In his recent column about a stock car race at Chicago, the executive sports editor/columnist with the Journal Star, Kirk Wessler, commented on seeing four Confederate flags in the infield of the racetrack. He closed his remarks with, "I’m not sure this proves anything except there are bound to be a couple of idiots in every crowd."
You folk up there in Peoria, in the Land of Lincoln, have the right idea about what should and should not be displayed in public.
Flags or symbols representing hate, slavery, racial and ethnic oppression, or any dark events in our history should forever be banished from our sight.
For example, a flag should not be displayed in public if it,
*Represents secession from a legal and duly recognized government by a political group to form a new government more satisfactory to the governed (people)
*Flew for more than 70 years over a country that legally condoned slavery
*contains design elements that memorialize 13 original slave holding colonies
*flew over hundreds of commercial ships used to transport slaves into New England seaports
*flew over ships that in 1858 (three years before the Civil War when slave importing was illegal in the U.S.) smuggled more than 15,000 African slaves into the Port of New York
*flew over the 85 vessels that sailed from the Port of New York in 1859 to pick up more slaves
*flew over a country where black-on-black slave ownership was permissible and widely practiced
*flew over the surprise attack and bloody massacre of Native Americans, in which many of the corpses were grotesquely mutilated by federal troops during the Battle of Sand Creek (Colorado) on November 29, 1864
*flew over the unprovoked attack and bloody massacre of Sioux Indians at Wounded Knee Creek on December 29, 1890
*flew over the brutal slaughter of 600 Philippino men, women, and children during the battle of Bud Dajo or Moro Crater (Spanish-American War) on March 5, 1906
*flew over the virtual genocidal killing of more than 200,000 Philippinos (Spanish-American War) of which 180,000 were non-combatants
*was adopted as the emblem of choice by the revival Ku Klux Klan in 1915
*was adopted as the secondary emblem of choice by the American Nazi Party (the Nazi flag bearing the swastika was their primary emblem)
*flew side-by-side with the Nazi flag during the joint meeting of the American Nazi Party and the KKK at Camp Nordland, New Jersey in 1941.
So, yes, I agree with Kirk Wessler, a flag with this kind of record should not be displayed in front of all our schools, over our government buildings, and at sporting venues. Oh. Did I forget to mention the most important point? The flag described above is the flag of the United States of America, also called the Stars and Stripes, and Old Glory. And the list is far from being complete.
As an historian — historical researcher and writer — for almost 40 years, never have I seen the misinformation about flags or other emblems as I have seen about the Confederate flags in general and the battle flag (sometimes erroneously called the ‘Stars and Bars,’ which was the First National flag of the Confederacy), in particular.
Anyone who questions the first statement in the above list, "Represents secession from a legal and duly recognized government by a political group to form a new government more satisfactory to the governed (people)," needs to go back and read the Declaration of Independence, America’s first secessionist document. The colonists seceded from the government of King George III on July 4, 1776.
The new U.S. government was formed under the original Constitution, in which, according to the Federalist Papers, secession was legal. The New England states made a serious threat of secession at the Hartford Convention of 1814. And Massachusetts threatened secession at least four times. So by the time the Southern states got around to seceding in 1861, ample precedent existed.
Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson made statements upholding the principle of the states separating if they could not get along. And in a speech to Congress in 1848, Abraham Lincoln’s words virtually mirrored those of the Declaration of Independence when he blessed the secession of Texas from Mexico.
As to slavery, the life blood of the slave trade in the U.S. came through New England seaports. And anyone who thinks Abe Lincoln’s adopted state of Illinois was a "free state," should go back and read the state’s pre-Civil War constitution, which prohibited free blacks from living in Illinois. The same laws applied in several northern states.
The Confederate battle flag was not a national flag. It was, plainly and simply, a soldiers’ flag. Sometimes in the passion of blind protest, historical perspective goes missing in action.
Bill Ward is an historian and writer living in Salisbury, NC. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.