Author’s Note: This is an article I wrote for the on-line music and ‘Southern Culture’ magazine Southern Fried. What I wrote so incensed the publisher that he took all my music and previous articles off his website and put tiny confederate flags next to all other articles-including pie recipes, and engaged in a racist apologist rant against my un-southerness.(He was from Arizona – I from Fla-Ga.)
The Confederate Flag –Should It Still Fly?
Notes on an Obsequy and The Power of Southern Mythology
J.D. Brayton (MYSTR Treefrog)
Who owns history? How much power do symbols hold over us all?
Is change necessary even to the exclusion of the diversity of viewpoint?
Does revisionist history foster debate, or political correctness?
On July 1, 2000 the Confederate flag, the Stars and Bars, was taken off the State capitol of South Carolina in Columbia, where it has flown since 1962, and moved to the statehouse grounds to fly at the site of a Confederate war memorial. The Confederate flag had been hoisted above the State Capitol Dome by the State Legislature in protest of the civil rights reforms being enacted throughout the South during the early 1960’s. After continued protests from the NAACP and other groups who viewed the Confederate Flag as a Racist symbol, the State legislature reached what they thought was a just and equitable solution by a vote and a compromise was reached.
Counter demonstrations, though smaller in number, opposing the removal the flag on grounds of the historical preservation of Southern Heritage, were temporarily assuaged by the compromise.
The Confederate Stars and Bars still fly on State property.
The debate, the protests, and an economic boycott of South Carolina suggested by the N.A.A.C.P continue as a result of this issue.
Recently, on January 15th, 2008 at a rally in support of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. day at the state capitol, Senator Joseph Biden, D. Delaware was joined by fellow Senator Christopher Dodd in saying;
“If I were a state legislator, I’d vote for it to move off the grounds – out of the state.”
Confederate Flag supporters attending the rally, numbering fewer than 50, were incensed and waved banners saying, ”We Don’t Want Dodd, No King but God.”
Jim Hanks of Lexington ,Ky -a member of the League Of The South was quoted as saying;
“We love this Flag, we love our heritage. Biden would say anything to get votes. “
There is much debate as to exactly what that heritage is, and what that heritage means to the citizens of the United States- black and white- and to the citizens of South Carolina. It must be noted that most South Carolinians voted to remove the Confederate flag from the Statehouse Dome. Most, but not all, seemed satisfied with the compromise of allowing the Stars and Bars to fly on Statehouse grounds at the Confederate war memorial.
The State of South Carolina census of the year 2000 puts the percentage of black citizens at 29% of the state population. This is nearly a third of South Carolina’s population. It may be fairly assumed that most of these persons are descendants of slaves, and therefore may be alienated by seeing what they may characterize as a symbol of racism, slavery and division being displayed over Capitol Dome of the Statehouse. The land, it is argued, is paid for and supported by taxes, both State and Federal.
The Confederate flag is an insult to one third of the taxpayers of South Carolina, and therefore should be taken down and off Public land.
Symbols are odd things. They change in importance depending through which set of eyes view them.
The Civil War- (which, my fellow Americans, was FAR from Civil)- began on April 12th, 1861 when Southern Forces fired on Fort Sumter. It ended on April 14, 1865 when Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant at a tiny courthouse at Appomattox Virginia.
That was the end of The Confederate States of America. Period.
It was not an end of the grief suffered by both sides as a result of this national horror. It continues to this day. I leave the factual debates to historians-both the revisionists who insist that slavery was not the real issue, and those who insist it was.
To a descendant of the unconscionable institution of slavery, and the segregationist policies that continued in the South afterwards(and in point of fact-EVERYWHERE in the U.S.)- will reasonably insist that slavery had EVERYTHING to do with the Civil War.
To those who hold that States Rights was the issue, and that the right of a people to rebel against the enforced domination of an all-powerful central federal government was the REAL cause of the Civil War- it’s a question of Southern Pride. Many see this rebellion not only as their right –but their bound duty, even 142 years after the end of the cession of hostilities to continue to defy all boundaries set by others by flying the Confederate Flag.
It must be noted that the state flag of South Carolina does not incorporate the Stars and Bars in it’s design as do many of the southern states such as Georgia, Florida, Alabama, and Mississippi.
Some people just like being disturbers of the status quo. History be damned. Flying The Stars and bars pisses THEM off so that’s why we do it.
Some people just think it looks cool on the back of a motorcycle jacket.
The South- for it’s part- suffered horribly not only by losing the Civil War, but under the failed and harsh policies of Reconstruction.
I think it’s a pretty fair assumption that descendants of slaves suffer still.
I have heard the knee-jerk reaction from some who dislike hearing the descendants of slaves demanding social and political equity. The stock line goes something like
“ Why don’t they just get over it? “
Here’s something to consider:
To the Victor belong the Spoils. What is FAIR seems beside the point when presented by the realities warfare and of both American and Human History.
Now- those of you who may wish that “they just get over it” should go look at the calendar hanging in your home. Hopefully it is current. Do the math. What year is this? More importantly, what century?
Is there really a debate here?
A little perspective is in order.
The use or abuse of a symbol can have serious detrimental effects to what may otherwise be met with fair compromise and just observation.
Observations? Here’s one:
The Swastika was originally a symbol used by Indians(um..you know..the ones from India..)
to illustrate the continuity and balance of Life force. Taken by itself, without the weight of modern history, it’s really quite a fascinating graphic. It’s even beautiful in it’s simplicity.
It’s tough to get the same reaction from your average Jew.
Looks like the Nazi’s messed that symbol up by appropriating the swastika and creating their own special myth around it.
Fact is, The Stars n Bars might have been an innocuous cloth oddity, perhaps even merely nostalgic if the Ku Klux Klan hadn’t decided to appropriate it and use it to terrorize black citizens and reduce the perception of all Southerners as being hateful, ugly, ignorant, murderous and petty. The KKK wasn’t content to only desecrate that symbol for their myth, there was also that cross burning thing.
It’s weird how the use of THAT symbol didn’t seem to cause any sort of moral conflict in good Christian Stars N bar totin’ citizens working for the preservation of “heritage”.
Now it doesn’t matter how cool the design is.
As an artist, with an eye for color and a fascination for design- I truthfully think I like the graphic of the Confederate Flag better than our current National symbol. The Red background, blue cross and white stars is immediately striking to the eye.
It is interesting to note that this was not the first Confederate flag used in battle. There were two others used before it . These Confederate flags were rejected for reasons not obvious until similarities in color and design to Union flags made the flag difficult to distinguish in the heat of battle.
The second Confederate battle flag had a white background that resembled a flag of truce.
Not great for morale. Mighty darned confusing.
I imagine the designer of that particular flag was reassigned.
This bold Red background with Blue cross and white stars representing the Secessionist States was superior indeed. It was easy to recognize on the field, striking in detail, bold in character.
It has reached legendary status in Civil war lore.
Fair observation helps us tell the difference between LEGEND and MYTH.
Hint: one has a basis in fact- the other does not and thus can be molded to suit the teller of the tale.
The Myth: The South was all mint Julep, hooped skirts, beautiful Belles and well dressed southern gentlemen. These fine gentlemen owned large plantations on which a happy population of well fed, happy, musical Negroes went dutifully about their labors, singing, dancing, and feeling fortunate to have been delivered out of the savage African jungles by the white master. In Addition these Negroes happily converted to Christianity, thanks to the beneficial institution of slavery. Their souls were no longer in peril as a result of their conversion. The fields and comfortable shacks rang with songs of the grateful black folk. Under Southern skies great poetry was recited by genteel and well -mannered white aristocracy, there was laughter under the majestic Magnolias and cotillions lit up the night.
Few Southerners fighting in the Confederate forces owned slaves. Most of them were poor dirt farmers. Few even owned their own land. Plantation owners who owned more than 10 slaves could legally buy their way out of serving- or pay some poor white hardscrabble to serve in his stead.
The North profited by slavery as well. Northerners also owned and imported slaves. Rhode Island was one of the most active importers of slaves until Moses Brown and the Quakers put a stop to the importation of Human Beings. This didn’t happen overnight. The ships left from Massachusetts and Connecticut for the coast of Africa as well. The North had the mills and the means to turn “King Cotton” into a useful commodity. Not all Northerners gave a crap about Emancipation. One of the worst riots in American history happened in New York City. Over one thousand died in rebellion over the Union army conscription law. Over eighty black men were lynched on that occasion.
So much for Liberal Yankees.
America from it’s inception til the year 1865 was
The Land Of The Free And The Home Of The Slave.
(…but why don’t they just get over it…)
To this I would add that if there is ANYONE left in this country that doesn’t admit to the fact that the United States was largely built by the sweat and labor of slaves, who were forced into bondage, brought to these shores in the stinking disease ridden Hell of a slave ship, tortured, auctioned , bred like animals, and whose families were ripped apart and sold away from one another, and whose culture suffers as a result TO THIS VERY MOMENT- (are you getting this yet?)
Damn, man. Where Y’all been? Stop yelling about your heritage and worshiping a SYMBOL and mouthing anecdotal truisms and read a book once in a great while. Great knowledge resides between the covers of a History book.
You may want to read Shelby Foote’s The Civil War: A Narrative (3 Vol. Set).
Ol’ Shelby is a Southern homeboy- so don’t worry that he’s part of the Liberal media.
Prop that flag up under the shade of that Magnolia tree and set a spell. A good read never hurt anyone. Eat some souse and crackers and settle in. What you may discover may expand your mind.
War as Heritage? Strange way to look at it…
I would argue that then, as now, War, and the myths associated with it, are a decision based on greed and economics brought to bear by Politicians who-through sheer guile and false pragmatism, and under the banner of Patriotism raise the propaganda levels necessary to send a duped population into battle. Both sides were guilty of this. Read a little history before making half-baked assertions about HERITAGE.
It is, and ALWAYS has been-
RICH MAN’S WAR- POOR MAN’S BATTLE.
Wars are begun and fostered by GOVERNMENTS comprised of POLITICIANS; but the horror of battle is suffered by Human Beings- those who are wounded or killed, and most certainly by those who mourn them and are left behind to pick up the pieces. It is those Human Beings who cast the bronze and erect the statues to fathers, brothers, sons, daughters, and yes-to African-American visionaries who died for Racial Equality.
Such is the passion of the ones left alive to grieve.
There is healing in this. From healing comes Resolve. From Resolve comes positive social evolution.
The Pain of loss is universal to the species. There are few things held as sacred in all humankind than the honoring one’s own dead and the need for obsequy.
There are Confederate war memorials. There are Union war memorials. There are memorials (though not nearly enough of them) showing the suffering caused terrible institution of Slavery.
This is our collective history. These memorials are essential to all Americans so that history and the cost of war will never be forgotten. There is no logic in the desecration or in using these monuments as political footballs. These were people. They were loved. Let the memorials stand and may they rest in Peace. May we finally learn the lessons this national horror gave us as Americans.
Unity, IS strength.
When it comes to War in general, and the Civil War in particular- the words of The Bard are especially poignant-
“ALL ARE PUNISHED.”
That quote can be found in Romeo and Juliet. It is spoken by the Prince as he looks at two dead lovers at his feet, and addresses the grieving families whose feud no longer seems so important.
Who owns history? Who dictates Truth?
As for the Confederate Flag used as a symbol-
I am a musician. I was raised in the South. I consider myself proud to be a Southerner. I KNOW where my musical influences come from. Rock n’ roll comes DIRECTLY from the Blues. The Blues comes from incredibly talented black musicians, mostly from the South. This music was invented by the sons and daughters of slaves. I revere these artists. I am delivered, artistically, and spiritually through music as a result of their suffering and their vision and their perseverance.
Guess what? So are any of you who consider yourselves fans of “Southern” Rock.
I understand this and most of our “Southern” Rock heroes understand this. Most musicians know who they have to thank for those incredible guitar licks.
It was Lynyrd Skynyrd who wrote the song “Curtis Lowe’.
And just what was the message of that song?
Hey- in case you haven’t been paying attention- THE SOUTH ROSE AGAIN.
It rose again through literature, art, film and MOST importantly -through MUSIC.
Hey..the music of the SOUTH changed the entire WORLD.
R.E.M are from Athens Georgia. So are The B-52’s. I knew the B-52’s. They all had Southern accents. Dang, I watched Keith Strickland and Ricky Wilson eat Sweet potato pie and fried okra.
Why are they not considered “Southern” Rock? Is it that Flag thing?
Dig this. James Brown was a Southerner. Little Richard was a Southerner. Howlin’ Wolf was a Southerner. The Allman Brothers, who are credited as being the originators of “Southern” Rock were an integrated band, AND Southerners.(by the way- you will never see a Confederate Flag flown behind The Allman Brothers Band.) So was Booker T and The MGs. So was Muddy Waters.
Aw shucks, so was Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis.
That Confederate flag being hung behind some “Southern” Rock bands is disingenuous for this reason. It’s an abysmal abuse of a symbol. It’s a marketing device that fosters a culture of division.
How do you honor your ancestors by degrading the very population who, in point of fact, gave you the driving rhythms you use to rock the world?
How would you feel about Old Glory being used to sell breast implants? Toast? Baby formula?
A good stout toilet? Chicken feed? Erectile dysfunction pills?
And what the HELL does that have to do with those who died in battle to preserve a nation?
Such are the uses of symbols as myth..and myths created and used as comfort for the desperate and terminally insecure.
Ol’ Bill Clinton, a Southerner, once said,
“ It ain’t what they call you, it’s what you ANSWER to.”
There are museums to house artifacts of history, proud or otherwise. For those who march around in circles shouting about the injustice of the striking of the Confederate Flag from a PUBLIC institution, paid for by the taxpayers of THE UNITED STATES, I respectfully ask you to please march into your back yard and plant your flag of eternal resistance (to evolution?) there.
Put a Confederate decal on your rear windshield. No one will stop you.
Put a nice over sized Stars N Bars tapestry over your living room couch.(Most of these are made in China.) Wear a sporty tee-shirt bearing the emblem of your pride. Put the Confederate flag on your favorite fishing hat. Get Confederate golf clubs and matching cleats. Go on a double date wearing matching flags. Who knows? It could enhance your sex appeal.
This is your individual right. You can use your Individual Tax Return to purchase these items.
Look in the mirror and smile. It’s O.K.
Hell, Y’all look mighty sharp.
Ain’t The United States Constitution grand?
Uh-huh. Sho nuff. There is will always be something magnetic and romantic in lost causes.
Fact is, in one way or another, there’s a rebel inside us all.
Damnation-after all- we’re a nation conceived in rebellion, right? Hell Yeah! Yee-haw!
Lets HEAR that Rebel YELL!
But bear this in mind my Southern Brothers and Sisters: to MOST of your fellow countrymen, no matter WHAT their race, or WHAT state they are from; when they see the Stars and Bars flapping in the breeze above your house, the first words that come to mind Are Not
FREEDOM, JUSTICE OR EQUALITY.
Can you say the same for Old Glory, bubba?