Saturday, June 20, 2015

Take Down That Flag

The recent Charleston Massacre has brought attention once again to the issue of the Confederate flag.  If the title of this piece was not a clear enough indicator, then let me say this: the Confederate flag does not belong on any public building, its design should not be included in any segment of a government symbol, and those who choose to fly it proudly should at last open their eyes to what they are doing in reality, whatever their intentions may be.

The design we see today was not the original one for the flag of the Confederate States of America.  No, for the first two years of the Civil War, the official Confederate flag was the Stars and Bars, comprised of two horizontal red stripes and one white one, with a blue field decorated with white stars in the upper left hand corner. 

Look a little familiar?  It certainly did to many Southerners, far too similar to the United States flag that they saw as representing emancipation and racial mixing, among other things.  So the flag was replaced with the basic design we see today, two blue stripes in an elongated "X", with white stars running the length of each emblazoned across a red background.  That is the flag that was carried by Confederate troops for the last two years of the war, a war that never would have been fought if not for the issue of slavery. 

Proponents of the flag will argue that the vast majority of Confederate soldiers did not own slaves.  Very true.  But they fought for a government that was hell-bent on preserving, indeed expanding, that very institution.  Every effort to wrap up the southern cause in "State's Rights," or to label it "The War of Northern Aggression," is simply an effort to bypass or downgrade the real issue, slavery.  The war was about a great many things, but none of them greater than the issue of slavery and its future.

With the war concluded, the flag endured.  It became a symbol of racial attitudes - both North and South - that would turn a blind eye to Jim Crow segregation in the south for an entire century.  It was sanitized to some degree by a wave of glorification of the Ante-bellum South, ranging from the seemingly harmless "Gone With the Wind" to the horrific "Birth of a Nation."  And it re-emerged in stark public view during the Civil Rights movement of the 1950's and 60's, not as a symbol of "Southern Heritage" or even a tribute to Civil War troops who fought for a cause, but now as the banner of segregation.

Somehow such vile connections are easily dismissed.  Walk into thousands of gift shops in the South today and the image of the Confederate flag can be found on t-shirts, bumper stickers, and bandanas.  Drive across the rural areas of the North and find the same flag draped across a garage door or even hanging from a pole mounted by the mailbox.  Is it that a proud southerner lives there?  Or is it more likely a person with racial attitudes and beliefs more amenable to previous centuries?

The "Southern Heritage" argument is a valid one.  It is indeed a part of the South's history.  It was a flag that represented those states that seceded from the United States of America because Abraham Lincoln, a known opponent to the expansion of slavery into the western territories, was elected president.  It was a flag that was carried to the bitter end of that struggle, a flag of a government that sought to continue to subjugate millions of human beings, and was willing to sacrifice its resources, its cities and its young men for such a cause.    

Understand, I do not support the banning of the flag itself.  If a person wants to fly it on their own property, they should be allowed to.  But as it is a symbol of the enslavement of millions of Americans, it should not, it can not, be flown from government institutions anywhere in this land.  And for those who would choose to fly it on their property, as I'm sure this wave of public debate will inspire some to do, know that you fly a symbol of intolerance and hatred when you do so.  Know that it was created as an act of rebellion against the flag of the United States of America and was carried into battle against it, just as the German Swastika and the Japanese Rising Sun were nearly a century later, just as the Jihadist banners of Al Qaeda and ISIS are today. 

It is time to finally take that next step in our nation's evolution and remove that flag from every statehouse, courtroom and classroom in the country.  It has no place other than as a relic to be viewed beneath the display case glass of a museum...alongside so many other remnants of the past.