as a nation. There is no way to disassociate the Confederate flag from the unspeakable inhumanity of the enslavement of millions of human beings by other human beings. I know the hundred objections that may follow. I also know that not one of them holds water.
The Confederate flag in its current placement and position is morally, socially, and spiritually oppressive. It is an unkindness of gargantuan proportions. It's time to finish the job and move the flag - again.
The Memorial honoring the Confederate dead is appropriate and quite prominent enough. One might like to see a Memorial honoring the enslaved dead given as much prominence. And I can see a Confederate flag placed on the west side of the Grounds perhaps, accompanied by a sober and non celebratory Memorial, one that honors the profound deep historical significance and human/cultural/economic cost of the War Between the States.
In the end the Confederate cause is one not worthy of celebration. The untold human stories of bravery and kindness in the midst of the conflict may well be worth celebrating, but not the cause itself.
To this day when I read books about the Civil War, and about battles where the Confederate side lost, I feel a kind of aching sadness. I cannot watch the Ken Burns documentary without coming to tears over and over again. At some visceral level I identify with the South even in her very worst moments. But waking up from pulling again for the military underdog (when I wish that we had taken Little Round Top and wished Lee had not sent Picket up that hill) I give thanks for defeat, and feel a deep sorrow for the centuries of oppression and enslavement that ultimately led to those two great armies clashing in the fields and woods and hills of Gettysburg.
And now, today, we need to stop poking our African American neighbors in the eye, or maybe more accurately, in the heart. The flag needs to move. Let's finish what we started in 2000. Love demands it.