Confederate flag has a very dirty history

NEW YORK, (U-WIRE) — The flying of the Confederate flag over South Carolina’s Capitol has become one of the state’s most burning issues, fueling a broader debate about the appropriateness of the flag. The Stars-and-Bars is also a part of some southern state flags. And because South Carolina’s presidential primary is the second in the nation and therefore of disproportionate political importance, the issue has seeped into presidential politics, particularly on the Republican side. It should be noted before I write anything pertaining to the presidential race that I am the New York youth co-chair for John McCain’s campaign.
But as I am about to visit some mild criticism upon Sen. McCain, I hope that it will be recognized that my position has not influenced my reasoning. Front-runner George W. Bush has said repeatedly that the flag issue is one for the people of South Carolina and other states to decide for themselves, and has refused to take any real stance on the issue at hand. Politicking to the highest degree.
McCain has at times seemed to take a stronger stand, saying he sees the flag as “offensive” and a “symbol of racism and slavery.” But, he befuddlingly continues, “I also understand others do not view it in that fashion.” He also supports throwing the issue to the people of South Carolina.
For the sake of argument, perhaps we can cede the states and candidates that much –maybe the people of the state should decide on their own without federal involvement. But even this allowance should not provide an excuse for copping-out of answering related questions. It does not follow that a presidential candidate cannot or should not take a firm stand on the topic and suggest what the proper course of action might be. And, what should a reasonable group of people decide? Without a doubt, they would decide to take the Confederate flag down.
The predominant argument for continuing to fly the flag above South Carolina’s Capitol building, among other places, is that it represents the heritage of South Carolinians, that it is a reminder of who they were, and imbues pride in those who see it. Opponents of the flag argue that it is a painful reminder of racism and white supremacy movements, both past and present.
What does the flag really represent? It does not stand for the citizenry of the colony of South Carolina. It does not recall the American Revolution. It did not exist early enough to do so. And it is certainly not representative of the ideals of freedom and equality or anything else that is noble. The flag represents what South Carolina was during a specific period of four years, from 1861 through 1865, a period during which that state’s citizenry fought in a war of which a primary purpose, if not the only one, was to retain the right to own slaves.
The flag did not exist before this period, and was designed specifically for the Confederacy. It is a period that should be looked upon with shame rather than nostalgia and pride.
Had the flag not earlier been a “symbol of racism and slavery,” it certainly became one through the way it was used in direct defiance of the Civil Rights movement by many southern states during the 1950s and 1960s. For some reason, South Carolina did not need the boost of self-esteem supposedly provided by the Confederate flag until it was resurrected in 1962. In theory, it was raised in commemoration of the centennial anniversary of the Civil War.
But, coincidentally, this period was also the height of the Civil Rights Movement, and came on the heels of the new inclusion of the Confederate banner within the flags of Georgia and Mississippi. And, strangely enough, it failed to come down four years later, as it should have, upon the 100th anniversary of the Civil War’s end (and soon after the Civil Rights Act of 1964).
A few critics would argue that the flag is indeed a symbol of past wrongs, and it should keep flying precisely because it will serve as a reminder of past errors and ensure that we do not make the same mistakes again. But if the flag has somehow, in the eyes of all who see it, ceased to be an object around which white supremacists rally and has since attained a more benevolent nature. The moment at which this transformation took place remains unclear to me.
Society cannot maintain that it has begun to achieve racial harmony as long as symbols of oppression not only persist, but are celebrated by large segments of the population.
The flag needs to come down. And I wish the Republican candidates could stop pandering and say as much.
David Segal’s column originally appeared in Friday’s Columbia Daily Spectator.