Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Local parsonage flies the Confederate battle flag during Black History Month

Alana sent me this link to an article in the Monroe News-Star:

A local parsonage has been flying the Confederate battle flag for most of this month, which just happens to be Black History Month. The pastor claims that the flag usually flies for a day or two at a time but has been too busy to bring down the flag.

As Alana points out, more interesting than the article itself are the comments left by local readers. They fall into three broad camps: "the flag is racist" camp, "the flag is about heritage" camp, and "the flag is protected free speech" camp. There are the inevitable comments about the flag issue being "political correctness", and the derogatory comments about the U.S. having a Black History Month.

I agree that the flying of the Confederate battle flag is free speech. Whether or not it should be condoned... Hmmm, that's a good question. The Constitution allows it to be flown. On the other hand, how would folks visiting the Jewish cemetery down the street from where I work feel about someone flying a swastika? I can't condone legislation banning the battle flag, but the argument that it's all about heritage doesn't fly with me, either.

I posted a reply on the forum site. It's buried on the third page, so I'll reprint it here.

The memories of hatred, bigotry and fear inspired by the Confederate battle flag come from the Reconstruction and afterwards. The battle flag was used by Klan members to drum up hatred-based support for discrimination. It was used as a rallying symbol by those who terrorized blacks to drive them out of a community or to silence them, or to put them "in their place". Regardless of what it meant during the war, post-Civil War it became a strong symbol of the anti-democratic bullying done by white supremacists.

There are plenty of Southerners who are justifiably proud of their ancestors' gallantry in the Civil War. Unfortunately, the symbol their ancestors fought under was usurped and desecrated in the Reconstruction era by white supremacists.

This is where the divide falls. On the one hand, the flag is a symbol of honor under which the ancestors of white Southerners fought. On the other hand, the flag is a symbol of terror and murder under which the ancestors of black Southerners suffered. The fault isn't "political correctness". The fault lies with those who chose to murder, terrorize, and hate while flying the battle flag. They tarnished it.

Flying the battle flag, in my opinion, is thoughtless and insensitive. It basically says, "My right to honor my ancestor with this symbol trumps your right to grieve for your ancestor who feared this symbol."

What's interesting is that there is already another symbol available for honoring Civil War ancestors: the Stars and Bars, the official flag of the Confederacy in 1861. (The battle flag is not the Stars and Bars.) This flag looks very much like the Stars and Stripes (which is why it was disused in battle), with a field of stars and three bars instead of 13 stripes. It is the flag that flies over the Confederate burial trenches at the Shiloh battlefield to this day, and it is the only flag symbolizing the Confederacy through the entire struggle.

You could argue that the Confederate battle flag was racist even during the war, as it symbolized a nation that codified slavery into its constitution. The same could be said of the Stars and Bars. You'd be right, but you'd then have to argue that the Stars and Stripes was a symbol of racism. The Union had slave states until the adoption of the 13th Amendment after the Civil War, and the United States had "Black Code" laws and slavery prior to the war, and "Jim Crow" laws after the war.

Interestingly enough, while the "heritage versus hate" argument continues in the forum, no one has bothered to comment on my post...


Michael said...

An intelligent, well-reasoned response. There are two possible reasons for the lack of reaction: either everyone agrees with you (I wouldn't go looking for the Stars and Bars to be sprouting up anytime soon) or they suspect you're right but can't be bothered to find out for themselves or do anything about it.

I don't think I'd go looking for racism here when intellectual laziness is the more likely cause.

Allan Goodall said...

I don't think I'd go looking for racism here when intellectual laziness is the more likely cause.

Thank you! I think you're correct, for the most part. What really bothered me were the comments that basically said, "suck it up" or "get over it". (Actually, that is what they said...) It showed remarkable insensitivity. I guess, then, in a 140 years the rest of the world can say, "get over it" when Americans get teary eyed at 9/11?