Some pressure groups want to eradicate all public displays of the Confederate battle flag. The South Carolina skirmish presages another attack on the state flags of Georgia and Mississippi, which incorporate the controversial symbol. Here we go again.
The symbol to me represents not hatred but rather resistance to federal authority exceeding its constitutional limits. Furthermore, I'm a descendent of three Confederate veterans, all of whom (I believe) fought to win independence from an out-of-bounds government that invaded their homeland. With these disclosures made, let's run a compromise up the flagpole.
Rational people occupy both sides of the Georgia State flag issue. Some call it "heritage" and want to preserve it as is. Among them are those who sincerely want to honor their ancestors and those who simply resist change or who resent others trying to impose change on them. There's an apathetic camp that doesn't really care and that couldn't pick the Georgia flag from a line-up of five state flags. Others want change simply to end the controversy. Then there's the offended camp that wants to eliminate Confederate flags everywhere or at least remove them from public buildings and official state flags.
This last group maintains that the Georgia flag was changed in 1956 in defiance of federally court-ordered integration. I've not yet seen any authoritative support for this assertion, but many anti-flag skeptics simply won't believe a coincidence.
It's uncertain what's most offensive, the symbol itself or the perceived motivation for its incorporation in the state flag. Arguments that the symbol is a painful reminder of slavery just aren't adequate.
Would these offended people have us demolish the White House in Washington, built with slave labor? Should we demolish all the beautiful antebellum houses in Macon because they may have been built or maintained with slave labor? I don't think anyone would suggest such. Yet, aren't these reminders of the same painful history?
And if we did eliminate the above reminders of slavery and segregation, what would be next? All relevant monuments and books? Re-writing American history for a happier, more pleasant version would be a mistake. We must preserve our entire history, flaws and all.
Would removing the Confederate battle emblem from the Georgia flag completely satisfy those who demand the change? I'm skeptical.
Nevertheless, perhaps we could express our statehood and sovereignty more productively, seek racial harmony and preserve our heritage at the same time.
As proposed in the 1997-98 session, Georgia legislators could simply revert to the previous Georgia flag (1878-1956, State seal added 1905) which incorporates the original Confederate States of America national flag (see it at www.hpa.org/), not the controversial battle flag. Virtually no one would recognize the first CSA flag or be offended by it.
Ensuring historical accuracy and providing effective education are more important than any symbolic flag victory. Such a legislative bill must also designate April as Confederate Heritage Month and provide for mandatory state-wide annual school programs (at least 1-3 hours) on Confederate Memorial Day (April 26th or the nearest school day).
On that day, volunteers from various historical societies and heritage preservation groups would present the War for Southern Independence as they see it and specify why Confederate veterans deserve our respect and honor. Videotaped presentations are one format option.
Preservationists are rightfully concerned that the southern perspective on the war is often not presented accurately in textbooks, films and other media. This is their opportunity to rebut common misconceptions.
The legislation and school presentations must document that slavery and segregation were wrong, and that the current flag change is motivated by the desire for racial harmony but doesn't in any way imply that the Confederate struggle for independence was wrong.
Would such legislation fully satisfy both sides? No. True compromise never does.
Copyright Ó2000 Steve Scroggins - All rights reserved.
See my February 1997 column on Confederate flags. 4/14/00 Letter on Heritage Ignorance
I don't think the Confederate battle flag (Cross of Saint Andrews) should offend anyone or would offend anyone if they understood the true history of slavery in North America and the War for Southern Independence. The war was not over slavery--states seceded to avoid unfair taxes and tariffs. Had the Confederate states not seceded, there would have been no war and slavery would have continued for decades.
We don't get offended by the US flag which allowed
slavery much longer than did the Confederate government. Nor do we recoil
from the Massachusetts state flag, the state where most slaves were
brought into the US. Africa (the silhouette of the continent) is the
best symbol of slavery, where for centuries human beings were their
principal export---some of Africa's proudest empires were built on slavery revenues. Slavery is well documented in ancient Egypt and continues to this day in Sudan, the Ivory Coast and elsewhere in Africa.
In short, the whole issue is one of education and misunderstandings about the war for Southern Independence, its causes and results. Therefore, education is the key to resolving ongoing disputes on this symbol.
For the sake of argument, let's say that the 1956
flag change was to protest integration (it's not yet proven to me, but I'm
open-minded that it was a possible contributing motivation). If it were
true---and it no doubt is in the minds of some---I could see why that motivation offends. The KKK, white supremacists and other hate groups have misused the Confederate flag and caused the symbol to be associated with their hate. Should southerners of good conscience have protested that usage? Yes, but remember, anyone who opposed those cowards in robes was subject to the same terrorism and acts of intimidation. Reasonable people can understand why the KKK and flag association has been retained in the minds of many. The intimidation and terror were real. But the KKK also professed patriotism and faith and displayed the US flag and the Christian cross. Does anyone associate the stars and stripes or the cross as symbols of hatred? So, let's change the Georgia flag back to the previous version to demonstrate our goodwill---but only with reasonable concessions---aimed at preserving the historical truth and whitewashing nothing.
To me, it's much more important that accurate history be documented and taught to school children so that southern culture will not remain under attack and so that everything about the Confederacy won't be portrayed as evil. If the truth prevails, the symbols of the Confederacy will be safe and will occupy revered locations.
There are those who won't be satisfied until every Confederate
monument, every museum and every favorable book is destroyed. We simply
can't compromise with those who want total southern "cultural cleansing."
We can and must fight their efforts to that end. Again, education is the
only long-term strategy capable of preserving and protecting accurate
history from those who would re-write it.
"To you, Sons of Confederate Veterans, we
submit the vindication of the Cause for which we fought; to your strength
will be given the defense of the Confederate soldier's good name, the
guardianship of his history, the emulation of his virtues, the
perpetuation of those principles he loved and which made him glorious and
which you also cherish. Remember, it is your duty to see that the true
history of the South is presented to future
- Lt. General Stephen Dill
Lee, Commander General, United Confederate Veterans, New Orleans,
A little flag humor by R.L.Day of The Macon Telegraph (RL stands for Raging Liberal): South Carolina rises again 5/04/00 and Fly Flag - but I won't salute 1/20/00
Read the United Daughters of the Confederacy's views on the flag.