To say the Confederate Flag does not represent some form of racism is a ridiculous thought. But at the same time, it’s important to note the impossibility of looking at those days in US History in generalized terms today.
Officials took the bull by the horns regarding the hot button issue of displaying the "Stars and Bars" on public property. Calling for Confederate Battle Flags to be removed from capitol grounds -- and other such public places -- this week was the right decision.
My only concern is not to take it too far. We can’t assume racism is the only motivation for the flag's existence in modern culture. Could it hold historical value overall and special sentiment for Southern heritage?
We can say we don’t want to see the flag waving at the state capitol and we can say we don’t want to see it on store shelves. But, I would hope that we’ve come far enough not to let a symbol divide us any further than that. Americans tend to be opinionated, and we are oftentimes offended.
Nonetheless, we all have rights. Who are we to question, for example, why a reenactor wants to buy Confederate uniforms and badges or why someone exploring genealogy wants to boast their Southern pride by hanging up a flag on their own property.
Unfortunately, a reportedly crazed and racist gunman who recently killed several black churchgoers brought newfound urgency in some groups seeking to put the symbols out of sight for good. Several photos emerged since the killings occured more than a week ago of suspect Dylan Roof pictured with a confederate flag.
Whitewashing history certainly won’t solve the problems related to racism and violence in this country.
How far can we go in taking away the Southern emblem? What about other relics? What will tomorrow’s history lessons teach future generations about today?
I hope we can preserve history to be as accurate as possible. Forbidding the sale of items featuring the symbols of the Old South doesn’t change the slavery-related history we want to forget. However, dictating that someone can’t buy certain items sets our clocks back even further. It just seems like shallow behavior to me.
Imagine living in this country more than a century-and-a -half -ago -- , a time when many people wouldn't hesitate to die for what they believed in, to the point that a national conflict brought brother against brother in a fight on opposite sides of American Civil War battlefields. When reflecting back on the south’s radical history, for instance, it’s important to note that many honorable soldiers of the Confederacy weren’t even slave owners and others were drafted to put on the uniforms. Many were mere boys who faced the harsh reality of what their uniform meant in prisons, disease and death.
The war was looming long before 1860 and those who fought in it knew American society was so deeply invested in its “causes” that no doubt would the conflict continue off the battlefield despite Robert E. Lee’s surrender in 1865. How to repair the war-torn nation was another battle to endure in itself, that evidently was never fully resolved, all these years later.
Now, I’d like to touch upon just a few histoical accounts leading up to the war that drew my interest in particular into that time period.
I can imagine all the talks about the war in households everywhere. The newsmen clamoring for headlines, the widows retelling stories again and again to children and veterans being asked to recall the time they camped hundreds of miles away, walking oftentimes without shoes. That is the true fabric of culture and heritage, North and South -- keeping the stories, memories and history going through the ages. It was a long and horrific conflict and communities wanted to honor military leaders with statues and monuments. Schools, streets, parks and buildings were also named for generals.
Much of my interest in the CIvil War can be connected to the unique heritage of the antebellum south that many seem to scoff at these days. Admittedly, I haven't studied the flags of that time period, but If you currently have the scandalous flag posted on your Facebook profile or hanging up in your house, you should enjoy the abundance of information available to learn more about it other flags because of accurate record keeping, storytelling and photography.
Obviously, the main cause of the CIvil War was, in fact, the institution of slavery. Even famous and admirable Americans who had inherited the “property’ back then knew slavery was immoral, but even they didn’t know how to put an end to the problem once and for all.
The “fire bell in the night” rang louder when with the addition of new territories to the Union.
In fact, Congress passed two bills forty years before states began seceding from the union that, together, were known as the Missouri Compromise. To sum it up, Maine was admitted to the Union as a free state. Missouri was admitted as a slave state, although slavery would be prohibited north of a 36-30 line (southern border of Missouri) in the western territories of the Louisiana Purchase—Missouri was an exception.
It was Thomas Jefferson wrote a letter a few months later, which holds some wisdom that I can’t help but refer to as a Civil War buff in 2015.
“...but this momentous question, like a fire bell in the night, awakened and filled me with terror. I considered it at once as the knell of the Union. It is hushed indeed for the moment, but this is a reprieve only, not a final sentence. A geographical line, coinciding with a marked principle, moral and political, once conceived and held up to the angry passions of men, will never be obliterated, and every new irritation will mark it deeper and deeper,” Jefferson warned.
History credits another famous politician with holding the Union together a little while longer. Seasoned Kentucky Senator Henry Clay was able to tackle the Congressional debate in 1850 with the Missouri Compromise. The nation was obviously divided and conflict inevitable if slavery continued.
The Compromise basically offered to appease both sides surrounding the issue of slavery. It included plans for the Texas territory, creating territorial governments with "popular sovereignty" for New Mexico and Utah to allow voters to decide to permit slavery and admitted California as a free state. The compromise abolished the slave trade in the District of Columbia and created new laws regarding runaway slaves.
Many historians point to one particular incident that happened in the Senate chamber in May of 1856 as the "breakdown of reasoned discourse" that eventually led to the Civil War.
I agree this story seems like a defining moment in that road to war, and must be included in this blog:
Democratic Rep. Preston Brooks, of South Carolina, attacked Republican Senator Charles Sumner, of Massachusetts, with his cane for a speech made by Sumner, known as "Crime against Kansas" two days earlier. Sumner made bold insults about Stephen Douglas and a relative of Brooks, Andrew Butler -- based on their opposiing views on the institution of slavery. Brooks felt compelled to defend his honor. The beating almost killed Sumner.
The attack was a reflection that the American public was growing more divisive on the expansion of slavery. WIth all the drama leading up to the war and its intensity, it’s not surprising that we continue to be divided on many issues regarding cultural issues today.
People tend to be passionate about what they believe in.
Whatever the case, mulifaceted Civil War History will continue to capture our interest for a long time to come and for many reasons (President Abraham Lincoln, most importantly, in my opinion.)
How do you feel about the flag controversy?
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