The subject of the Confederate flag is one that’s full of controversy, and I don’t ordinarily expound on such topics, but there’s something I’ve always wondered: why does the battle flag of the losers of a war have such a hold on so many people?
What I’m going to say here won’t answer that question because I don’t know the answer. I could speculate, but I won’t. What I am going to do right now is to digress for a minute, just so I can tell you a little about myself.
I try to stay away from controversy because I’m not good at contending with it. I tend to want to stay in my little niche, my own little corner of the world, and live my life as best I can. I’m a “live and let live” kind of person. My daughters sometimes accuse me of being a hermit, but I disagree with that particular assessment because I do, upon occasion, interact with other people. I simply spend a lot of time by myself because of what I enjoy doing: my joy in life is writing.
I write because I can’t not do it so I guess you could say I am compelled to do it, and I’m black, so a lot of my characters are, also. Having said that, I have to add that a lot of my characters are also white, and some are other ethnicities. After all, I live in a country made up of all sorts of folk so it would be kind of ridiculous to use only one brand of people in my writing. Then too, because I write fantasy and science fiction, some of my characters are silver, or some other color or shape altogether, because they’re not human. Basically, my characters are whatever comes to my mind as I dream them up, and I’m an equal opportunity dreamer.
As I’ve said a few times to a few folk I know, “I ain’t deep.” I’m not trying to influence anyone, or make them think, or change the world with what I write. I leave that to the passionate people who feel that’s what they want to do, who feel that’s what they’re supposed to do, that have the temperament to get involved in that sort of thing. All I try to do is tell a good story, and hope somebody reads it, and is thereby entertained.
Okay. I said all of that to say this: as a black woman who was born in the late forties, and grew up during the fifties and sixties, who lived through “Jim Crow” – segregated schools, buses, bathrooms, drinking fountains, restaurants, etc, and witnessed my share of racism and discrimination, I must say that the Confederate flag should, at long last, be permanently retired.
I don’t mean that it should be hidden away and forgotten, never to be seen or discussed again. No, that’s not what should happen. I heard a guy on TV say, in protest to the people that want to remove it from flying over the capital in South Carolina, that it is a part of Southern heritage, a part that shouldn’t be denied.
Yes, it is a part of the heritage of the South, all right, even of the United States of America’s since the South is a part of this country, and I’m not one to think heritage should be denied at all, but I wonder if he’s stopped to think about exactly what that heritage is. He spoke as if he thinks that flag deserves a place of honor, as if it represents some sacred act that the South performed, something wonderful in the history of our country.
Now, I’m not a historian, and I was born eight-two years after the end of the Civil War, so I only know the things I’ve heard about that era from stories told by the old folk in my family when I was a child, most of them second-hand from people whose parents or grandparents were slaves. And of course, I learned things about that era in the history books at school (which tended to sort of whitewash it, so to speak, so I had to read between the lines and go reading on my own). There was only one thing I learned that was really wonderful about the Civil War: the South didn’t win, which meant my parents weren’t born slaves and therefore, neither was I.
The man on the TV probably thinks the flag represents the fact that the South was fighting for state’s rights, and I suppose that technically, he’s right, but, the biggest right those states most wanted to retain was the one that allowed them to own other people. They wanted to continue to do that, so they went to war. I find nothing honorable about that. The Confederate flag represents an era in the history of our country of which a big part was slavery and hate. I’m sure he doesn’t think that’s what this flag is about, but it is.
Now, what a private citizen wants to do with the flag is his or her own business, but it should not be flying over public buildings – anywhere. However, the flag shouldn’t be stuck somewhere and forgotten, either.
No, I think that the flag should be put in a museum, and displayed along with the manacles, the shackles, and the chains that represent some of the things the enslaved had to contend with. The history of its place in the Civil War as a banner of encouragement for the folk who wanted to keep the manacles, shackles, and chains, should be written on a placard and placed in front of it so that it will show the exact heritage of that flag.
The image of it in all the history books should always contain the notation that it was the battle flag of the states that lost the war that they fought to retain people as slaves.
What this flag represents should never be forgotten. Lest it be repeated.