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Removal of Confederate Flags Marks the End of the Civil War Sesquicentennial

We just might look back and point to the wave of anti-Confederate flag fervor witnessed over the last week as marking the end of the Civil War sesquicentennial (2011-2015). A good case can be made. While the mainstream media has treated the outcry as stemming directly from last week’s shooting, a closer look reveals that the Confederate flag and other iconography have been engaged in a slow retreat from public view for some time. The flag’s retreat is part of a broader shift in our public memory of the war that has gradually taken hold over the past few decades.

In December 2010 a “secession ball” was held in Charleston to mark the 150th anniversary of the state’s decision to leave the union. That the event was  held was not surprising, but news coverage and protests on the ground suggested at the time that the sesquicentennial was not going to be a repeat of the centennial. Charleston Mayor Joe Riley called the celebration “unfortunate” and reminded his city that you cannot understand South Carolina’s secession without understanding slavery. His remarks set the tone for the next four years of commemoration and remembrance. Continue reading “Removal of Confederate Flags Marks the End of the Civil War Sesquicentennial”

Why It Is Still Wrong to Vandalize Confederate Monuments

Yesterday the Governor of Alabama ordered the removal of a Confederate flag located on the statehouse grounds next to a Confederate monument. Given the wave of calls for the removal of Confederate monuments I am surprised that this particular monument was not singled out for removal or even defaced as has been the case in Baltimore, Charleston, and Memphis. I am pleased that neither has occurred as of yet.

In March 2015 I accompanied roughly forty students from Boston on a 5-day civil rights tour of the South that included the city of Montgomery. On one bright early morning I led the group around the statehouse grounds and made it a point to stop by the flag and monument. Many of the students had never seen a Confederate monument up close or given much thought to what they represent. Continue reading “Why It Is Still Wrong to Vandalize Confederate Monuments”

Southern Cities Should Look To Richmond

Since South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley announced on Wednesday that she supported the removal of the Confederate flag from the statehouse grounds a flood of announcements have followed. Today the governor of Alabama ordered the removal of a Confederate flag adjacent to a Confederate memorial on the statehouse grounds and a number of governors are calling for the discontinuation of license plates that feature the flag.

There have been calls for other states to remove Confederate flags from public places as well as demands to change the names of streets named after Confederate heroes. Not surprisingly, some are now calling for the removal of Confederate monuments that adorn public grounds throughout the South. Continue reading “Southern Cities Should Look To Richmond”

Black Confederates to the Rescue… Again

I’ve been writing about this subject for much too long to be surprised by the emergence of the black Confederate narrative by the Sons of Confederate Veterans in response to last Wednesday’s shooting in Charleston. Black Confederate soldiers have been coming to the SCV’s and other Confederate heritage supporters rescue since the late 1970s, following the release of the popular mini-series, “Roots.”

This particular incident is unfortunately tailor-made for this myth. In a statement released by the South Carolina Division, SCV they maintain that neither the Confederate flag nor the history of the Confederacy has anything to do with the reasons behind Dylan Roof’s actions.

Historical fact shows there were Black Confederate soldiers. These brave men fought in the trenches beside their White brothers, all under the Confederate Battle Flag. This same Flag stands as a memorial to these soldiers on the grounds of the SC Statehouse today. The Sons of Confederate Veterans, a historical honor society, does not delineate which Confederate soldier we will remember or honor. We cherish and revere the memory of all Confederate veterans. None of them, Black or White, shall be forgotten.

The historical record suggests that Confederate soldiers never acknowledged the existence of black comrades in arms during the war, though thousands of slaves performed a wide range of functions in the armies and elsewhere. They certainly didn’t acknowledge their presence while massacring black Union soldiers at Fort Pillow or the Crater and there were no signs of black soldiers while rounding up hundreds of fugitive and escaped slaves during the Gettysburg Campaign in the summer of 1863. Continue reading “Black Confederates to the Rescue… Again”

Honor the Fallen By Facing History

In the wake of 9-11 very few Americans shuddered at the idea of trying to explain why terrorists flew planes into buildings. It was not enough to say simply that they ‘hated us’. We wanted to know why. In the months that followed the mainstream media and commentators of all stripes looked into the immediate and remote past to try to understand why such a horrific event occurred. There were few, if any outcries that this somehow disrespected the memories of the victims. In fact, many considered it a fitting tribute as well as a necessity – even as a matter of national security. That was certainly the case for me as I both mourned the loss of my cousin, who was killed in the South Tower, and struggled to understand the relevant history.

We can do the same for the nine men and women whose lives were cut short last week in such a brutal and senseless fashion. It’s not enough to say that Dylan Roof hated just as it was not enough in the case of the 9-11 terrorists. Roof hated for a certain reason and he told us in explicit language. His hate was built, in large part, around a certain understanding of the past and wrapped in the iconography of the Confederacy. As a nation we have a responsibility to come to terms with all of this.

We honor the victims by grappling with these very thorny issues and asking the tough questions that all too often hide behind platitudes and a self-serving politics. Let’s keep going.