June 24, 2015 by gregrabidoux2013
President Obama recently said that, “The time has come to retire the Confederate flag. The only place it belongs now is in a museum.”
Haley Barbour, former Governor of Mississippi and a prominent Republican powerbroker recently noted that “I am not at all offended by the Confederate flag.”
Mr. Obama is black. Mr. Barbour is white. The president was raised in Hawaii and will turn 54 this August. The former Governor is a native southerner, born and raised in Mississippi. He is 68.
A generation apart, a race apart, cultural upbringings that are as distant from each other as say, Honolulu is from Yazoo City (MS).
In some ways this shows the stark cleavages, the battle lines drawn across our country right now. As, we are again steeped in a national debate over just what we should or should not do with the most vivid, pronounced and arguably, hated and revered symbol of our Civil War-the Confederate Flag.
In some ways though the Obama-Barbour divide doesn’t even begin to tell the story of how polarizing and politically potent the Confederate Flag has come to symbolize. Especially to southerners who in many ways are still struggling to come to grips with the mix of pride, shame, history, independence, righteousness and regional identity this flag, this mix of fabric, thread, lines, stars and colors evokes.
Currently, there are anti-Confederate flag rallies in South Carolina where the Governor, Nikki Haley, has urged lawmakers to have the flag banned. In Virginia, the Governor has ordered the Confederate Flag symbol be removed from all state license plates. Wal-Mart and Sears announced they will no longer stock Confederate Flags (I didn’t know they sold ’em in the first place) and E-Bay has removed all Confederate Flag items from its buy list online.
All of this and more in the wake of the massacre of 9 Black churchgoers by White Dylan Roof at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in South Carolina.
What we now know is that Dylan Roof became obsessed with “black on white” crime and was greatly influenced by websites sponsored by groups like the Council of Conservative Citizens. This is a White Supremacist group whose creed is that blacks are inherently evil and violent and must be stopped. Its spokesman Jared Taylor recently told the national media that every few seconds a black man is raping a white girl and that the motives of Dylan roof were understandable and not at all illegitimate.
Apparently, 21 year-old Dylan took his solidarity with this and like-minded groups a step or two or three further, and, as he confessed to police, he wanted his killings to “ignite a new civil war.”
To be honest, and this is a Yankee speaking now, I am not sure we’ve ever fully stopped fighting the old one. I have lived, worked, played and grown-up in the South now for years. In Texas, in Tennessee, in Georgia. And I am still taken aback when a Southerner refers to me as a “Northerner” or a “Yankee.” Sure, it’s true I was born “up North” but the proximity of the Civil War, the Confederate Flag, the black v white issues that seem to be still so real and palpable to many in the South just never came up as I was growing up.
I won’t say it is totally a “Southern thing” but for many reasons, the Civil War and all that the Confederate Flag symbolized then and now resonates so much more powerfully in the South than the North. I joked once with a South Carolinian Civil War “re-enactor” that he could re-enact every battle he wanted but the outcome would never change. “Maybe someday,” he responded, only partially in jest.
But where does all of this bring us as a united nation of states?
Will banning the Confederate Flag bring back the victims that Dylan Roof took with his hatred and his gun? Of course not.
But will it begin to dissipate some of the emotions and divisiveness of such a symbol for Southerners and all Americans today in the year 2015 moving forward? Quite possibly, yes.
You see one of the enigmas of the South I have felt up close and personal is a profound sense that the civil war, the hatred of those Yankees who burned Atlanta, the bitter loss of slavery and the power that brought to white plantation owners and really just that loss of independence, happened just a few years ago if that. When many Southerners talk about the Civil War you would think that Lincoln had just declared the war over the fortnight before.
And in their hearts and minds maybe it feels like yesterday. To some it seems to have never ended.
But General Robert E. Lee did in fact surrender on April 9th, 1865 to the Union forces. That was, if my Yankee math is correct, 150 years ago.
So much has changed since then and yet, sadly, in many important ways so much remains the same. As starkly different and obvious as black and white.
Look, I realize that retiring the Confederate Flag won’t smooth over or even resolve all of the differences that separate so many Americans today. And I do appreciate that for a number of Southerners this flag continues to be a source of pride, however a mixed message it sends.
But I can only imagine what many others, especially black Americans think of when they see this flag-slavery, subjugation, dogs and water hoses, beatings, lynching, the Night Riders, the Ku Klux Klan, a time when brother fought against brother and American blood was shed and lost on both sides. A time when we were all anything but united.
Is that really the symbol we want to continue flying proudly over our state capitols in places like Haley Barbour’s Mississippi and former President Jimmy Carter’s Georgia?
What message does continuing to fly the Confederate Flag send today?
Is this a message that all Americans, black and white can embrace?
This debate will continue. The furor and passion on both sides of the Confederate Flag may never fully dissipate. America will continue its love/hate relationship with guns. America will continue to be the most heavily armed civilian population in the world.
All this I know to be true.
What I also know is that while we all get swept up over a flag, Confederate or American, we would be remiss if we allowed a moment more to pass without placing the attention where it needs to also be…on the victims, the lives Dylan roof brutally took in his blind hatred. The pain he created. The families, friends, the sons and daughters he tore asunder in his cold, rage to ignite a new civil war. A war that seems to never fully heal no matter how much time passes.
Maybe because we just won’t let it.
Reverend Daniel Simmons, Sr., age 74, Reverend Clementa Pinckney, age 41, Cynthia Hurd age 54, Sharonda Singleton, age 44, Myra Thompson, age 59, who was teaching Bible studies when she was killed, Tywanda Sanders, age 26, Suzie Jackson, age 87, Reverend Depayne Middleton-Doctor, age 49 and a Mother of four daughters, Ethel Lane, age 70.
May you all now be in a better place. And may God shed his eternal blessing on each and every one of you from this day forward to eternity.
And may the rest of us find the wisdom, compassion and clarity to stop fighting a war that should have ended some 150 years ago.