South Carolina, where the Confederate Battle Flag flies at the State House and Dylann Roof has now confessed to killing 9 black churchgoers during prayer services in a historic black church. All of the elements necessary to get a normally apathetic public engaged in lively debate. Evidence would appear to support the claims that the shooting at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston SC was a racially motivated hate crime. This has spawned a lot of debate, on guns, on race relations and of course on the Confederate Flag.
The Confederate battle flag, also called the Southern Cross, is the most recognizable symbol of the Southern Confederacy although it never represented the Confederacy as a whole in the form we are accustomed to seeing. The first national flag of the Confederate States of America was the “Stars and Bars” which bore no resemblance to the battle flag at all. This was the symbol of the South at the beginning of the Civil War (1861-1863). It bears a striking resemblance to the current State Flag of Georgia as well.
The second national flag of the Confederate States of America was the “Stainless Banner” which did include the “southern cross” in the upper left corner on a field of white. It flew from 1863-1865 and was redesigned, allegedly due to the resemblance to a “flag of truce” and a vertical red bar was added to the tail of the flag and referred to as the “Blood-Stained Banner.”
Yet, only the Confederate “Southern Cross” Battle Flag remains in use today. On South Carolina it flies at the State House, yes, but not over the State House itself. It flies over the Confederate Soldiers’ Monument, on the Statehouse grounds.
So, why the history lesson, you ask? To illustrate two thinks, that there is history attached to these symbols and that symbols have meaning far beyond what we perceive on the surface. Just like the American flag is a symbol that many revere and many revile, just ask Native Americans about how they feel about the American flag. In recent years, the American flag has come to be viewed as offensive by many immigrants and Muslims. It has been defamed and defiled by many, including black Americans, who treat it as if it was the Confederate flag itself. Did slavery and white supremacy play a role in the secession of the South and ultimately the Civil War? Of course it did. Is that the sole motivation and core reason? Not hardly, however with the population blinded by racial animosity and division, that is all that is seen.
The point is, symbols are just that, symbols. They do not promote, nor justify, any attitude, offense or stereotype other than that which WE attach to it. When we look upon a symbol with reverence or disgust, it is OUR perception that gives it power. Regardless, these symbols are and will forever be a part of our history.
The Confederate Battle Flag remains divisive solely because the races in America remain divided. The flag is not the source of that division, nor does it represent the source of that division, ie. slavery. The division exists in the hearts and minds of the men and women who choose to perpetuate that division. Rather than erase a symbol from the past that many see as an honored symbol of their heritage, why not erase the hatred, resentment and animosity from our own hearts and minds. Then, and only then, will we come together as a human race and be able to honestly discuss our past and forge a path to the future as one nation.