Want to take down that Confederate memorial? Mind your P’s and … P’s (Updated with video)

Billy Bearden places a Confederate battle flag at the grave of a C.S.A. soldier at a disputed cemetery landlocked by Georgia Power property in Roopville. (AJC Photo / Johnny Crawford)

Billy Bearden places a Confederate battle flag at the grave of a C.S.A. soldier at a disputed cemetery landlocked by Georgia Power property in Roopville. (AJC Photo / Johnny Crawford)

It seems unlikely Georgia can avoid the debate about Confederate symbols and memorials just because we changed our state flag more than a dozen years ago.

From Stone Mountain to street names, just about anything linked to the Old South’s Lost Cause that isn’t actually in a museum display case is being challenged. Handled poorly, this has the unfortunate potential to stir division, at a time when nerves are already frayed.

Maybe it’s the flurry of court decisions over the past week, but I’m put in the mind of legal tests a court might establish for sorting out thorny issues. So, with apologies to judges everywhere — and to anyone ambivalent about abnormal amounts of alliteration — here are some questions we might use to evaluate each case.

First, is it privately owned? If so, move on. We should not consider any bans of private property.

Does it equal government promotion? Is it given prominence? These two tend to go together. South Carolina’s flag, for example, can hardly be seen as anything but promotion in a prominent location.

But the two can also be considered separately. The Sons of Confederate Veterans license plate may or may not qualify as promotion: I doubt our state truly promotes the Florida Gators, for which there is also a specialty plate; but then, the Supreme Court just last month said such plates represent government speech. Either way, we might also ask if the presence of 3,500 plates out of roughly 9 million issued statewide really constitutes prominence — though your mileage may vary depending on where you live.

Would you typically encounter it on your own prerogative? Here I am thinking of Confederate cemeteries that may be maintained at least in part with public funds, and where the battle flag or other C.S.A. banners fly. Chances are, if you visit such a cemetery it’s because you’re interested in that history and are unlikely to take offense. This doesn’t apply to, say, a state capitol. (I realize this one could take us down the road of saying some public places are only for certain groups; we should take care not to go that far.)

Is it proportional? This final test might be the most important. We can tie ourselves in knots debating what should stay and what should go. We would be better off recognizing at least part of the problem has to do with the parts of our history not so memorialized.

On our state Capitol grounds there are statues of unrepentant segregationists. But their presence is made all the worse by the fact that not until next year are they due to be joined by a statue of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Even then, there will just be one statue of a black person, in a part of the country where a whole lot of black people have lived for more than 300 years. Not to mention other groups.

We may ultimately deem some memorials worthy of removal. But if the idea is to reflect our history, wouldn’t we better off fleshing that out by adding new memorials, rather than blotting out parts by subtracting others?

These are just a few suggestions. You may have others. As long as they advance a thoughtful discussion, I’m all ears.

***

Jay and I also tackled this topic for our weekly video:

Reader Comments 0

38 comments
Pub Heaven
Pub Heaven

"...we changed our state flag more than a dozen years ago."

WE? WE?

You are oh so right. Poor ole Roy Barnes couldn't have managed it without the the broad support he received from the state's conservatives and Republicans.

Who first specifically rewarded him for that leadership, and have lionized him for the effort ever since. Even today...

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

I finally was able to watch the video at this link, thanks to poster JKLtwo:


http://www.myajc.com/videos/news/bookman-wingfield-the-confederate-flag/vDWhzd/



About the video for this week.  This is definitely the best video yet.  If Kyle and Jay start with a syndication of this video series (and I recommend that they do), I would start with this one.  Here's why.


You are both columnists for a major Southern newspaper.  The topic has been debated in the South for 150 years, so it is an appropriate beginning topic with which to begin your series.  


You have found your own rhythm together that is natural for you both.  It was so much more relaxed in delivery than ever before.  You actually talk with one another with personal friendliness and with no rancor.  How refreshing after Siskel and Ebert's antagonistic, but friendly style of years ago - though that was a fine production series, too.


Jay has lessened his hand and arm movements to a natural use instead of use from nervousness before the camera, and Kyle has now incorporated more hand/arm movements instead of not having any, as his way of demonstrating that he, too, is more relaxed before the camera.


I liked the interspersing of the videos of still photos (the flag) and moving scenery (traffic in Dalton) among others.  Gives variation and keeps at bay boredom with words alone in this media age.


You both are breaking into natural humor between yourselves (driver's ability to drive) and self mocking (Jay's NASCAR reference with irony and previously Kyle's self-mocking about a brief memory loss).


The 10 minutes works better than 3 minutes because the listener can focus on the ideas and not be rushed and both Jay and Kyle can get into a real conversation with one another, which is always enjoyable to the audience.


Trust me - this production series is a winner!  Stay with it!  And, good luck!

JamVet
JamVet

Well reasoned, sir.
One observation; this: Handled poorly, this has the unfortunate potential to stir division, at a time when nerves are already frayed.

Ironic, given that that flag is arguably the very paragon of American divisiveness, yes?

As you counsel, compromise will serve us all.

And there are subtle complexities and sensibilities (cemeteries and such) that should be honored.

The same way that President Lincoln honored the nation by accepting the confederates back into the nation as "fellow countrymen" and nothing more or less.

And even so, some things, including the segregationist, Jim Crow inspired placement of that flag over the statehouse in Columbia, and other similar acts of that era, are not honorable.

When the Republican Governor and senior US Senator of South Carolina say that it must come down, it really is no longer worthy of flying there, would you not agree?

LilBarryBailout
LilBarryBailout

TRIGGER WARNING:  This weekend you are likely to see symbols of white privilege and American exceptionalism--most of us call it the American flag.  Leftists know it as the thing their hero's friends wipe their feet on and burn in the streets.


The Fourth of July is to leftists what Christmas is to atheists.

Pub Heaven
Pub Heaven

Thanks for advancing thoughtful discussion, Barry.

Many thoughts are about what a cheerful Christian you are.

Pub Heaven
Pub Heaven

@LilBarryBailout "This weekend you are likely to see symbols of white privilege and American exceptionalism--most of us call it the American flag."


Barry, it's exceptionally revealing to announce, on a public forum, your belief that the American flag is a symbol of white priviledge.

On the other hand, it's doubtful you've changed anyone's opinion of you. 

Dusty2
Dusty2

In the South, most of us  honor those who died bravely protecting their own homes.  We do not try to change history and only repeat it like it was., not how we would like it to be.  The Confederate dead  were OUR ancestors, not those of anybody else.


Someone told me today that a former mayor of Atlanta said something  to the effect that we should move on to more important things than the current flag snafu..   He is correct  what with teenage mobs wrecking stores, with Iran close to  making atomic bombs, with ISIS spreading to more and more countries, I think there is more to talk about. 


But go ahead and get upset over license plates, historic symbols and statues.  Those in cemeteries can't fight back.


Now I am  getting ready for the fourth of July to celebrate the birth of the United States of America.  To paraphrase our famous black American prizefighter Ali, " We are the greatest!"   

MarkVV
MarkVV

@Dusty2 

“The Confederate dead were OUR ancestors, not those of anybody else.”

Perhaps unwittingly, Dusty, you have revealed the mindset that is at the root of the reluctance and even animosity to the efforts of getting rid of the symbols of Confederacy. Which ancestors? Were the whites the only people living in the South? What about the blacks living in the South before and during Confederacy. They still do not count as people in your mind? What about their descendants? Why should they see the symbols of the oppression of THEIR ancestors still honored today?

Privacy Manager
Privacy Manager

@Dusty2  If you are getting ready to celebrate the 4th of July, the birth of a great nation, why do you want to honor a symbol of the traitors who tried to destroy it?


Do you recall who caused them to die? Hint, the rich minority who owned other people. When their "rights" to have slaves in new territories was blocked, preventing them from moving to new places to practice their land-destroying agricultural practices, they chose to destroy the country rather than accept the rule of law. They convinced the hard-working among them, people who did not own other people, to fight and die for an immoral cause.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@Charles Douglas Edwards


HAPPY Fourth of July to you, also, Charles Douglas!


Here is a little something for you, and for all readers (although most probably already know these facts about July 4th), which I just sent via e-mail to my conservative cousin, whom I love, and he loves me back, even knowing how liberal this cousin of his is!  ;-)


"What a great country we were blessed to be born into.  John Adams was the Founding Father who recommended that every July 4th be celebrated forever each year by Americans - with music, fireworks (of that day), and parades.  And, of course, both Jefferson and Adams, who both were on the committee (along with Benjamin Franklin) to write and help edit our Declaration of Independence, died on July 4th, 1826.  Adams was in his early 90s, and Jefferson was in his early 80s, when they died on the same day and year.  Adams' last words were, "Jefferson lives," but he was wrong.  Thomas Jefferson had died a few hours before Adams on the 4th of July!"


How much Providence lives within our blessed nation!  HAPPY 4th of July to all!

TicTacs
TicTacs

That about as neutral as a writer can get on this subject....  did you catch that Dalton video ?

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

@Kyle_Wingfield @Jefferson1776 That and hilarious


But a bit of a backlash was expected. I was at a Home Depot over the weekend and there were about 40 bikers there all with Confederate flags on the back.


I just laughed and went about my day.

AvailableName
AvailableName

Good writing.  H for historical significance isn't a "P" but I'd add it to the list.  It lets me rationalize, uncomfortably, the Stone Mountain carving and all the statutes of dead segregationists.

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

First, is it privately owned? If so, move on. We should not consider any bans of private property.


Agreed here. Though it should be noted that you cant own a swastika in Germany. But if people want to fly the flag on private property that is their business.


The other situations are as you mention a bit sticker


I for one think common sense should guide us on a case by case basis. Is it reasonable to start pulling down grave markers or statues ? No. Is it reasonable to ask that a confederate flag not be flown at a city hall or some other piece of govt property ? Yes.


This wont be that hard unless we make it so. 



bu2
bu2

@HeadleyLamar 

We have a stronger belief in freedom than Germans and other Europeans.  France even bans the burkha.


Freedom is part of our heritage (even if sometimes it didn't apply to all people).

Privacy Manager
Privacy Manager

@bu2 @HeadleyLamar  Agree and feel that government should set the example. A small way to do this is to move the outdated symbols of division, immorality, and anti-Americanism to museums for people to look and learn.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

This thoughtful column was much needed for its shaping of, and giving definition to, specific criteria which would determine whether or not Confederate statues should remain intact where they stand presently, as a reflection of the South's (and America's) history.  This criteria was suggested by Kyle Wingfield after obvious concentrated reflection, done with depth and nuance.  Also, his effective use of the alliteration of the "p" words will help readers, and those with the power to make decisions regarding this issue, keep those points of criteria in their memories through a well-researched mnemonic device, as they weigh whether to remove, or to allow to remain, certain Confederate statues at this present time in the South's continuing history and evolution.


I agree with all of the criteria given in the column in allowing the statues to remain except, perhaps, the last one.  As the column reads, "On our state Capitol grounds there are statues of unrepentant segregationists."  I believe it is time for Georgians to move past this mindset of most Southern politicians of other eras in our history.  Today's Georgians would not want to be perceived as condoning that type of racism by allowing those statues to remain (Each one should be weighed separately.) on the state's Capitol grounds, especially not to remain on those grounds the statues of the radical segregationists of earlier eras in Georgia's history.  We must remember that not all segregationists, who achieved power in this state, were perceived as radical in their day, but some were.  Perhaps, the particular statue(s) of those Georgia politicians who were perceived as radical segregationists in their day should be removed from the present day grounds of the state's Capitol and placed across the street from the Capitol in a small park.  In doing this, Georgians would be signaling that they have moved on with more egalitarian attitudes toward all human beings than some Georgians held, of earlier times, but, at the same time, Georgians will have decided not to obliviate Georgia's history -  either good or bad - and, instead, to leave the historical statues of its radically racist politicians still standing (in their proper physical places  away from the Capitol grounds so that Georgians, and visitors to Georgia, can learn about all of Georgia's history and, thereby, deepen consciousness of how the world's people can progress, over time, for the better, and how all men and women are capable of reaching heights of nobility as well as depths of destruction.  Perhaps that would lead to more self-reflection regarding the human condition and help to make us all less judgmental of others and ourselves.

bu2
bu2

@MaryElizabethSings 

Lincoln really liked the idea of sending the Black slaves back to Africa.


Liberia was an American colony for Black slaves.


Determining who is more or less acceptable from an era where all were acceptable is a silly exercise.


The only ones that should be removed would be ones put up in the Civil Rights era as effective protests against Civil Rights.  If, for example, we put a statue of Jefferson Davis on the capitol grounds in 1962, you would have to question that and relocate that statue.  Maybe move it to the Civil Rights Museum.


Noone is perfect and that applies to leaders.  Many idolize JFK and he had his Marilyn moments.  MLK was a socialist and had a weakness with women.  So should we eliminate all MLK statues?



MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@bu2 


I well know that "No one is perfect and that applies to leaders," as you wrote. 


I was trying to communicate in my post that we should try to see both the strengths and the weaknesses of all human beings without undue judgment, but we should see.  I was also trying to encourage all who read my post to study others (as well as one's self) with depth and an expansion of consciousness which moves beyond the trivial and into the "human condition," itself.


In terms of who or who should not remain on Georgia's Capitol grounds, I would not allow the newspaper publisher from North Georgia during the early 1900s, Thomas Watson, an avowed White Supremacist and Anti-Semite, to remain on Georgia's Capitol grounds because of the fact that he actually incited racism to violence through his editorials in his newspaper.  I think when the statue of MLK Jr. is placed on our Capitol ground's entrance, Watson's statue should be moved to the grounds across the street and not remain beside the statue of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., as if they were to be saluted equally in how they had led Georgians in critical times in Georgia's history.


Moreover, I do not believe the Confederate President Jefferson Davis, whom you mentioned, should remain on any currently functioning Capitol grounds of the South.  His was an act of treason to the union of the United States of America when he became President of the Confederacy, to which he was drafted.  Davis, a tragic figure in Southern history, imo, had had ominous premonitions about agreeing to become the President of the Confederacy, which he believed would spell a dire end for him and for his beloved wife and their family, thereafter.  His premonitions were well founded.  I am not judging Davis by pointing this out.  I am simply trying to analyze, with compassion but with truth, his place in history.  His statue(s) should be able to remain in any park setting in the South except current Capitol grounds of currently functioning power, imo.


We must exercise depth and nuance when we decide upon the fate of various Confederate statues, individually.  I make a distinction between radical segregationist governors such as Georgia Governor Lester Maddox and Georgia's segregationist governors. who were not radicals of their day, such as Governors Carl Sanders and Ernest Vandiver. 

bu2
bu2

@MaryElizabethSings @bu2 

Jefferson Davis has his place in Kentucky (birthplace and college) and Mississippi (home state).  Probably a little questionable elsewhere.  It wasn't like he was a great President of the Confederacy.  He was really pretty poor.  Now he was a Mexican War hero, but that's not why he is honored around the rest of the South. 


Robert E. Lee is a different matter.

bu2
bu2

@MaryElizabethSings @bu2 

Davis really wasn't very popular during the war.  Probably all those statues are just him as a symbol of the South.  Much as the one at the University of Texas that got vandalized is part of a group that was intended to show the reconciliation between the north and south during WWI.

MarkVV
MarkVV

Kyle’s article deserves some praise; his questions are mostly well chosen, even if there are some misses both in them and in his conclusions.

There should be no debate about the distinction between private and “prominent promotion,” the latter being the case of a flag flying in truly public places, such as capitol grounds. I think Kyle misses with his point about encountering it “on your own prerogative.” Not because of the cited case of Confederate cemeteries maintained with public funds. As a matter of fact, I would argue that those are places where the flag should be allowed to fly, because those, in addition to private homes, come closest to situations where the symbol of the flag as representing racism and defense of slavery can give place to symbolizing individual bravery and honor. But otherwise “the encountering it on your own prerogative” is far too broad, because it encompasses a vast majority of situations where people may go and see the symbol.

The license plate case should clearly go to the side of prohibition, not only because of the Supreme Court decision, but because it is a way for the racists to “stick it” to anybody who follows their cars and trucks. They can still do it by placing the flag elsewhere on the vehicle, but at least if should not be on a spot showing the State of Georgia designation.

Finally, the statues of the “unrepentant segregationists” should go not only from Capitol grounds, but from all public places. I would let the choice to historians, but there should be no doubt about people like Jefferson Davis and Alexander Stephens. But while Kyle has avoided this time the open moral equivalence of “all flawed men,” the notion of neutralizing evil by addition of those deserving praise should be unacceptable.

Juanx
Juanx

@MarkVV  "The license plate case should clearly go to the side of prohibition, not only because of the Supreme Court decision, but because it is a way for the racists to “stick it” to anybody who follows their cars and trucks. They can still do it by placing the flag elsewhere on the vehicle, but at least if should not be on a spot showing the State of Georgia designation."

Agreed. Also, any state government property or affiliate  should be free of all confederate flag displays. Let's keep it simple.  

Charles Douglas Edwards
Charles Douglas Edwards

The Confederate States of America (CSA) fought the United States of America in the Civil War !!!

The USA defeated the CSA in the Civil War

What other country allows a defeated enemy to fly their flag on their soil.

The Confederate Flag should not be allowed by local or state governments.


Happy Fourth of July to the United States of America...


Caius
Caius

Really good piece of writing Kyle.  Really good.


I live in a small population area with small towns.  The town squares have memorials to the fallen confederate ancestors, statues if you will.  I would not pull them down.  They are a reminder. A reminder of those ancestors but also a reminder that peoples do really dumb things.  The confederacy was really a dumb idea.  They knew, or should have known, that that war was a loser from day one.  Yet they fought it anyway.


Flying the flag? We are the United States of America, we are about to celebrate our 239th birthday, fly that flag.

The assorted confederate flags should be flown at the museum type government places.  There is a Civil War graveyard in downtown Jonesboro, GA.  Yeah, fly it there over the bodies of the confederate dead. (The American flag flies over the bodies of American dead at Normandy.)


Some misguided use the confederate flag as a symbol of hate.  No one will be able to stop that.


As a caveat, my great great grand father was a confederate volunteer who dies of typhoid fever in Rome, GA less than 30 miles from his wife and family.  A waste of a human life.

straker
straker

Surprisingly, I agree with you completely on this.


Banning the licence plates is especially wrong.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

This thoughtful column was much needed for its shaping and giving definition to specific criteria which should allow for leaving Confederate statues intact as a reflection of the South's (and America's) history.  The criteria was decided by Kyle Wingfield after concentrated reflection, with depth and nuance.  Also, the effective use of the alliteration of the "p" words will help readers, and those with the power to make decisions regarding this issue, keep those definitive words in mind as one weighs whether to remove or to allow to remain certain Confederate statues at this time in the South's continuing evolution of ideas.


I agree with all of the criteria except, perhaps the last one.  As the column reads, "On our state Capitol grounds there are statues of unrepentant segregationists."  I believe it is time for Georgians to move past this mindset of most Southern politicians of other eras in our history.  Today's Georgians would not want to be perceived as condoning that type of racism by allowing those statues to remain (each one should be weighed for possible removal, separately, imo) on the state's Capitol grounds, especially not the radical segregationists of those earlier eras in Georgia's history.  Not all segregationists, who achieved power, were perceived as radical in their day, but some were.  Perhaps the particular statue(s) of those Georgia politicians who were perceived as radical segregationists in their day should be removed from the actual present day grounds of the state's Capitol and placed across the street from the Capitol in a small park.  In doing this, Georgians would be signaling that they have moved on with more egalitarian attitudes toward all human beings than some Georgians did of earlier times, but, at the same time, Georgians have decided not to wipe out Georgia's history - good or bad - and leave the historical statues of its radically racist politicians still standing (in their proper physical places so that Georgians and visitors to Georgia can learn about ALL of our history and deepen our consciousness collectively of how the world progresses over time and how all men and women are capable of reaching heights of nobility or depths of destruction to one's own soul. 

PITTFAN
PITTFAN

Is Stone Mountain still considered a State park?  They privatized some years ago and built all that crap that now costs way too much money to see. 

FIGMO2
FIGMO2

But if the idea is to reflect our history, wouldn’t we better off fleshing that out by adding new memorials, rather than blotting out parts by subtracting others?

MLK would be very proud of your suggestion, Kyle.

You are one wise 30 something conservative. 

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@FIGMO2 I kinda borrowed that from someone who wished to remain anonymous, though I did immediately recognize the wisdom of the idea ...

LogicalDude
LogicalDude

Hard to argue against anything you mention here. 

The question about Stone Mountain has come up, and I fall on the side of: Stone Mountain is a state park set aside as a memorial.  There's that huge image placed up there to mark it as such.  Confederate flags can fly there. 

Others have said it should come down because it's part of the state.  I disagree and say that the flag should be in memorials and museums, which is what Stone Mountain is. 

State property where the flag has been flown apart from the national or state flag falls in the "not a memorial or museum" and the flag should not be flown.  That symbol no longer represents the state. Use the flag of the United States. 


For complete banning the sale of the flag, or taking a show off TV because a flag happens to show on a car seems a bit overboard.   Owning a flag or displaying it falls under free speech, so that should not be banned either. 


However, whenever someone flies a confederate flag, they are at risk of being thought of as racists due to the racists that use the flag as a symbol of oppression of minorities. I know not all of them are racists, but it does make me wonder. 

Juanx
Juanx

@LogicalDude  ...I appreciate your candor, however, when non-southerners and minorities see the confederate flag the user of the flag is automatically branded racist. This flag belongs in a museum.