The Flag – Flavor of the Week

Battle_flag_of_the_Confederate_States_of_America.svg

The Flag

Where is the line drawn between history, heritage, intolerance and hatred? How does one determine the meaning behind a symbol that is proclaimed to represent such a wide range of ideals? Or does the meaning even matter, given the antagonistic history of the symbol? Due to Dylan Roof’s association with the Confederate battle flag and the fact that it was not lowered in wake of the Charleston Church shootings, debate on the meaning and significance of the battle flag has risen across the country.

Those who support the flag claim it is a symbol of Southern heritage and pride while those in opposition consider it a banner which represents institutionalized racism and hatred. In last week’s blog I promised to offer my take on a variety of issues including current events. Well, after given myself a few weeks to really digest my feelings and do a little research on the subject, I’ve decided to offer my two cents on the flag.

Before I proceed any further allow me to say this, I speak to you as a Georgian, a very proud Georgian and a very proud Southerner. To no aim is this post meant to slander the legacy of the Confederacy or the American South but rather, to speak honestly on the history and origins of the Confederacy and the meaning behind the banner which has caused so much discussion and angst during the past couple of weeks. Since I speak to you as a Georgian, the majority of my comments will center on the history and legacy of the Confederacy as it pertains to the Peach State. With that being said, allow us to proceed.

Alexander Stephens, the 50th governor of Georgia, was the vice president of the Confederate States of America. On March 21st, 1861 he gave a speech in Savannah, Georgia that highlighted and signified the reasons why the Confederacy had been born (seven states had already seceded before the offering of his address and inauguration of President Lincoln). This speech spanned the gauntlet of reasons for which the Confederacy came to be with the first number of paragraphs referencing economic and constitutional differences. But finally, at paragraph nine and ten of the Cornerstone Address, Stephens speaks to the motivational heart of secession in the Deep South…

“The new constitution has put at rest, forever, all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institution African slavery as it exists amongst us the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution…Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner-stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth…The errors of the past generation still clung to many as late as twenty years ago. Those at the North, who still cling to these errors, with a zeal above knowledge, we justly denominate fanatics. All fanaticism springs from an aberration of the mind from a defect in reasoning. It is a species of insanity. One of the most striking characteristics of insanity, in many instances, is forming correct conclusions from fancied or erroneous premises; so with the anti-slavery fanatics.”

“The proper status of the negro…This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution”, with those words Stephens assuredly and undoubtedly signified the reason for the formation of the Confederacy and subsequent war that followed. Southern States openly and readily, admitted their reasons for secession in declaration of causes where Georgia, Texas, South Carolina & Mississippi stated that the right of slaveholders was the chief reason for seceding. Upon this philosophical cornerstone, the Confederacy was formed.

Now granted, not all white Southerners were in support of seceding from the United States as only seven states initially left and often times the majority in those states did not wish to secede. And also, there were soldiers in the Confederacy who did not necessarily fight for the cause of slavery but rather fought with their neighbors in the South against the invasion of the Northern Army. Robert E. Lee, General of the Confederate States of America and one of the great generals in American history, was actually opposed to slavery as his wife and daughter set up illegal schools for slaves. But the fact still remains; the primary cause for the birth of the Confederacy was slavery.

Now I was properly raised in the South and carry a deep seated love for its charms, at eased life and renowned hospitality. A fiercer defender of the South you may find but do not mistake my critique for disdain. I’ll readily celebrate the South’s virtues while simultaneously acknowledging its shortcomings. Southern Pride is a cherished birthright to a Georgian as myself but to recognize the Confederate battle flag as a symbol of our great Southern virtues, I cannot.

Even in the state I love, our flag was changed to include elements of the Confederate battle flag during the zeal of the Civil Rights Movement as a silent but unmistakable, protest against black equality across the South. Though some will argue it was done in memorial of the Civil War Centennial, those with commonsense (and a basic grasp of math) will understand the act in 1956 was not wholeheartedly in remembrance of a war born in 1861. Though I will acknowledge the spirit of both was the same…subjugation of blacks in the South.

If you wish to remember the war and times of the Confederate South, we have museums for that. If you wish to fly the flag as a show of regional pride and reverence for a bygone era, understand the history and origins of that symbol before proclaiming to honor ‘Southern culture’. If you wish to honor ALL Southern heritage then know what you are saying and be cognizant of what you choose to represent. It is the battle flag of the Confederacy, whose soul and identity was eloquently laid bare in Stephens’ Cornerstone speech.

I, on the other hand, choose to acknowledge, love and represent today’s South. One in which I was raised alongside of white, Hispanic, Asian and all other descendants of men and women in between. My home county, Gwinnett, is now a minority majority county due to the influx of Asians, blacks, Hispanics and eastern Indians. I’ve attended Atlanta Hawks games and seen the diversity of fans donning the cherished Pac-Man logo and realize that they are starting to take just as much pride in our Southern city as I do. I have a Mexican friend who tattooed the Gwinnett Braves logo on his arm to signify his love for the county he grew up in. If you go back far enough through the years, we all are descendants of immigrants and have inherited the South as our cherished home.

I do not believe the Confederate battle flag should be banned, allow people to choose by which articles to represent themselves but I do not believe any state government should have current association with a banner as divisive and suspect as that flag beyond history books Confederate soldier memorials. From a citizen of the last state to be readmitted into the Union, I say let the flag rest in museums along with the memories in hearts and minds of those brave enough to acknowledge the complete history, significance, heritage and meaning of this Southern battle emblem.

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