All of my life I’ve heard nauseous quips, such as, “the South will rise again!” and “Lee surrendered; I didn’t!” Born in Jackson, Mississippi, in August of 1970, I grew up mostly in southeast Alabama. Now, mind you, I was never fully accepted as a Southerner because my whole family was deemed “damn Yankees,” but I’ve certainly soaked up enough of the old Confederacy to speak knowledgeably and confidently on controversial subjects, like the public display of the Confederate flag. Before launching into this (once-again) hot topic, one caveat: My parents, siblings and I were never treated horribly by anyone here in the South; after all, my father (and family) were invited down by born-and-bred Southerners for professional reasons … so, I suppose, having been invited we might not have been “damn Yankees;” rather just “darn Yankees.”
At any rate, during all of my “growing up” years, I imbibed the deep South culture — from wealthy aristocracy to the middle income merchant class to poor “white trash” and, well … the others — so it comes as no surprise to me whatsoever to hear the same, tired, old, worn-out defenses of “the Flag.” After the travesty in Charleston, South Carolina — for which I penned a tribute and where the Civil Way began, interestingly enough — one should think the overwhelming majority of 21st century Carolinians would gladly thrown down the last vestige of ethnocentric, racist symbolism. Well, one who does not reside in the South would possibly think so, but not I; oh no! I know better! The issue here in the Caucasian South runs far, far deeper; despite living in an upended, transient, techno-society. The old South won’t rise again, you see, because the old South never really went down … no, not really even underground. During the days of sharecropping, the KKK (which is alive and well), and segregation (which was never remotely “equal”), the face of the old South was perfectly visible. It is visible today, even if it is now mixed in with a larger crowd of more varied faces than ever before, which leads us straight into our subject.
It’s really no wonder so many Southerners want to keep flying the Confederate flag when and wherever they can, for as long as they can, especially now. Psychologically, it affords them some sense of (false) security, i.e. “the South is still ours; the blacks and Latinos and Orientals just need to keep their place or get the hell outta here!” (Although they use more pejorative terms to describe members of other races, of course.) Well, I’m not a psychologist, so I don’t know that I can recommend a cure or therapy; however, I can address some of the arguments for flying the Confederate flag. Really, it’s just a simple matter of remembering history, and, no, I don’t mean recalling that the South lost the Civil War (or, as some down here still call it, the “War for Southern Independence.”) I’m referring to more recent history. You see, perhaps the most common argument in defense of flying the Confederate flag is that it’s “part of our history and heritage.” But apart from the fact that the flag reminds one of a particularly baneful part of Southern history and heritage, there are some important points to be made here because this argument is really a ruse.
You see, the most popular Confederate flag — the one people almost exclusively see, the one in question, which is displayed in the upper right corner — is not the Confederate flag; it is the Confederate battle flag. If one were concerned to honor the history and heritage of the South by flying an older flag, the better and more reasonable choice would be the national flag of the Confederacy, the one displayed above just beneath the battle flag, (though even this would be, in my humble opinion, egregious except for, perhaps, in museums and historical parks and the like.) But, no, this is not the case; rather, it is the battle flag supporters wave and honor, cling to and celebrate. It’s not always been so in the post-bellum South; neither flag was hoisted after the war until the 1960s during and in reaction to the Civil Rights movement and, very particularly, integration. And when Governor George C. Wallace raised the Confederate battle flag over the capitol building in Montgomery, Alabama, his message was very, very clear. “Segregation yesterday; segregation today; segregation forever!” Along with poll taxes, marginalization, suppression, and oppression everyday, in almost every conceivable way… And he, along with many others — men and women, high and low — were willing to fight for the South’s “unique way of life,” as they referred to their stratified, malignant society. This is what the battle flag meant in the 1960s… It stood for segregation, racism, and the possibility of another civil war. This was lost on no one at the time, either.
Another argument in defense of flying the Confederate battle flag is a combination of individual and states’ rights, that is: States and individuals ought to have the liberty — and by the Constitution are allegedly given the right — to fly whatever flag they please. This is, at best, spurious. After all, we are talking about the flags of rebelling states, which lost the civil war they incited. Whatever arguments might be brought forth in defense of the old South, the fact remains the war was fought and finished, and the Confederacy lost. These states were then reincorporated into the United States of America as states, not as the conquered Confederacy, and these states are states within this one nation today. There is, therefore, no justification by this line of argument for flying either the national or the battle flag of the Confederacy upon or within any government or other public building, facility, or land — with the exception of museums and such — and it is arguable that this ought to apply to private lands and facilities as well. Obviously, or it should be obvious, we are not talking about football flags or the innocuous fleur-de-lis or the flag for one of the branches of the Armed Forces. The Confederate battle flag is a baleful symbol of inflicted pain and suffering remembered vividly by hundreds of thousands, even millions, who are still alive and living in the South. It is, in an all-too-real sense, the prima symboli of the massacre at Emanuel Church in Charleston, South Carolina.
Finally, the very idea that the Confederate flag could possibly wave atop capitol buildings and other public facilities without overtly and grossly antagonizing large portions of people who are equally as Southern is as absurd as it is offensive. It is far past time to take down the Confederate flag(s) for good to never be raised again!