Certain symbols make us flinch. A few years back when a group camping near me and Mike displayed a white supremacist flag I was immediately taken aback. When they called their dog “Negro” and they were not Hispanic I became even more upset. I joked about it at the time but my true feelings were a sense of internal rage that they would be clinging to such hateful imagery. I was quite happy when they left even though the campsite where they had been was abandoned in such a messy state that vultures came to eat up all of the trash. My single thought was that the birds had missed a feast on the biggest garbage of all.
As a society we embrace our freedoms. The campers who so disgusted me had every right to behave the way that they did but it did not mean that I had to like it. When such a display is part of a government owned facility it is downright wrong. Presently the Confederate flag still flies in South Carolina over the site of a memorial for the rebel dead. The fact that it is on government owned land is inappropriate in my mind. I realize full well that the pennant is part of the history of that place. The War Between the States began in South Carolina. Many of the people there have ancestors who fought in that conflict. There are those who believe that to deny that it happened by storing away the flag would be a travesty. To them I would argue that the flag now belongs in a museum.
I am a citizen of the south. My paternal grandparents had roots that ran deep in places like Virginia, North Carolina, and Texas. When that terrible war broke out my great grandfather chose to fight for the Union Army. One of his direct ancestors had fought in the Revolutionary War. I suppose that he believed that the northern forces were on the right side of history. There were no slaves in my family history. My ancestors were poor farmers who owned small plots of land. Half of my people didn’t even arrive in America until the early twentieth century. Still, I find myself continually wondering how those who came before me were able to remain silent on the subject of slavery. Perhaps my great grandfather’s support of the Union was his way of stating his opinion on the matter. I suppose that I will never know for sure but I often feel a sense of shame that slavery lasted as long as it did in this country.
The Civil War was far more complex than just being about slavery. I have studied it and I understand that there were many, many reasons that the southern states decided to leave the Union. Perhaps the split was inevitable from the beginning of the nation when the Founding Fathers compromised greatly to insure the support of the south in the great rebellion. From the start there were those who wanted a true republic with the states maintaining the bulk of the power and those who believed that the government needed a firm hand at the federal level. That argument prompted the Civil War and it rages on even today. There are those who believe that it is up to the citizens of South Carolina to decide whether or not the Confederate flag should continue to fly in such a public place.
Over time terrible people with hideous motives far removed even from the original rebels have taken the Confederate flag as a symbol of white supremacy. Few people realize that for most of these groups it is not just African Americans who are inferior but many other ethnicities and even religions. Some of my ancestors would be on that list and by definition so would I. These people despise Catholics, Jews, Eastern Europeans, Italians, Asians, Middle Easterners and anyone who is not a pure White Anglo Saxon Protestant.
Pasadena, Texas was the home of the Ku Klux Klan for many years. Their headquarters was on Red Bluff Boulevard. The members often stood on the roof of the building where they met wearing their full hooded regalia. It was never proven but often assumed that they were responsible for burning down the Catholic church in that town on multiple occasions. It used to be said that no dark complected person would dare to be in the city limits after dark. The Klan proudly displayed a Confederate flag at their meetings.
When I first entered college my mother began attending meetings at a social club for single parents. There she encountered a man who had once lived across the street from her childhood home. She felt comfortable with him because she had known him in her youth and he appeared to be a very nice widower. When he asked her to accompany him on a date she had few qualms other than the fact that she wasn’t really attracted to him. She was quite lonely at the time and it became nice to have a companion and so their relationship blossomed. Before long he had shown his true colors.
This man was a member of the John Birch Society, yet another ultra white wing supremacist group. He continually uttered the most contemptuous racist comments and I grew to despise him. He told us about secret meetings that he had with a group of people who were hoping to take over the local government. He pointed out the place where they met and as you might have guessed a Confederate flag flew in the yard.
He had begun to emotionally abuse my mother to the point where she was terrified of him but also fearful of breaking up lest he hurt her or one of her children. He had often told her that he could have anyone killed with little or no trouble. He was a big man who seemed to know a number of very shady people. He is perhaps the only person that I have ever hated. Being around him made my skin crawl and I saw that he was pushing my mom over the edge mentally. When he finally managed to completely break her spirit with his harsh threats and racist epithets she had a nervous breakdown.
I wanted him out of my life and so I finally told one of my uncles what this man had been saying and doing. He and two of my mother’s other brothers went to the man’s house and warned him to leave her alone. This man who had been such a big talker was ultimately a coward. He broke up with my mother immediately. We were all relieved. Still it was a long, long time before I felt that we were once again safe. Eventually the flag came down on the property where he had met with his racist friends and a “for sale” sign announced its demise as a gathering place for supremacists. We moved our mother to a new home and we never again heard from him. To this day, nonetheless, whenever I see the Confederate flag it brings back memories that are painful.
If my emotions are so disturbed by the Confederate flag I can only imagine what that image does to the African Americans who must see it flying openly in their state capital. They are the ones who have had the most heinous things done to them by those who somehow believe in the lie of their own racial superiority. The flag that so many of these groups so proudly fly has devolved into a symbol as ugly and threatening as the Nazi flag and it needs to be taken down all across America. Those who own them should fold them and put them away in a closet or a drawer. They all belong in museums or trunks. The only flags that should fly on state or federal property should be the Stars and Stripes and the state banner. The Confederate flag itself is not responsible for hate but as a symbol of evil it serves as a reminder and threat of death and destruction. It has no place in the public square. I certainly hope that the good people of South Carolina will think long and hard and realize that it is time to take it down.