If anyone has any more reservation or hesitation about believing that the Northern Virginia Confederate battle flag does represent a heritage about which we should not be proud, I’ve been mulling it over for you guys. I believe I have come up with the solution to the conundrum. I’m correct in believing that the Confederacy stood for slavery and forced labor. So whoever is still saying that the so-called confederate flag represents heritage and not hate, well, you’re plainly wrong. Facts bear me out.
I was forced to go to a white flight “academy” in the mid 1960s, right after desegregation laws were enforced in 1966. This school was named after James Henry Hammond, a former U.S. representative to congress and Governor of South Carolina. His most distinguishing aspect was that he was completely pro-slavery. That is the reason the school was named after him. There were no black children admitted for the years that I attended from 1966-1974, ostensibly because they could not pass the admissions test. The only test I took to go there? We went to see the headmaster, and my sister and I were white. That’s how we passed the “test.”
One of the reasons Hammond is so important to remember for what he did is how vehement he was in his pro-slavery, white supremacist views. He is famous for his “Cotton Is King” speech before the US Senate in 1858. There was much discussion about whether Kansas be admitted into the Union as a slave state or a free state. It was a heated and passionate debate, with no one being more passionate and pro-slavery than Hammond himself. In an excerpt from his speech, he said
“Fortunately for the South, she found a race adapted to that purpose to her hand. A race inferior to her own, but eminently qualified in temper, in vigor, in docility, in capacity to stand the climate, to answer all her purposes. We use them for our purpose, and call them slaves.”
States rights. That is the issue some people claim was the cause of the Civil War. But ultimately it was the right for caucasians to own African blacks, other human beings who were seen as inferior to whites and who were only worth enslaving and being forced to work, that was at the base of this issue.
After the confederates lost the war, they still waged battle against the blacks who were left in America. During Reconstruction, black people enjoyed a larger freedom than they had before. But that was not to last. White supremacists still ruled in the south. By 1890 Jim Crow laws were enacted bringing back the spirit of old Black Codes that limited freedoms of African Americans. The Jim Crow laws enacted the “separate but equal” segregation of the races. What this really meant was policies where black people were relegated to generally inferior schools and hospitals, had to live in separate neighborhoods, and had restricted interaction with whites. There were extremely difficult literacy tests put in place for voter registration. One wrong answer and the voter was denied access. It virtually guaranteed that the black vote did not count. In other words, the old confederate states created a kind of apartheid. Blacks were lynched. The KKK burned crosses in front of houses where frightened people hid from their haters. Black people were terrorized into submission by people who had not given up the old confederate ideas of white racial superiority.
When the Civil Rights movement was in full swing, the old confederate states resisted tooth and nail. They refused desegregation. They spewed hatred and even tried to form their own political party, the Dixiecrats. Storm Thurmond ran in for President 1948 as a segregationist on the Dixiecrat ticket. Their logo was based on a modified confederate battle flag. By 1961, the centennial of the Civil War, South Carolina had hoisted the confederate flag, a flag that was never flown for the confederacy except by some troops in battle. It was done to “honor” confederate soldiers, and was supposed to be temporary. But the Civil Rights movement gained momentum, and it was not lowered, staying up as a stick in the eye of people who would work for equal rights. The flag remained over the Statehouse until 2000 when it was taken down and flown in front of the building at a confederate memorial.
This symbol of the old south is a symbol of hatred and white supremacy. It has never been anything but that. Some people want to revise history so it fits within some mythical story they were told by people who didn’t understand, willingly or unwillingly, just exactly what the old south represented. It shouldn’t be a symbol of southern heritage at all. It is something to be ashamed of, to remind us of how low and awful people can be. The south has changed since 1865, going through several periods of growth and progress. The confederate battle flag represents the part of the past that should remind us to reject prejudice, to embrace the spirit of America, and to move forward. It should not remind us of some sort of twisted and misplaced “pride.” It should not be flown on government buildings, emblazoned on state flags, or etched on license plates.
Some people would claim that they didn’t take part in the process of minimizing and repressing African Americans. They say that the United States is a “post-racial” nation. But it isn’t. Black people are demonized every day. They are called thugs or hos. They are disproportionately arrested and jailed. Police officers “profile” blacks, and entire communities have learned to mistrust them. That mistrust didn’t just appear out of the thin air. There has to have a truth to it. African Americans were kept in poverty and treated as second class humans here for hundreds of years. Fifty years after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 they are still being affected by the trauma of being enslaved and beaten down. Fifty years is not enough to remedy all the wrongs done to them. It is a start, but it’s just not enough, not yet.
There’s no reason for someone from the modern south to claim “heritage not hate” when it comes to the flag. It’s a bad symbol. Pretending it isn’t something that it is won’t change the truth. So I suggest we find a better symbol of southern pride, something we, both black and white, can embrace. It should be something that reflects everyone, and acknowledges a promise to be mindful and fair-minded. Perhaps it could be a rising sun over a blue ocean to represent both the Middle Passage that brought slaves to America, the warmth of the southern people and the dawn of a new era. I’m sad that it took the tragedy of the massacre at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina to come to this point where we are finally recognizing the horrors of our past, but I am grateful that we are now opening our eyes, and hopefully our hearts, and moving forward.