That flag doesn’t symbolize the South I know and love. Take it down

The Confederate flag flies near the South Carolina Statehouse, June 19 (AP Photo / Rainier Ehrhardt)

The Confederate battle flag flies near the South Carolina Statehouse, June 19 (AP Photo / Rainier Ehrhardt)

I am a son of the South. I have lived here for 32 of my 36 years. After those other four years, spent in Europe, I chose (with my wife) to return here rather than move on to some other part of the country or world. A well-traveled professor of mine marveled, “You Southern boys always come back to the South.” To which I could only reply, well, why wouldn’t we?

The South is The South for many reasons. In an ever more connected world, our region has been a little slower than others to let go of the things that make us unique. This is both for good and for bad. But it is, and we are not the only ones who know it. Years ago, in Australia, a woman asked my wife if she still wore hoop skirts back home. That struck her as ridiculous, until I reminded her that her sister owned just such a garment which she wore for a side job as a Scarlett O’Hara impersonator — almost always for groups visiting from out-of-town or even overseas.

So we do, in many ways, live in our own little world here. Or should I say, worlds.

Race is a complicated issue in the South, far from the cut-and-dried matter outsiders assume it to be. It’s why a black colleague of mine, Rick Badie, recounts buying firewood from a man who displayed the rebel flag on his porch — but who also invited Rick to sit for a spell and drink a beer with him. It’s why I’d venture to guess anyone, black or white, who has lived here very long can tell a story with similar contradictions. If race is the great scar on the American body politic, we can’t pretend we inhabit a different limb. We live where the skin is still tender, because the wound is still healing.

For that reason, the “recent unpleasantness” is not just a local euphemism for the War Between the States. The “unpleasantness” has been as recent as Wednesday night, when nine people were killed after a Bible study in Charleston, South Carolina.

We do not yet know why exactly Dylann Roof was driven to the margins of society. But it is hardly shocking that the part of the fringe to which he gravitated was the one that here looms too menacingly and too close by, like a strangely shaped shadow just beyond the campfire’s light. Humans are a tribal species, and in a place like South Carolina there are some relatively healthy choices for scratching that itch: Baptist or Methodist, Tiger or Gamecock, Democrat or Republican. But if the mainstream options don’t appeal, those at the margins of the South always have another choice at hand in the battle flag and other totems of the Confederacy.

There are, to be clear, those who study the civil war and even the C.S.A. with deep interests that have nothing to do with racial animus: family ties, local history, the same inexplicable magnetism that draws folks to anything from football to punk rock. But it is hard to argue a century and a half after Appomattox that flying the battle flag of a defeated army serves much more than stirring old divisions.

Despite having lived in the South 90 percent of my life, I have never understood any other attachment to that emblem. It is a striking image with a certain degree of visual appeal, the reason my 11th grade self used it as the background for a poster about Faulkner’s “The Unvanquished,” a misjudgment the depth of which I only realized years later. But no argument on artistic grounds is any more persuasive than appeals to its historic value, not when a central part of its history is an integration-era renaissance as a symbol of defiance and unabashed bigotry, re-stoking an unpleasantness that didn’t end in 1865. Neither is the smirking detente offered by a T-shirt from the 1990s: “You wear your X (Malcolm) and I’ll wear mine.”

It is a testament to the gains we have made in the South that the violence at Emanuel AME Church was carried out by one delusional young man whose actions — if not beliefs — were disavowed publicly even by a leading white supremacist. There was never going to be a cavalry riding into the “race war” Roof told police he wanted to start. But if there is neither justification nor great sympathy for the flag Roof all but carried back into battle, why has it not completely disappeared from polite company, not to say the grounds of South Carolina’s state capitol?

Societal inertia, a defiant streak, misplaced pride, historical ignorance, actual hatred? A little of each. But let us not also discount a possible reluctance to lend even a little credence to those voices that call out about collective, intergenerational guilt, which seem ready to turn a given inch into a taken mile. Many of the same voices that immediately sought a partisan political advantage from last week’s horrific shooting have, to name one past example, suggested opposition to Obamacare was chiefly the product of “racist tea-baggers.” Remember that tribal impulse: When one finds one’s side attacked as guilty, even or maybe especially by false association, defensiveness is a natural reaction. Taken too far, it can even make a false association almost seem true.

But that, too, is no justification for the otherwise unjustified. Ultimately, it only empowers those same voices one would deny a victory, by echoing their argument that an entire wing of the American political spectrum is motivated by hate.

When describing oneself as a “conservative,” it is worth asking what one seeks to conserve. Those of us who are from and of the South cannot conserve our region’s culture and heritage by continuing to embrace, or even appearing to embrace, a symbol that mostly undermines them. It’s time to move on.

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114 comments
MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

Briefly, I simply want to tell Kyle Wingfield that he has another outstanding column in today's AJC, entitled, "Not every reminder of war prone to disharmony," and that I agree with all of his thinking in his column.  The Confederate flag should no longer fly as a symbol of power outside of government, public buildings, but as Kyle has written today, the monuments to Confederate soldiers and other similar monuments should not be removed because they are part of the South's history, with malice toward no one.


We are all richer in intellectual understanding and in emotional depth when we know our collective history, both the good and the bad parts of it.  The Confederate flag has been a symbol of hate and division between the races in support of White Supremacy.  The Confederate flag should be removed, but the monuments in tribute to Confederate soldiers who were Americans both before and after the Civil War should remain standing so that we can know our collective history and so that we do not wipe that history away, making it sterile in the hearts and minds of future generations. 

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

Words of state Sen. Paul Thurmond of S.C., son of Sen. Strom Thurmond, yesterday:


“I am proud to take a stand and no longer be silent,” Thurmond said from the well on Tuesday. “We must take down the Confederate flag and we must take it down now. But if we stop there, we have cheated ourselves out of an opportunity to start a different conversation about healing in our state,” he said. “I am ready.”


http://www.charlestoncitypaper.com/TheBattery/archives/2015/06/23/charleston-state-sen-paul-thurmond-whose-father-ran-for-president-as-a-dixiecrat-will-vote-to-remove-the-confederate-flag

LilBarryBailout
LilBarryBailout

Taking down flags, statues, etc. will accomplish nothing.

The way to end racism is to stop making decisions based on race.  The government should be leading the way on that, but instead leads in the opposite direction.

No institution is more focused on race, and forcing behavior based on race.

As Our President Reagan said, government IS the problem.

ScubaSteve
ScubaSteve

I also have about 4 English teachers lined up to punch me for mixing up my "capitols". 

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

True story: I was taking an elderly Chicago man on a tour of our Alabama town.  I pointed to the old bank building, and said, "There are bullet holes from The War near the doors."


He looked at me with great surprise, and said, "I didn't know the Japs got this far inland!"

Dusty2
Dusty2

We have so many here who know how to tell South Carolina how to run their business.  Please move on to Massachusetts and tell them how to talk about the Salem witches they burned.  Or the early village setups to show tourists how they lived long ago  after they ran off most of the Indians . Or go shout at Pontiac, Michigan for having  huge race riots there with their prejudice.  Or go west and tell people how the Indians  were set up on fine reservations and a huge percentage died there.  Or get those railroads for importing Chinese workers (slaves) who never got home again but that was for progress.


Yes, sir, there are a whole lot of indignities that we should immediately correct although some are 150 years old or older.  History is nothing but something to be corrected. That is not even possible.  Taking down a flag also  changes nothing.


Thomas Wolfe said "You can't go home again."  You cannot change the past either to make it like you want it.  The sensible move on. They know the challenge of the future and accept it.    .

MHSmith
MHSmith


Here's What the South Carolina Legislature Is Saying About the Confederate Flag


Politicians in both parties have said the flag should be removed from the state Capitol in the wake of a fatal church shooting at a historically black church.


June 23, 2015 The South Carolina legislature is not currently in session. But a "day after" Gov. Nikki Haley called for the Confederate flag's removal from state Capitol grounds in Columbia, "lawmakers have convened to consider it".




Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

Again I ask, how do you think the people of South Carolina would fall if this were put to a vote?


They would vote along racial lines and to keep it in place. 

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

@Kyle_Wingfield @HeadleyLamar  A survey of 752 registered voters in South Carolina conducted Monday evening shows 50% of respondents favor the call to remove the Confederate battle flag from the grounds of the South Carolina Capitol while 46% oppose doing so


Still very close and the way someone responds to a poll ( when they might be embarrassed about being racist ) isn't the same as how they would vote anonymously. 


I would hope I am wrong but I don't think I would be. 

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@HeadleyLamar True, but there also hasn't been a campaign like the one you would expect before such a referendum. If the gut reaction -- which is pretty much what that poll is -- is to take it down, I expect that sentiment would only grow. But I could be wrong.

Dusty2
Dusty2

Well, my last post disappeared . (NO, I do not think it was a conspiracy.  I think it was my computer.)


I would like to remind some here that black doctors, teachers, lawyers, ministers, and even journalists(!) have found success in South Carolina.  The historical flag was flying  while they were rising.  They realize that the past is just that.  They moved on.  Others need to do the same, 'specially those who are in no way connected to the state of South Carolina and its history.

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

@Dusty2 They realize that the past is just that.  They moved on

Many have not and we saw that play out in Charleston.


The flag was put up as a big middle finger to the federal government when they knew desegregation was coming


it needs to come down. It should have never been there in the first place.

RafeHollister
RafeHollister

@Dusty2  Many people are trying to paint our northern neighbors as the least inclusive of the southern states.  Meanwhile South Carolina has an Indian American female governor and a black US Senator, something few states can boast of, diverse government officials.  

Dusty2
Dusty2

@HeadleyLamar @Dusty2 


What happened in Charleston was done by one demented man and he did not have a following  That is what we saw.


You should stop exaggerating bad news to make it match your own feelings.  Pandering with truth is your usual modus of operation.  

Wena Mow Masipa How
Wena Mow Masipa How

@Dusty2

Methinks you would feel very differently about this issue if you were black. What's that old saying about walking a mile in someone else's shoes?

FIGMO2
FIGMO2

For MHSmith should he show up:

The Crescent and Palmetto or just the Palmetto alone works fine.

It was somewhat of a joke, Michael, but then I got to thinking...

it would represent ALL the people and NOT the government.

I LIKE that idea. 

MHSmith
MHSmith

@FIGMO2 From what I've been reading on the flags of South Carolina, the lone Palmetto or the Crescent and the Palmetto set to a blue background were the flags of South Carolina until the war. Just as it was with us what we have today is close to what we had before session.


No  matter though, the people of South Carolina are ready to change their flag just as we in Georgia did - on our own terms.


Had Roy done things differently and OPENLY, we may have gone along with the change sooner, as you noted with South Carolina: The people of Georgia not Roy's "back-room-deal" government made the final choice. 


The rest is history, time to turn the page and move on.    

bu2
bu2

@MHSmith @FIGMO2 

This is not about South Carolina's flag which hasn't changed since 1861.

RafeHollister
RafeHollister

Ben Watson has his usual intelligent well thought out opinion out there thru his facebook page and on Breitbart.com.  Some of you might enjoy his reasoned take on the flag dispute.  He and I agree, as I said yesterday, that unless hearts and minds have truly changed, removing the flag is just flogging a dead horse.


I just love the opinions from folks like Scuba Steve, that rant and rave about what they perceive as conservatives being in favor of white supremacy, while wearing their high hats and sitting on their high horse proclaiming with every word, there is Progressive Ideological Supremacy.  . 

n8diggidy
n8diggidy

Kyle, I care nothing about the Stars and Bars. I have family who proudly fly it and I wholeheartedly agree no government under the US Constitution should promote it on their grounds. That said, there are old Confederate cemeteries that are maintained by some local governments and allow the flag to fly over those graves. I do not have a problem with that either, what is your position on that scenario? 

Caius
Caius

Caveat: my great,great grandfather from Paulding County, GA died in the Civil War at Rome, GA., less than 30 miles from his home, wife and family.  A total waste of a life.


Lincoln's inaugural address has a telling sentence: "Both parties deprecated war, but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive, and the other would accept war rather than let it perish, and the war came."  And over 600,000 died just so one side could keep their slaves and the other side could free the slaves.


Our ancestors declared war on the United States of America.  I see no reason to honor them for that action.


And the sad part is that they should have known they were going to lose that war.  Everything pointed to the fact that they were going to lose. The tragedy is that they actually thought they could win.  Total incompetence.



bu2
bu2

@Caius 

And yet they were very close to winning that war.  One or two better decisions at Gettysburg by the Confederates or worse decisions by the Union (maybe just no charge by the 1st Minnesota, no counterattack by General Custer against Sheridan) and the result would have been different.  Or had Sherman failed to take Atlanta when he did, McClellan could have won the election and offered peace.  That's the positives that the rebel battle flag signifies, the results despite overwhelming odds.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

We may be part of a forever remembered point of American history.  South Carolinians refused to sign the American Declaration of Independence unless Jefferson's words condemning slavery were removed.  The Civil War was started off the coast of South Carolina.  The South, including South Carolina, has had too much pride in defense of being a part of the Confederacy. Thomas Jefferson Randolph, Thomas Jefferson's grandson and Executor of his estate, refused to allow Jefferson's slaves to be sold to plantation owners in the deep South, including South Carolina, because of the way the slaves were treated there.  The black and white people who were killed during the Civil Rights Movement in the South in the 1960s will forever be a stain on this nation's moral history. 


Now, the place where the Civil War began, Charleston, South Carolina, state senators and representatives may vote to remove the Confederate flag from the grounds of the state's Capitol. How wonderful, if this could be accomplished on the 4th of July.  The only way the South will ever rise again is if it rises to the challenge of being a moral leader in the United States of America.  Change the image of the South, South Carolinians.  Redeem the South's history relative to its black citizens.  Turn the tide of the history in this nation toward its black (and white) citizens.  Become the great state you have the potential to be.  I know you have that potential to be a model of compassion for this nation because my dear mother was a native of South Carolina.

Dusty2
Dusty2

@MaryElizabethSings 


The South has risen.  South Carolina is a fine state in good shape. The black citizens there recognized that a mentally unstable man had killed some of them and they offered forgiveness.  It showed their great character. 

There was no mention of restoring, changing, revising, dropping   or anything else. 


Too bad you can't do the same as the citizens who were there at this breach of sanity.  . .  .


MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@Dusty2 


We must look beyond the surface.  Dylann Roof is probably mentally unbalanced, but many people, both black and white, have stated that the Confederate flag must be removed from the Capitol grounds of South Carolina because that flag has come to represent a symbol of hatred and division between the races. The General Assembly of South Carolina will be debating the possibility of removing that flag because they have chosen to see beyond surface truths. Dylann Roof chose to be photographed with the Confederate flag for a reason and that reason is now resonating in the hearts and minds of those legislators in South Carolina's General Assembly, as well as with the general public.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

For all, and especially for HDB0329 who responded to my post at the bottom, where I cannot answer him:


History is being made in America today and we are witnessing it as it happens.  The African-American blood shed in Charleston, S.C. this past week, the place where the Civil War began, may be the ironic event that will lift the soul of this nation finally to fulfill its ideals. America's black citizens may be the American citizens who will lift the hope of our nation to perpetuate its original ideals into the future.  Witness the workings of the Holy Spirit, in action.

Dusty2
Dusty2

Sorry, Kyle, but your political correctness of the moment is outstanding.  The families of the Charleston victims got it right.  They named the killer and they offered forgiveness.  They showed their great character in reminding all  that hate comes from the heart.  It does not come from a flag.  They never suggested such a thing or offered any other cause.


Those who do not have that same greatness of heart want something to blame.  Blame a flag from a war that is now 150 years old.  And you, who so loftily  proclaim that is was a "wrong cause" were not there.  Slavery is wrong but states rights are not.  Both were involved at that time.  I cherish the rights of those who fought for what they believed.  They lost but they developed a renaissance.  That change is  obvious by the great influx of people from all parts of the country and the world.  Refugees are often sent here because the South accepts all graciously.


So keep up your valiant stand of rejecting history for mob control.  It is the thing to do now.  No statesmen, no clear vision, just bobble head dolls for appeasement.  Some of the presidential candidate show more signs of leadership.  They realize it is human endeavor in one state which is quite capable of solving its own problems, and blind hate is the problem,  not a flag.


Too bad you don't have that same foresight.      .   

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@Dusty2 "Slavery is wrong but states rights are not."

If the cause was even partly about keeping slavery, the cause was wrong.

Your deriding this issue as "political correctness" only makes it harder for you to be heard at those times when we are talking about actual political correctness with an actual harm -- just as those who cry "racism!" at every turn only make it harder to deal with actual instances of racism. Your words and actions are much closer to theirs than either of you would like to think.

Dusty2
Dusty2

@Kyle_Wingfield @Dusty2 


Yes, NOT being politically correct is somewhat dangerous.  Now you invoke "racism" into this discussion suggesting that I am a "closet" racist because I do not agree with you. That is very sad.  I look at people  as those who have a heart and mind just as I have. .  Their skin color is of no great  importance. They are human like me. 


 A  historical flag does not change any of that.  It is only a whisper of the past.  Don't make it into a hurricane of hate by giving it that assignment.  

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@Dusty2 "Now you invoke "racism" into this discussion suggesting that I am a "closet" racist because I do not agree with you."

I said nothing of the sort. I said the way you cry wolf about political correctness is similar to the way others cry wolf about racism.

And it is a little too late for the flag to avoid being "a hurricane of hate." It has been just that for a long time. If you want to blame someone for that, I suggest you blame the people who hoisted in the name of hate. If anyone has disrespected the dead of the civil war, it's them.

ScubaSteve
ScubaSteve

"The people in South Carolina are owed the respect to determine their own affairs."


That might be the most hilariously irresponsible thing I've heard all day. Given their notoriously poor track record on things like voting rights or school integration -- the people of South Carolina most certainly need to be dictated to by the actual adults in this country.

ScubaSteve
ScubaSteve

@Kyle_Wingfield Really? So if they took the issue to a vote in SC, how do you think it would turn out? How am I hurting -- by pointing out that they have a poor record of getting it right on their own without some sort of intervention?

ScubaSteve
ScubaSteve

@Kyle_Wingfield Yet, I shouldn't be offended when someone says (in essence) that a racist symbol is okay as long as "the people" are in favor of it? As a black man I'm forced to stare at this flag every single day on state capital grounds, yet I should be sensitive to the feelings of those who don't want to be "talked down to?"


Its 2015 and the flag is still padlocked to a pole on state capital grounds -- so I'd say they "determined their own affairs" long ago. SC politicians have openly said that the flag will never come down -- and I'm supposed to trust that these people are big enough to handle their own affairs? Please, Kyle. Don't insult my intelligence or hide your own.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@ScubaSteve I never told you not to be offended. I suggested that, if you want things to change, start by not offending others in return. As for this:

"SC politicians have openly said that the flag will never come down"

Well, now they are saying otherwise. And what is your response? That they should be "dictated to by the actual adults in this country," and you don't know why that would make it harder for people to change on their own.

ScubaSteve
ScubaSteve

@Kyle_Wingfield LOL, Kyle. The Civil War ended in 1865. We essentially gave the people of South Carolina 150 years of "the respect to determine those affairs" and that flag continues to fly in 2015.


There is no guarantee that the flag will come down, and make no mistake this debate is only being seriously had in SC due to enormous pressure and scrutiny in the wake of a mass tragedy. I'm supposed to believe that these people have suddenly awakened? That we should trust this long overdue issue to a vote or a decision by the very same people who are perpetrating the problem? That the "Yeah but my Southern heritage!!!!!" crowd is going to suddenly wise up? No. It is absolutely irresponsible to leave this up to people like that. 

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator


@ScubaSteve You're hurting by putting their backs against the wall and calling them children incapable of handling things themselves (which, come to think of it, sounds a lot like what racists say about minorities). There are people who defend that flag not because of racism, but because they're tired of being talked down to. When you antagonize those people, you make things harder.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@ScubaSteve Sentiments like that^^ are one of the main reasons these kinds of changes are so hard in this country. You are hurting more than you are helping. 

ScubaSteve
ScubaSteve

@Kyle_Wingfield No Kyle, this IS part of the problem. One of your posters suggested that after all this, after a CENTURY AND A HALF of embracing this flag in the face of ALL that it represents, I should be content with just letting them handle it. That THEY deserve the respect (the respect!!) of being trusted to sort out their own affairs on a sensitive racial issue after literally getting it wrong for years. Come on man, that's ridiculous and you know it. 

ScubaSteve
ScubaSteve

@Kyle_Wingfield Black people in this country are asked to go along just to get along every day and it's ridiculous. We've given police departments the respect to determine their own affairs with respect to officer-involved shootings and where has that gotten us? Don't be intellectually dishonest. Again I ask, how do you think the people of South Carolina would fall if this were put to a vote?

n8diggidy
n8diggidy

@ScubaSteve US Senator Tim Scott. Perhaps that will give South Carolina a reprieve from Scuba Steve's tyrannical tendencies.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@ScubaSteve So what exactly would you do? Have Obama send in the National Guard to take down the flag?

ScubaSteve
ScubaSteve

@Kyle_Wingfield I'm sure there's a large spectrum of answers that lie between letting them decide for themselves and ordering the military to take down the flag, but I certainly wouldn't rule that out as an option. Someone's got to play dad, and occasionally dad has to use his belt.


It truly does offend your sensibilities huh -- the idea that a state in the Union shouldn't be allowed to DECIDE to be morally bankrupt. That's amazing to me. And quite sad.

ScubaSteve
ScubaSteve

@Kyle_Wingfield And you never had one, evidenced by your continued dodging of my question about putting it to a vote. Make sure you keep your balance when you walk that tightrope.

ScubaSteve
ScubaSteve

@Kyle_Wingfield I suppose you're right though, I shouldn't offend or talk down to people if I want change. Just wait for that next massacre, right? 9 dead bodies to not have to look at the flag on state grounds anymore is the going rate huh?

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@ScubaSteve As I posted elsewhere on this thread, initial polling suggests it would pass narrowly.

Just know that it's clear your hate for a group comes through as clearly as the one you find so terrible. If you don't see how that makes it harder to get what you want, you're beyond my help.