May 11, 2006

I recently found myself smack dab in the middle of a strange situation. Bob Harrison, a black man from the North, was defending the Confederate flag to me, a white man from the South.

Harrison, a black Confederate re-enactor, was a guest speaker at the second annual Confederate Heritage Parade in Fox Hill organized by Rosemarie Kidd. The April 29 parade got underway with a Rebel yell as participants began the march from the parking lot of the Fox Hill Central United Methodist Church to Clark Cemetery on Beach Road, where several Confederate veterans are buried. Women in hoop skirts and men in Confederate uniforms were joined by children waving flags. Trucks, one with a horn that played "Dixie," cars and motorcycles followed with their own flags flying. The parade route was thick with Confederate flags.

Alongside most of the Confederate banners, American flags were displayed in front of homes as well. And there were a handful of Virginia flags among the numerous Confederate ones.

When I was growing up in Fox Hill, it wasn’t uncommon to see a Confederate flag flying from a neighbor’s porch. Like most Southerners, I grew up surrounded by reminders of the Civil War. We live with it. Northerners see it as a period of history to be studied. But for the South the conflict is a living memory, the scars of which can still be seen. It was, after all, fought largely on Southern soil. Hampton was burned to keep it out of Yankee hands. Why do you think it’s not the Historic Rectangle, rather than the Historic Triangle? Because Hampton’s visible – and marketable – history burned with its buildings.

My father grew up in a time when the generals of the Confederacy were revered as heroes. Schoolchildren knew the name of Robert E. Lee’s horse. We see statues, plaques and monuments to "our Confederate dead" almost everywhere we go. Stories are passed down of ancestors’ deeds in battle.

Soldiers for the Confederacy appear in both sides of my family. I’m told that one of my father’s ancestors, an officer on the ironclad C.S.S. Virginia, was wounded in action and that his bloodstained tunic hangs in the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond. Some of my mother’s ancestors fought in a battalion of Cherokee Indians from North Carolina.

It is these individuals, and many like them, in whom I have pride. These were people who fought with the perception that they were defending their homeland from the invading armies of the North and who had little or nothing to do with slavery.

The cause of the Confederacy itself, however, is indefensible. I can muster no pride in a group that sought to perpetuate an institution as evil as slavery, whether that was its primary goal or not.

At the end of the parade, Harrison stood in front of an assembled crowd at the cemetery, opening with, "Don’t adjust your eyes. I am black."

He spoke on behalf of the Confederacy, saying, "Slavery was an issue, but only a secondary one."

Though the extent of the role of slavery in the Civil War has been long debated, even the staunchest proponents of the Confederacy cannot reasonably deny its influence on the conflict’s outbreak. Even if you think the part it played was a small one, the fact that it played any part whatsoever is damning and puts the South on the side of wrong.

Some say that you can’t think of the situation from a modern point of view. You have to consider it from a 19th-century perspective. I cannot believe that as late in the game of human history as 1861 that anyone could not see the injustice of the enslavement of another human being, let alone an entire race.

I am extremely proud to be a Southerner. I have pride in our tenacity, our culture, our food, our famous hospitality. Try visiting a rest stop on the New Jersey Turnpike and tell me you don’t appreciate Southern courtesy. I’m proud of our colorful characters. I’m proud of our stubbornness and our creativity. I’m proud that Southerners, black and white, have come so far since the end of the Civil War, and I am proud that we will get the rest of the way together.

You will not see me, proud Southerner though I am, waving the battle flag of the Confederacy. I would like to believe that there is a way for all Southerners to show pride in our shared heritage, but flying the divisive symbol of the Confederate flag is not the way to go about it.

I understand that Kidd and others like her are trying to get others to see the flag the way they do, as a symbol of Southern heritage and pride. "It’s heritage and not hatred," says Kidd, who denounces the hate groups that use the flag to promote racism.

I agree with Kidd and Harrison that the Civil War and its causes should be studied, and that public schools don’t do an adequate job of explaining the war’s complex issues. But the Confederate flag has become so entangled with the negative aspects of the Confederacy that it will always symbolize division and hatred for millions of Americans.

Harrison is prepared for those who disagree with him, saying, "The next time you see someone with a C.S.A. flag or memorabilia, do not be so quick to judge. Approach him or her, extend a true hand of fellowship and sit, talk and listen to each other. Agree to disagree on some things, yet acknowledge the whole story. It will be a learning experience for both of you."

Kidd echoes that sentiment, saying, "I’m not necessarily going to change your mind, but I’d like you to keep an open mind."

That’s good advice for any situation.

Zak Minor is a native of Hampton’s Fox Hill community who now lives in York County.

Copyright ©2006 Daily Press

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