I have been giving a lot of thought to the issues raised by the flying of the so-called “Confederate Flag” — which, of course, ISN’T the “Confederate Flag” at all — see my previous blog post on that subject:
The shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, and the flying of the Battle Flag of the Army of Northern Virginia on the grounds of the South Carolina state house, have motivated a wide-ranging re-evaluation of how the United States deals with the issue of racial hatred and discrimination.
The governing board of The Citadel, a military academy in Charleston, voted to remove the Confederate Naval Jack from the school’s chapel. One of the Emanuel shooting victims was a graduate of The Citadel.
Virginia’s governor has ordered the removal of “the Confederate Flag” from all of his state’s license plates (thereby joining the chorus of people incorrectly identifying the battle flag, which appears as an optional design on some Virginia license plates). Politicians in several other states, including Maryland, North Carolina and Tennessee have vowed to do the same with their states’ license plates.
Mississippi’s Republican speaker of the house issued a statement calling for the removal of the Confederate battle cross from the Mississippi state flag (at least he knows what the symbol actually is).
Alabama Governor Robert Bentley ordered the removal of the Confederate battle flag (he got it right, too) and three other flags from the grounds of the state Capitol in Montgomery, where they stood in front of a memorial honoring Civil War soldiers. The other three flags? The three versions of the actual Confederate flag.
And it’s not just the flags and symbols of the Confederacy that are drawing fire. The president of the Kentucky state senate said in an interview that a statue of Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederacy, should be removed from the Capitol rotunda in Frankfurt, Kentucky.
In Tennessee, politicians of both parties have also said that a bust of Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest, who was an early leader of the Ku Klux Klan, should be moved out of the state house.
In Minnesota, not exactly a hotbed of confederate fervor, activists have demanded that a lake named after John C. Calhoun be renamed because Calhoun, though both a US Senator and American Vice President, was from South Carolina and a supporter of slavery.
Even South Carolina State Senator Paul Thurmond, son of US Senator Strom Thurmond, who ran for president in 1948 as a segregationist, announced that he would vote to remove the battle flag from the state house grounds, saying that he is “not proud of this heritage”.
In Maryland this past Monday, the Baltimore Sun opined in an editorial, “For a state to endorse a symbol of the defenders of slavery by putting the Confederate flag on representations of government speech is unconscionable.”
It therefore appears that supporters of slavery — and the symbols of that support — are under unrelenting pressure which is going to result in the permanent removal of both from public display. I personally support the banishment from public places of all versions of the Confederate flags (albeit, as mentioned in my earlier blog post, I also support the right of private persons to display Confederate symbols on their private property).
Shortly after being transferred to the Sixth Naval District in Charleston in January 1969, I encountered what I thought at best an odd circumstance — the Charleston Naval Base, bowing to political pressure from the state of South Carolina, was to be closed for a holiday on the birthday of Jefferson Davis, but all personnel were to work on Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, then a national holiday. I wrote a letter to the editor of the Charleston News & Courier, suggesting that it was time for South Carolina to rejoin the union. I signed it “James T. Reilly, LTJG, US Navy”, which earned me a visit with my boss, the Sixth Naval District commander (a rear admiral), who allowed as how I had the right to express my opinion, but asked me to please sign any future letters with my name only, omitting my military rank.
However, and this is the point of this blog post, if we are going to vanquish memorials to rebellious supporters of slavery and their symbols of oppression, the measures described above are manifestly inadequate. To do this job right, we will also have to vanquish from the public forum memorials to ALL rebellious supporters of slavery and slave owners, starting with …
The Constitution of the United States, adopted in 1787, authorized the continuation of slavery in the country and counted slaves as “three-fifths of a person”. And so, to truly eliminate all vestiges of rebellious supporters of slavery …
Not doing so may be seen as a particularly disingenuous form of hypocrisy.