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Sunday, January 17, 2010

Time to Finish the Job with the Confederate Flag

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.

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

If the Confederate battle flag is removed from the Capitol grounds it needs to be replaced with a statue of General Sherman.

Joel said...

Yeah, that makes sense.

Joel said...

Not

Edwin Sineath said...

No, actually, it really does make sense. The sentiment that would remove the flag is the same that would want a statue of General Sherman erected on Capitol grounds. What is actually flying is the Naval Jack. The battle flag was a square, not rectangular like the Jack. I wouldn't have a problem with no Confederate flag at all. My best case scenario is flying from the dome of the Capitol building is the State Flag with the Yankee flag underneath it. This would far better represent what it means to be a Southerner and it would also smoke out the real reasons for the dislike of the Confederate flag.

Edwin Sineath said...

What does it mean to be a Southerner? I think The Ballad of Easy Rider comes close to answering this question. Billy and Captain America were true Confederates, IMHO. All they wanted was to be free. In the world of Yankee hegemony, this desire is a capital offense.

The river flows
It flows to the sea
Wherever that river goes
That's where I want to be
Flow river flowst

Edwin Sineath said...

Joel,
Check this:

http://www.dickgregory.com/dick/conferate_flag.html

Joel said...

I think that the Easy Rider take is a very limited/simplified one as to what it means to be Southerner, or what it is that makes one identify oneself as a Southerner, and of course there is no one view of that anyway. And then there is the irony of wanting to be free from Yankee hegemony while allowing the subjugation of slaves and/or the extension of the "liberty" of doing what one wants with one's possessions (African slaves). States rights cannot and should not be a notion that one uses to deny the rightful liberty to individuals, especially the right not to be owned by other individuals. There is no legitimate way to dissociate the Confederate flag from the institution of slavery, since it was largely that institution and the debate over its extension that created the sectional politics of the early to mid 19th century. arguments over loss of liberty, when that liberty meant the enslavement of others, were and always have been hollow.

I think it is just silly to equate removing the Confederate Flag with putting up a statue of Sherman. Better that a modern Southern state not be defined by either.

Joel said...

Being opposed to the Confederate flag on top of the Statehouse or in such a prominent place on the grounds is not the same as agreeing with the tactics of the NAACP. It's too bad that the issue even exists for the NAACP to exploit. One should do the right thing because it's right not because of a boycott or bad press created by a special interest group. The issue of the Confederate flag is hardly the most pressing issue facing African Americans, and it's just too bad for everyone that the flag issue is available to be such a distraction.

Anonymous said...

"There is no legitimate way to dissociate the Confederate flag from the institution of slavery, since it was largely that institution and the debate over its extension that created the sectional politics of the early to mid 19th century. arguments over loss of liberty, when that liberty meant the enslavement of others, were and always have been hollow."

Same can be said of the US flag. Slavery existed for 4 years under the Confederate Flag and for 80+ years under the Stars and Stripes.

The demonization of the Confederate flag began 30 or so years ago when the KKK adopted it enmass as their symbol. The PC crowd jumped in and made the flag their object of hate, not those who misappropriated it.

Look at photos of national Klan marches in DC in the early decades of the century. The stars and stripes are carried proudly.

Joel said...

The KKK is not the issue. This is 2010. The fact that slavery existed in the United states and even northern states for 80+ years is irrelevant except perhaps to point out northern hypocrisy. Northern hypocrisy isn't the point either. The political and sectional division that led up to the Civil war had everything to do with the institution of slavery and its extension into the newer western states and the future balance or imbalance of "slave" and "non slave" states. southern states fought politically for extension of slavery into the territories and new states. As they did they made and presented countless terrible arguments for the institution and the fundamental inferiority of the black race. The Confederate flag is the flag of a nation that demanded and insisted upon the right to slave ownership. It is impossible to disassociate the Confederate flag from the Confederate cause. This has nothing to do with political correctness, not in my mind anyway. It does have to do with love of neighbor, or the woeful lack of it.

walk2write said...

Joel, it's going to take another generation or two to pass away until this "do unto others before they have a chance to do it unto you" sentiment between the races disappears...maybe more. I can still hear my husband's grandmother (from Illinois, mind you) remarking to my kids when they were toddlers and had passed gas that they had just "shot another ------." We limited the kids' exposure to granny after that. How sad...

Sam said...

I'm proud of the positive aspects of my Southern heritage (and yes, I believe those exist), and I am well aware of the fact that many people not from the South hate us white Southerners. It bothers me to no end, but I long ago accepted the fact that sanctimony is endemic to the human condition.
As for whatever iteration of the Confederate military/government banner hangs from SC government grounds, I am reminded that many states--perhaps SC, too, though I don't know that--added the Confederate element to their state flag displays (or flags themselves) to protest federal efforts to end segregation. Without getting into an argument over the 10th Amendment, the simple fact to my eyes is that this defiance was rooted in de facto racism. That alone should propel SC and other states where this might still apply to do the right thing and keep these relics in museums, memorials to fallen Confederate soldiers, etc., and not on state grounds.
As for the American flag ... I won't hang that cursed banner on any property I own. The U.S. federal government has a long history of barbaric behavior. I'm all for the peaceful decentralization/secession of any state or region of the country that desires it, be it Vermont, Hawaii, or anywhere else.

Anonymous said...

Is the flag still there? I really hope it is. I don't care about giving offense to a segment of the population of SC, who rape and mug us with wild abandon, I care about our heritage and our freedom.