Discussions about the display of the Confederate Battle Flag are widespread, heated, and controversial. This discussion has been recently brought to prominence following the shootings of nine churchgoers in Charleston, SC. The murderer had previously posted many photographs of himself honoring the Confederate flag. And the flag flies on the Capitol Grounds of the very State in which the massacre occurred.
To many Southerners, the flag has been a symbol of respect for the Southern men who fought and died during the American Civil War, and for the sacrifices of the loved ones left at home. In some states, the flag is incorporated into the State Flag.
As a child growing up in the South, I never thought much about the flag. I passed the statue of the Confederate soldier on the courthouse grounds without a second thought. I strongly suspect that my black brothers and sisters did not regard it in the same way. But I was just a child. We sang "Dixie" with gusto in school and proudly proclaimed our Southern heritage by naming ancestors who fought in the war. When I went off to college, the television station in Raleigh, NC, ended its programming not with the National Anthem but with a moving rendition of "Dixie." And still I gave little thought to the use of Civil War songs and flags.
I was in my mid-twenties when I truly appreciated how corrupt this symbol of the South had become. And when a symbol becomes so corrupt, its original intention is totally lost and can never be regained.
Take the swastika, for example. For more than 3,000 years, this cross was seen as a symbol of life, power, and especially good luck. Buddhist and Hindu religions considered versions of the swastika as powerful and meaningful religious symbols.
In the 1920s Adolf Hitler decided the swastika would be a perfect insignia for the rising Nazi Party. It became their flag and adorned their uniforms. It was used so successfully that within a few short years, 3,000 years of historical significance were erased from most memories. Few people recalled any other use of the swastika than as a symbol for Hitler and the Nazis. A symbol so corrupted it would never be used in its original context again.
Photograph from the Internet
In a similar manner, the Confederate Battle Flag has become corrupted and is seen by many as a symbol of racial prejudice. (And NO, I am not comparing the Civil War with the Nazi regime.) The flag can no longer be considered only a symbol dedicated to the Civil War dead, and it hasn't been for some time. It has been corrupted and the meaning has forever changed. When I was in middle school, the history books in the South taught that the American Civil War was fought not over slavery but over States rights. That is pretty much hogwash. However, it is true that many, if not most of the Confederate soldiers from North Carolina and some other states were not fighting for slavery. They were fighting because their State and their countrymen were at war. More than half the soldiers killed at Gettysburg were from North Carolina. Should we not honor their bravery? Yes, we should honor them. But not with the Confederate Flag.
Photograph from the Internet
I do not personally know anyone who displays the Confederate Flag. But I do see the flag with regularity here in the mountains. Sometimes it is at a house. More often it is on a pickup truck. And we have NC specialty license plates using the flag for "Sons of the Confederacy." [It is of note that NC also has specialty license plates for almost every university, club, or profession you can imagine.] Seeing the Confederate Flag displayed like this brings certain negative feelings to my mind. I can only imagine how much those feelings are magnified when my black friends view it.
So, the Confederate Battle Flag is such a corrupted symbol that it cannot be displayed any longer in public places. Obviously I am in favor of anyone's right to display the flag on his or her personal property. But I would encourage them to think about the message it may send about them.
So let's take down the flag. But let's not try to erase history. Americans in the North and in the South suffered and died during the Civil War. It happened and is part of the making of our union.
Several Confederate monuments have recently been vandalized with spray paint. I fear such extreme reactions will be met with equal or worse reactions from white supremacists. Already several black churches have burned by arsonists. Such actions from these racialists minimizes the egregious killings of those nine innocent people and gives credence to the desires of their killer.
So fellow Southerners, keep the Confederate Flag and other Civil War memorabilia if you wish, but keep them in the privacy of your own home or in museums. Not in public places. The time has come to take down the Confederate Flag from all public forums. It is too corrupt a symbol.