There has been a lot of blather lately about the flag flying over the capitol in South Carolina. Does it honor the brave South Carolinians in the Civil War or dishonor approximately 1.3 million African-Americans in the state. What’s the history of the flag in the South?
Georgia first adopted a confederate battle flag in 1956, two years after The US Supreme Court banned segregated schools — but nearly a century after the Civil War. In 1961, George Wallace, the governor of Alabama, hoisted the Confederate battle flag over the capitol dome in Montgomery. The next year, South Carolina raised its battle flag over its capitol. Why then, 100 years after the civil war?
First, let’s look at the flag they raised. It’s wasn’t the flag of the Confederacy;
That’s this one:
It’s called the rebel flag, and it was the battle flag of the State.
So it wasn’t the one you would expect to honor the brave young men of the Confederacy. But it was the one demonstrating a different rebellion – the one against outlawing racial discrimination. And it was the same flag raised by the Dixiecrats in the 1940s when they wanted a symbol of protest and resistance. They were out to protect what they called “The Southern Way of Life,” particularly the Jim Crow laws under attack by the more liberal mainstream Democratic Party. The Dixiecrats nominated Strom Thurmond for president on a platform that said, in part:
“We stand for the segregation of the races and the racial integrity of each race; the constitutional right to choose one’s associates; to accept private employment without governmental interference, and to earn one’s living in any lawful way. We oppose the elimination of segregation, the repeal of miscegenation, the control of private employment by Federal bureaucrats called for by the misnamed civil rights program. We favor home-rule, local self-government and a minimum interference with individual rights.”
No wonder African-Americans (or what they called “nigras”) had some problems with their symbols. And still do. But I want to address the larger issue. How are we all supposed to deal with race in the 21st century?
Many felt good about President Obama’s election because we thought it showed we were moving ahead. At least I did. But not everyone. Many — too many — thought he wasn’t one of “us,” and he had no right to be our president. I remember seeing the bumper sticker in northern Florida that said “Don’t re-nig in 2012.” And Rush Limbaugh’s “Barack the magic Negro.” And of course there was the incessant attempt to delegitimize the president by claiming – with absolutely no proof whatsoever and overwhelming evidence to the contrary – that he wasn’t eligible because he was born in Kenya. (Even if he had been, his mother was an American citizen so he would have exactly the same right as Canadian-born Ted Cruz.)
The world is organized along tribal lines, so when it comes to religion, politics, in fact every social interaction, the first instinct is to follow the tribe. And that’s not going away. We will never eliminate differences, but unless we find a way to tolerate distinctions and overcome them, we are doomed to have these terrorist attacks. Like Charleston. Like the anti-Muslim rally in Texas.
White people must learn to talk about race among themselves and with African-Americans. Christians must learn to talk freely and openly about Jews and Muslims. And vice versa. We can either put this behind us, or we are bound to have more of the same. Get beyond the issues that divide us, or live in the muck.
That’s the alternative. What’s your choice?