The South Will Rise Again?
Last week white folks gathered in Chester, Virginia, near the state’s Capitol in Richmond, to raise and otherwise glorify the flag of the Army of Northern Virginia, better known as the Confederate flag.
There were rifle-firing porcine confederates (much, much larger than the real thing) and speeches about southern heritage.
Separately, Gene Hogan, leader of the Sons of Confederate Veterans says, “It [the flag] stands for brave men who defended their homeland against an unconstitutional invasion and represents all the good things in America.”
Generally speaking, people who dress up in costumes in public for a hobby are a bit concerning since it is possible evidence of a disconnection with reality. This is such a case.
The Civil War was always about the right for blacks to be considered property and it is one of the most profound events in our history. The south lost the war in part because of the unwillingness of wealthy slave owners to release their slaves for war duty, except when it suited them, a textbook example of being penny-wise and pound foolish.
The Confederate congress and Jeff Davis were very late realizing that slaves held the key to victory, but only if they were allowed to fight and then be free.
Historians point out that the Confederate flag was not much used during the Civil War and saw a marked resurgence in the 1950′s as a potent unifying symbol for southern segregation. Blacks may have been technically free in 1865 but it would be another 100 years before they achieved the safeguards of citizenship.
In 1956 Virginia began its legendary fight called “massive resistance” to deny blacks entry to public schools, Autherine Lucy was also briefly admitted to and then expelled from the University of Alabama. The Confederate flag was the symbol of a south pledging to be united in order to deny rights to black Americans.
The Confederate flag as symbol is wonderfully fuzzy as it allows the user to define what it means to them while theoretically, at least, escaping the baggage of repression and violence that gave birth to it. It’s like expressing unreserved approval over some types of adult pornography while roundly denouncing others. If it’s good for you, it must be OK, right?
But isn’t the decision to embrace such a morally ambiguous symbol odd? What aspect of regional pride, cultural heritage, or historical proclivity trumps the alter ego of pain, suffering and despair that the flag also represents?
Or is the inherent ambiguity of any symbol, in this case the Confederate flag, an opportunity to celebrate a time in America, not that long ago, when bound blacks swung from trees and lamp posts across the south in a version of perverse justice? Or when blacks were threatened with death for expressing the desire to attend a public school, or ride a bus or drink from a “white” water fountain?
As you prepare to howl in indignation, remember first that the Confederate flag represents those historical facts to many people and is therefore a bizarre representation of cherished American values.
As I look again at that flag-raising crowd, I can’t but think that there are many Americans who arise each day absolutely gobsmacked that there is a black man working in an oval and it’s not a slave pen.
Credits: NBC10, Steve Helber/AP, SPLC