In June, a white Southern terrorist killed nine black AME church members in Charleston, South Carolina. The shooter, an uneducated racist, purchased his gun legally. Within a few days, family members of the victims forgave the shooter. They demonstrated a grace that I respect but cannot comprehend. A national conversation about guns did not follow (this is unsurprising). There was much talk about race relations and the conditions of the South, but the only major changes we’ve seen are surrounding the Confederate Flag.
I’ve been a Civil War buff since I was 5 years old. When I was 10, my parents bought me a Civil War chess set. I’ve been to all of the major battlefields and a number of minor ones. My house is adorned with photographs of Lincoln and Grant, and I have a painting of Sherman as he marches through a burning Atlanta. I have been offended by the Confederate Flag my entire life. I’ve taken them off of people’s boats and houses – I ripped them up and threw them in the trash. When I was 22, I got into an argument with two Georgians over the Confederate Flag that hung on the back of their pickup. The situation escalated and one pulled a gun on me (it is the only time in my life that has happened – I’m wiser now).
The Confederate Flag represents slavery and treason. The South rebelled because their way of life was threatened, and they claimed that states’ rights were more important than Federal laws. States’ rights were (and are) the mask that reactionaries hide behind in order to protect the status quo – make no mistake that the war was fought over slavery (and I’m so tired of hearing people talk/write about this subject that have little or no knowledge about it). Those that bore arms against America and pledged allegiance to the Confederacy are traitors and they are guilty of high treason. Their flag represents their intense anti-American beliefs. Those that fought under the flag killed Americans. They should not be celebrated.
All that said, I am clearly ecstatic that South Carolina removed the flag from a momument near their state house. I was also pleased that Sears, Walmart, Ebay and Amazon announced that you could no longer buy Confederate Flags and Confederate Flag-laden procuts on their sites. Jon Oliver pointed out the one negative part of getting rid of Confederate Flag products: “the Confederate Flag should only be found on t-shirts, belt buckles and bumper stickers to help the rest of us identify the worst people in the world.” I’m happy to see America finally come around to this.
Early last week, there was a story in the Times about the battle over the what should be done with the statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest that proudly stands in a downtown Memphis, TN park. I saw that very statue in June of 2013 and was extremely offended by its presence. He is buried there as well. I spat on it and wished I could have torn down the statue and razed the grave. Besides being a traitor and defender of slavery, Bedford massacred black American troops that had surrendered at Ft. Pillow (his supporters deny this — seriously, he has supporters in 2015?) and he was an early, if not founding, member of the the Ku Klux Klan. He does not deserve a statue; only our scorn and antipathy.
I was pleased to learn that the Memphis City Council unanimously voted to move the grave and statue on July 7, 2015, and now there are a few more hurdles to overcome before the process can be moved along. That is an outstanding development, and one that I hope will be repeated throughout the South. In addition to removing the Confederate Flags from state houses and monuments (and banning its sale), I move that all the statues of Confederate politicians, officers and soldier’s should be torn down.
And that is still not enough. There are roads named after Confederates. It’s time to change their names. There are military bases named for Confederate Generals, such as Forts Pickett, Benning, Bragg, Polk, A.P. Hill, Rucker, Beauregard, Lee, and Hood. Two years ago, a man from NJ (not me) created a White House petition to change those names. It received less than a thousand signatures. We should try that again. In June, the Pentagon announced that the names of those bases won’t be changed. I’m quite sure that they eventually will be changed. It will not be fast enough for me, but it is going to happen. The history of America shows that she continually progresses forward, though sometimes it is slow, sloppy, violent and unfair.
These are symbolic changes. They don’t address the repealing of the Voting Rights Act, inadequate schools, disproportional arrests, draconian sentences and a vast array of other examples of institutionalized racism.
As a kid and young man, I despised the South. I was gruff with whites from South Carolina and Georgia, as their states were the worst actors before and during the Civil War. Mississippi and Alabama earned my disgust with their post-war actions and fights against progress. But generations die off and new ones replace them. The South is better than it was in 1860 and 1960. Change is coming (Strom Thurmond’s (!) son spoke out against the Confederate Flag). My stance towards the South has softened as well – I like their barbeque, some of their rock music (Skynyrd, Allman Brothers, Marshall Tucker) and the amazing Smokey Mountains. The region is worthy of redemption. It’s time to finish reconstruction.