Sunday, June 28, 2015

No More Flag for the Southland

The other day, June 26, 2015, as I was sitting in an airport, waiting for my plane out of the Southland, I went into a bar for a beer. As I sat down, I saw President Barack Obama’s CNN televised eulogy for murdered Charleston, South Carolina, Reverend Clementa Pinckney. I had just spent two days in Tennessee and never once saw the Confederate Flag flying. I went to two cemeteries where Confederate soldiers are buried, and saw no rebel battle flags. Pinckney was one of nine people murdered by accused white gunman Dylann Storm Roof inside Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church on June 17, 2015.

Dylann Storm Roof  with Confederate flag (Ref.)
"Dylann Storm Roof, now charged with nine murders, embraced Confederate symbols before the attack, posing with the rebel battle flag and burning the U.S. flag in photos. Their appearance online prompted this week's stunning political reversals, despite the outsized role such symbols have played in Southern identity."
The Confederate flag, a symbol of rebellion and pride, is also a symbol of division and racial hatred. According to the Wall Street Journal, on June 22, 2015, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley made an “abrupt about-face in [the] wake of [the] Charleston killings to call for removal of [the] flag that has flown on statehouse grounds for 50 years.” “The flag was an important part of South Carolina’s past, Ms. Haley said in her remarks, but “it does not represent the future of our great state.” More states are likely to follow. A symbol of Southern pride since the American Civil War, the flag will likely be removed from places of honor and stowed in the archives – or possible destroyed.

All this because of the 21-year-old high school dropout who allegedly opened fire in a black church during a bible study meeting, killing nine. The stories and pictures are all over the Internet. The photos that gets the most attention are the ones with Roof (which I've reproduced here) holding the Confederate flag.

President Obama, during his eulogy: "For many — black and white — that flag was a reminder of systemic oppression and racial subjugation. We see that now," he said. (Ref.)

When I was in Chattanooga, Tennessee, I visited the Confederate Cemetery, near the University of Tennessee. Thousands of Confederate soldiers are buried here, sectioned by the state where they enlisted – Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, etc. All fought in the battles around Chattanooga in 1863. Not one Confederate flag flies on any grave. Were any there prior to the Charleston killings? I don’t know. Certain things can be changed easily; some cannot. Flags can be easily removed, but not so easily the stars and crossed bars wrought in iron across the cemetery’s entry gates.

Photo of alleged killer Dylann Storm Roof, with flag and gun (Ref.)

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- A website with a white supremacist manifesto features dozens of photos of Dylann Storm Roof, the man accused of killing nine people at a church in Charleston, South Carolina, posing with weapons, burning an American flag and visiting Southern historic sites and Confederate soldiers’ graves. -

Chattanooga National Cemetery
Another stop I made was the Chattanooga National Cemetery. A much larger, mini-Arlington type burial ground run by the U.S. Government, with over 50,000 burials. Upon entering the gates, there were only two flags flying at the top of the hill – the cemetery's own flag (background in the image at left) and the United States flag. The U.S. flag was flying at half-mast. There were no rebel flags anywhere, no sign of the stars and bars.

Like the gates of the Confederate Cemetery, there is something here in the National Cemetery, however, that belies our notion of equality. There may be no Confederate flags on the graves, but the government-issued “U.S.C.T.” headstones marking black graves are segregated from the white graves. “U.S.C.T.” stands for United States Colored Troops, a designation bestowed by the United States Government in 1863 on the black soldiers who fought in the Union Army. There were 175 USCT regiments, by the way, which constituted almost a tenth the manpower of the Union Army.

USCT Section in Chattanooga National Cemetery
And discrimination is alive and well in America, a hundred and fifty years later. From alleged killer Dylann Storm Roof’s white supremacist manifesto, "The Last Rhodesian," (which, if you have a strong stomach, you can read at this link):
“I have no choice,” it reads. “I am not in the position to, alone, go into the ghetto and fight. I chose Charleston because it is most historic city in my state, and at one time had the highest ratio of blacks to Whites in the country. We have no skinheads, no real KKK, no one doing anything but talking on the internet. Well someone has to have the bravery to take it to the real world, and I guess that has to be me.” - (Ref.)

During his eulogy to Reverend Pinckney, President Obama praised South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley for asking lawmakers to bring down the Confederate flag that flew outside South Carolina's Statehouse. A number of politicians stated that historic but divisive symbols no longer deserve places of honor.

Confederate Cemetery, Chattanooga, TN
"It's true a flag did not cause these murders," Obama said. "But as people from all walks of life, Republicans and Democrats, now acknowledge — including, Gov. Haley whose recent eloquence on the subject is worthy of praise — as we all have to acknowledge, the flag has always represented more than just ancestral pride. Removing the flag from this state's capitol would not be an act of political correctness. It would not be an insult to the valor of Confederate soldiers. It would simply be an acknowledgment that the cause for which they fought — the cause of slavery — was wrong." (Ref.)