Within days after the nation marked — more than most likely ignored — Flag Day, another, not quite as old red, white and blue banner, stirred a wealth of controversy. To many, worshipping this flag is not-so-subtle proof that bigotry is alive and well, from coast to coast and from north to south, in 21st century America.
After the April 17th massacre, the South Carolina and
American flags (at left) fly at half mast as the Confederate
flag unfurls below at the Confederate Monument in
Columbia, South Carolina. (Sean Rayford-Getty Images)
One specific symbol that clearly represents enduring racism — not to mention treason — is the Confederate flag, of which there are elements in banners of several southern states that refuse to remove it from capitol buildings where it waves alongside the Stars and Stripes. Supporters perceive it as an emblem of their proud heritage with many third and fourth generation Southerners undoubtedly in accord with that rationale.
Yet to some, regardless of race, there’s no more disgraceful symbol in this nation’s history than the Confederate flag.
To dyed-in-the-wool Southerners, who, even now, refer to the Civil War as the struggle for independence from the “tyranny and aggression of northern states,” the dispute is not about the flag’s historical implication, but whether or not it’s appropriate to display a symbol that, in the eyes of many local and non-regional residents, will always signify oppression, hatred and disloyalty.
African-Americans, whose ancestral roots on these shores began and persisted for over 300 years in slavery, servitude and segregation, are naturally disgusted at the mere sight of the flag. Many Catholics and Jews most likely also cringe at the banner's blue cross against a bright, red background as it reminds them of an icon glorified by the Klu Klux Klan and other racist groups, which number in the hundreds, according to some estimates, oppose anything that isn’t wholly white and Christian.
After the Civil War the public display of the Confederate flag was illegal in states occupied by Federal troops. But it resurfaced when Southern states raised the flag or incorporated it into their state flag in the early part of the 20th century, then decades later when segregationists employed it as a defiant stance against federal authorities in the civil rights struggle.
During World War II, military units that consisted largely of Southerners proudly displayed the flag as their unofficial emblem. Some soldiers even carried Confederate flags into battle.
During the Republican presidential primary in 2000, Republican contenders, including Sen. John McCain, skirted the issue claiming it was a state matter. Democrat candidates then were outspoken about their opposition against the flag on public buildings. Seven years later, presidential hopeful Joe Biden demanded the flag be removed from the South Carolina capitol, while McCain again waffled on the issue.
More than a decade ago, following pressure from residents and threats of economic boycotts, the South Carolina legislature passed the Heritage Act, which removed the Confederate banner from the statehouse and relocate it where it currently waves from the nearby Confederate Soldiers’ Monument. Some Southern states continue to exhibit the Confederate flag over government buildings and it is quite evident at regional historical monuments commemorating the Civil War.
The flag controversy was briefly revived in Montgomery, Alabama, in 2007, where former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani was campaigning for the Republican presidential nomination. Giuliani refused to criticize the flying of the Confederate flag over the state capitol. His contention was that the decision was a state, not a federal, matter.
A cynic, like me, speculated that that particular question was purposely raised to allow “America's mayor” to sway fence-sitting Southern voters, since the Confederate flag hasn’t flown over Alabama’s capitol building for two decades. In fact, few states even fly it on public buildings or incorporate it in their state flags.
Nonetheless Giuliani's response was as clear as a possum on a log at 30 yards. He reacted like most presidential candidates — by pandering to a local constituency hoping to secure votes in upcoming primaries.
Giuliani was not just trying to sway a bunch of uneducated rednecks. He is well aware, as is anyone with a high school education, that the Confederate flag is much more than a regional issue. Tens of thousands of Southerners died in battle under the banner of the flag in the Civil War trying to preserve, among other things, a traditional way of life that for hundreds of years kept human beings of African ancestry in bondage and forced labor.
Though the Confederate flag was only a symbol of a group of rebellious states for a brief period, it, nevertheless, represents centuries of cruel and inhuman treatment of millions. For that solitary reason it is unworthy of a place on any government building in this nation.