Friday, December 06, 2013

Oh, Kanye Part 2: That Confederate Flag (in context!)

Now might be the moment to take a look at the Confederate flag in context -- something that most people aren't willing to do.

Everyone was flying a lot of flags in the South during The Civil War. (Please note: This war has a lot of names. Many Southerners refer to it as the War of Northern Aggression because according to them, it wasn't a war. It was an invasion. Most of their black counterparts called it The Freedom War. You get the idea.)   The Confederate flag as we know it (also known as "Stars and Bars") actually originated as the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia under General Lee.  There were three official Confederate flags to represent the new nation, none of which resembled the battle flag. To add to the confusion,  each Southern state created their own flag. All this flag waving was more than confusing, especially in battle. It was General PGT Beauregard who came up with the idea of a peace flag and a war flag, so enemies could easily be recognized in the fray.  He gave his assistant William Porcher Miles the task of creating the war flag. How he came up with it is more than interesting.

Inspired by the flags that he saw at the South Carolina secession convention in December of 1860, Miles -- who had been chair of the Committee on the Flag and Seal, conveniently enough -- came up with a blue St. George's Cross (also known as a Latin cross) on a red background, with white stars that represented each  slaveholding state. 

No surprise that he put the crescent and palmetto from South Carolina's state flag in the upper left corner.

This flag, however, is the one that was chosen.

Miles changed it to a St. Andrews Cross (the cross of Scotland, interestingly enough) to appease Southern Jews who didn't want any religious symbol to represent the nation.  The number of stars changed according to how many states had joined The Cause.

Miles changed it to a St. Andrews Cross (the cross of Scotland, interestingly enough) to appease Southern Jews who didn't want any religious symbol to represent the nation.  The number of stars changed according to how many states had joined The Cause.

Needless to say, because the Southerners lost the war and remained rebels who were deeply committed to the idea that the war was an ongoing situation, the battle flag -- also known as The Dixie Flag, The Confederate Navy Jack, The Southern Cross and yes, The Rebel Flag -- was the one that they wholeheartedly embraced. 

As a Southerner by proxy -- that is, someone who is two generations removed from slavery -- I can't hold onto the Confederate flag in any way.  For the life of me, I don't understand exactly what Southerners have to be so proud of.  First of all, you lost. Yes, that's right. You lost the war. Yes, you fought valiantly. Yes, you have your brave war heroes, your majestic leaders. Even with all that greatness, you lost the war.  It doesn't matter how many times you dissect, review and reenact the battles. You still lost. 

There, I said it.

Secondly, you fought for states rights -- that is, the right to have slaves -- which *surprise!* was completely immoral.  Thanks to the invention of the cotton gin in 1793, the growing abolitionist movement, Abraham Lincoln's election and a few other factors, the Southern antiquated social construct was eroding quickly. The end.

Last but not least, the antebellum South arose -- wherein millions of black people were displaced, whole communities slaughtered, torture, violence and lynchings of black men, women and children was rampant and rape was commonplace. The state and local laws did nothing to defend or protect black people and the federal government did not intercede. Where is the pride in that? 

We are not a monolithic people. I no more expect young Southern black folk to take up the Confederate flag en masse than I would expect to see all young Jews running around wearing swastikas and waving SS flags.  Because they know their history. It's a real shame that we don't know ours. That's what's missing --  a healthy dose of history and some real perspective.  A lot of old black folks lived through it and way too many young black folks don't know about it.

You want a strong dose of Southern/American history? Read Buried In The Bitter Waters: The Hidden History of Racial Cleansing in America by Elliot Jaspin and then tell me if you seriously want to wrap yourself in a Confederate flag.

A description from Goodreads: Leave now, or die! From the heart of the Midwest to the Deep South, from the mountains of North Carolina to the Texas frontier, words like these have echoed through more than a century of American history. The call heralded not a tornado or a hurricane, but a very unnatural disaster--a manmade wave of racial cleansing that purged black populations from counties across the nation. We have long known about horrific episodes of lynching in the South, but the story of widespread racial cleansingabove and below the Mason-Dixon line--has remained almost entirely unknown. Time after time, in the period between Reconstruction and the 1920s, whites banded together to drive out the blacks in their midst. They burned and killed indiscriminately and drove thousands from their homes, sweeping entire counties clear of blacks to make them racially "pure." The expulsions were swift-in many cases, it took no more than twenty-four hours to eliminate an entire African-American population. Shockingly, these areas remain virtually all-white to this day. Based on nearly a decade of painstaking research in archives and census records, Buried in the Bitter Waters provides irrefutable evidence that racial cleansing occurred again and again on American soil, and fundamentally reshaped the geography of race. In this groundbreaking book, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Elliot Jaspin has rewritten American history as we know it.

No comments: