Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Flag Is Gone

How Much Further Must We Go?

                       This ain't no temporary, typical, tearful good-bye, uh uh uh
This ain't no breakin' up and wakin' up and makin' up one more time, uh uh uh 
                       This is gone (gone) gone (gone) gone (gone) gone

                       Gone like a freight-train, gone like yesterday
                       Gone like a soldier in the civil war, bang bang
                       Gone like a '59 Cadillac
                       Like all the good things that ain't never coming back
                                   from the Montgomery Gentry song "Gone"

                       When I was a kid, uncle Remus, he put me to bed
                       With a picture of stonewall Jackson above my head

                       I can still hear the soft southern winds in the live oak trees
                       And Those Williams boys they still mean a lot to me,
                       Hank and Tennessee.
                       I guess we're all gonna be what we're gonna be,
                       So what do you do with good ol' boys like me?
                           from the Don Williams song, "Good Ole Boys Like Me"

White supremacist Dylann Roof murdered of nine people gathered for Bible study at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Roof, who liked to have his picture taken with the Confederate Battle Flag, is likely the catalyst that will bring the flag down for good.

Nikki Haley (Indian), Governor of South Carolina, supported by Senators Tim Scott (black) and Lindsey Graham (white), announced yesterday that the time has come to remove the Confederate Battle Flag from state-owned grounds. Former Florida governor, Jeb Bush, applauded her, pointing out that, when he was governor, the flag took it's place in museums "where it belongs." In Mississippi Speaker of the House, Philip Gunn, said that the Battle Flag needs to be removed from its corner in the Mississippi State Flag. Mississippi native, Russell Moore, President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, wrote that the Battle Flag and the Cross cannot co-exist; one will burn up the other.

There has not been much pushback. The nearly always sane Charles Krauthammer, approved Governor Haley's move, but rightly pointed out that removing the flag is totally irrelevant to the murders in Charleston and that the calls to remove it represent the "standard liberal impulse" that when something bad happens, we need to do something, even if it is irrelevant. In Mississippi, despite Speaker Gunn's statement, Governor Phil Bryant said he did not think the Legislature would override the will of the people to have the Battle Flag embedded in the State Flag. MS State Senator Chris McDaniel posted a thinly-veiled response to Speaker Gunn on Facebook: "At the end of the day, political correctness is about power; consequently, its practitioners will NEVER be appeased. They won't stop until dissent is crushed and tolerance of opposing viewpoints is no longer accepted." His "friends" followed up with postings of support for the flag and disappointment with the Speaker.

The Battle Flag is inextricably tied, not only to Southern secession, but to the Dixiecrat Party, the Ku Klux Klan, resistance to integration, and racism. It is a matter of fact that the vast majority of Black people see red when they see the Battle Flag. The vast majority of Americans of all races do not want the flag displayed. Even in South Carolina, as George Will has pointed out, the majority of citizens have a negative reaction to the flag (for various reasons). The argument that the Battle Flag is a part of Southern heritage has lost any power to persuade most Americans of a legitimate display of it.

It should be pointed out that, while the Battle Flag is popularly identified with the Confederacy, it was not the National Flag. The real "Stars and Bars" looks more like the American Flag than the Battle Flag. Even the Bonnie Blue Flag, adopted by the short-lived Republic of West Florida, was used unofficially in the early days of the Confederacy. It should be expected that, if people come to associate these flags with the Confederacy, they too will be found offensive, which brings us to a question and an observation.

I can remember when our family took trips saying to my father, "How much further till we get there, Daddy?" As a Southerner, I would like to ask: "How much further must Southerners go?" My observation is that it seems nothing less than will do than saying something like the following: "The Confederacy was evil. The whole point of it was the permanent maintenance of the institution of slavery. The Confederate States engaged in rebellion against the legitimate government of the United States. Those who engaged in the rebellion and who fought to sustain it were traitors who might justly have been executed after the Rebellion was suppressed. We were wrong. We are wrong. We want to repent. We will do whatever you ask us to do as fruits worthy of repentance."

A few questions:

1. Must Southerners renounce the Constitutional argument about the relations of the States to the the central government of the United States? Let me make a few things clear: 

a. The War would not have occurred had there not been the institution of slavery. It is good that slavery is gone. While I agree with the Southern argument that slaveholding was not a bar to either membership or office holding in the Apostolic churches, I also agree that there were very heinous practices associated with the institution as practiced in America. Among these were obtaining of slaves by man-stealing, physical and sexual abuse of slaves by masters, the breaking up of families, and the denial of education.

b. It must be admitted that Southerners, along with most Americans at the time, including Abraham Lincoln, believed in the inherent and irremediable inferiority of black Africans to white Europeans. This is racism, and racism is evil.

c. The issue of a right to secession was settled by the War which defeated the seceding states, brought them under Federal control, and dictated the terms of their readmission to the Union. Secession is a dead issue. 

With those things admitted, must one also renounce that: 

1) That states that voluntarily voted themselves into the Union also had the right by the same means to dissasociate themselves from the Union?

2) That the Constitutional arrangement entered by the states reserved to the states and individuals that authority and those powers not expressly given to the federal goverment? 

2. Must Southerners renounce their heritage and their heroes? Race and the South are inextricably linked. You can no more extricate race, racism, segregation, Jim Crow laws, lynchings, unequal justice and education, and other sins from the South than you used to be able to extricate love from marriage. Southern culture is intetwined with issues of race.

But, there are many aspects of Southern heritage and culture (all to some degree influenced by the history of relations between the races) . Idealism. Romanticism. A sense of the tragic. Accents. Manners. Food. Honor. Charity. Southerners outgive other sections of the country. Patriotism. Southerners generally have a great love for country and believe military service and careers are honorable. Place. Southerners have have a great attachment to the land and to their people, including their ancestors. Literature:  Willam Faulker, Flanney O'Connor, Walker Percy, Shelby Foote, Willie Morris, almost ad infinitum. Music. Blues, Country, Rock. B.B. King, Hank Williams, Jerry Lee Lewis. Southern culture, including its Black sub-culture, is shaped by its history - antebellum, War, defeat, occupation, reconstruction, segregation, civil rights.  

Southerners have their heroes - men who serve as examples of honor and courage. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Light Horse Harry Lee, Stonewall Jackson, J.E.B Stuart, even Nathan Bedford Forrest (whom Shelby Foote classed as one of two genuises of the War, the other being Lincoln, and who died a repentant Christian). Supremely Robert E. Lee (who used to be also a national hero). I have long thought, and think now, despite all the debunking of the "Lee Myth," that my fellow Christian and Episcopalian  is one of the most honorable men of whom I know. But by no means do all see him as I do. When we lived in Pittsburgh, I was talking to another parent at a Christian school sports banquet. He was an attorney, and I was proud to tell him that our son had just been accepted into the law school at Washington and Lee University. He replied, "Some of us have a problem with the second part of that name." I wasn't sure I heard what he said so I asked him to repeat it. If there had been more time before dinner, I might have challenged him to a duel, but rather replied, "Well, he's one of my heroes." 

Southern heritage and heroes cannot be dissociated from the War and slavery. But must Southerners who have pride in their history and heritage be silent? Must I get rid of my "blanky" (see above), my Robert E. Lee coffee cup, and the little statue on my dresser? Must I refuse to tear up when I hear the last words of the Prebyterian deacon, "Let us cross the river and rest beneath the shade of the trees"? Must Southerners give up their heroes?

I think that beyond my generation there will be few sons and daughters of the South who will feel much attachment of the kind I do to the South. Unfortunately, and terribly so, the South will be associated with groups like the League of the South and reneck racists like Dylann Roof. The South, its history, its heritage, and its culture deserve far better than that.

I understand that the flag is being lowered for good. That I can live with. I have worn once I believe a pin that includes the MS State Flag and never the pin of the Great Seal of the South. They lie in a box with my cufflinks and collar stays. In most of the places I go and among the people with whom I associate to wear either would be too much "in your face." 

I also see that increasingly one is not allowed much pride in Southern heritage and no heroes from the War, if one does not want to be classed a racist. That I don't like and am sad about. 

I also see that the only narrative about race and the South allowed, even in the church, is that associated with liberal sociology, politics, and religion. There I will not go. 

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