A chance to resolve flag issue

by The Rev. Joseph A. Darby
Monday, November 8, 2010

The Nov. 1 Post and Courier included a story by Schuyler Kropf under the headline, "Some worry NAACP’s policy will hamper sharing of black history during Civil War remembrance." Although the story was essentially "NAACP bashing" and dubious in terms of real "news," it demands a response from an NAACP member who helped to draft the economic sanctions against interstate tourism to promote the proper location of Confederate flags on public property.

The story links those sanctions with the Sesquicentennial remembrance of the Civil War. The NAACP sanctions are separate and clear in their intent — to see that only the flags of existing sovereign governments fly in sovereign positions at public buildings. Regardless of how one sees the history of the Civil War or the mean-spirited and defiant racial bigotry of those who raised the flag at the Statehouse during the Civil Rights era, the Confederate States of America lost the war and no longer exists as a sovereign government.

What amazed and amused me about the story’s stated concerns by state Sen. Robert Ford, Charleston City Councilman Blake Hallman and the many anonymous and cowardly commentators in The Post and Courier’s online comment section who salivate and become apoplectic at the mention of the NAACP is their intense level of concern. Critics of the NAACP sanctions often dismiss the relevance of the organization and discount them as irrelevant, citing their supposedly minimal impact on tourism. I found it refreshingly telling to read of their concern, which means that even after more than 10 years, the sanctions are still viable and have the desired impact.

The Sesquicentennial observance of the Civil War, in spite of the story’s narrow focus, is far more than a matter of black history. If the remembrance is honest, then it will cover all facets of an American tragedy that all South Carolinians will have the opportunity to consider and commemorate, for the sanctions only cover interstate tourism.

I’ve often visited the website for our state’s Sesquicentennial Civil War observance, and am interested to see how it unfolds. I do so with respect for those like Joseph McGill, Michael Allen, Jannie Harriot, Bernard Powers (who’s a member of the congregation I serve), the 54th Massachusetts re-enactors and the other African-Americans aiding in crafting the observance. I also do with an admitted personal interest in Civil War history and its lingering impact upon present-day America.

I do so with the hope that those aforementioned African-American voices will contribute to an objective and inclusive remembrance. I also do so, however, with an awareness of disingenuous modern-day efforts to revise and sanitize the history of the Antebellum South, the Civil War and Reconstruction. If the Sesquicentennial remembrance includes the valor of the 54th Massachusetts Regiment, the courage of the 1st South Carolina Volunteer Infantry, Harriet Tubman’s Stono River "liberation" raid and the bravery of Robert Smalls, then I’ll celebrate. If the remembrance, however, focuses on our state’s very few black slaveholders, demeans those who briefly tasted freedom during Reconstruction, and suggests — as does a Virginia history — that thousands of black troops fought for the Confederacy and that Stonewall Jackson commanded two black regiments, then I’ll pass on the observance as I do with some Charleston "History Tours" that treat the contributions of African-Americans as a quaint afterthought.

The NAACP’s sanctions were approved at the national level, can only be modified at that level and will remain in effect until they achieve the desired resolution. The Sesquicentennial observance, however, offers an opportunity to achieve that resolution. A Sesquicentennial admission that the flag was raised as a symbol of opposition to 20th century progress and its retirement to a position of indisputable historical context would make it plain that the Civil War is over, that our state is committed to progress and that those who now stage Tea Party rallies that are sometimes chillingly similar to old Ku Klux Klan rallies do not speak for South Carolina.

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