Civil Rights

One Southerner’s view of the Confederate flag

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I live in a small town where some folks still refer to the Civil War as the “War of Northern Aggression” — a town with a rich history that revolves around the Civil War. Most people aren’t connected to the Civil War on a daily basis, but folks who live in a town like Milledgeville, Ga. — the antebellum capital of Georgia — are.

{mosads}Every day, I see the building where Georgia legislators voted to secede from the union. My wife works there. It was once the Capitol Building of Georgia. Now, it is Georgia Military College’s Old Capitol Building. Stepping inside it is like stepping back in time. It gives me that goose-bumpy feeling — a reminder from the ghosts of legislators past that something important happened in my own tiny town.

When I was a kid, I used to travel to Savannah, Ga. with my dad. There was a Riverwalk shop that sold Confederate flags, and I’d beg for a different one every time we went. I hung them on my walls, and I learned the history of each one. And, in pre-Internet America, I had to learn about them at the library.

A lot of people here are sons and daughters of Confederate veterans and what their not-that-distant ancestors fought for and died for means something to them. And let me be clear: They do not think of it as a fight over slavery. Right or wrong, they think of it as a fight against federal encroachment.

But those Confederate flags my dad bought me are in a box in the attic now.

It’s an easy issue for someone looking at Southern culture from the outside. Who cares? It’s just a flag; take it down. Vox and other media outlets have ignorantly suggested that the Confederate flag represents nothing but white supremacy.

Calling people racists when they are not hardly makes a persuasive case for taking down the flag. Nor does being told by outsiders to take it down. Liberals in this country have so much cultural tolerance, until it comes to the South. We’re the only ones left that it’s acceptable to stereotype and misrepresent. We are not ignorant, racist, inbreeding, roadkill-cooking, Mountain-Dew-guzzling Clampetts. We are people with a history, and people care about their history. History is a tiny “I was here” carved on the wall of humanity. We owe it to the dead to remember they were here and they mattered so that those who come after us will remember that we were here and we mattered.

But the truth is — and it is painful for me to admit it — the Confederate flag does not belong on any government property. It doesn’t belong on license plates, and it certainly doesn’t belong on state property. If you pledge allegiance to the U.S. flag, it is an act of hypocrisy to fly any Confederate flag. You can’t say “one nation, under God, indivisible” and then fly a flag proudly commemorating the time we were divided. No matter what it means to you personally, that is the flag of a dead and defeated country that was born out of the wonderful philosophy that the federal government should respect states’ rights and that philosophy’s evil and inseparable twin: the states’ right to own human beings.

South Carolina, from a proud Southerner: Please take it down. Take that flag down for the Rev. Clementa Pinckney and the others in Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church who were murdered by a white supremacist who appropriated, but nevertheless revered it. The Confederate battle flag represents division, and that’s all it has ever done is divide.

If you need a flag that shows you defy tyranny, get a Betsy Ross flag, a “Don’t Tread on Me,” a “Join, or Die,” a nine-stripe Sons of Liberty flag or “An Appeal to Heaven.” There are lots. The defiance of tyranny is the first half of the book on American history.

If it’s about states’ rights — a flag that reminds the federal government that your state sovereignty won’t be encroached upon — the South Carolina naval ensign used during the Revolutionary and Civil Wars is perfect. It may not be as recognizable as the Confederate battle flag, but it is a flag that celebrates South Carolina from the very beginning, and a flag every South Carolinian can feel pride in.

Zipperer is assistant professor of political science at Georgia Military College. Follow him on Twitter @eddiezipperer.

Tags battle flag Charleston Confederacy Confederate flag Georgia Milledgeville Savannah South Carolina

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