Culturalist, Sectionalist, or just plain Southern Pride

As a 5 year old child living in a still segregated small town in Southeast Georgia in 1968 I had no idea how different I was from the rest of the world just because of my family heritage and how biased I would be judged later in my life for standing up for my ancestors. I believe that it was on an early Spring afternoon that April when I first recognized that feeling of something deep within when someone out of the crowd placed a 14" by 17" Confederate flag on a 2′ dowel rod in my hand at what was then probably the last Confederate Memorial Day Parade to ever be held in that small Thomas County, Georgia, town. As a child I had no idea of the significance of that flag in my family history nor the importance it would play in my future but I knew even then that it was something to be kept and cherished. It was that same small flag that I pulled out and taped to my bicycle handle bars every time I played "war" with the other boys in the neighborhood. Even when we played "Cops and Robbers" that little flagged waved along. My cowboy in "Cowboys and Indians" was always accompanied by that same small flag. Even after the little dowel rod flag pole broke off during some vicious "bombing raid" it was rescued and nailed to a short piece of broom handle. I survived all of those imaginary childhood battles and my little flag along side but it wasn’t until one summer at the age of 10 that I discovered a clue to the history of that precious flag I had so long cherished without knowing why. On a vacation trip to visit my mother’s sister Cass and her husband Joe, living on Lake Lanier above Atlanta, my Uncle Joe suggested that we all go into Atlanta to visit the Grant Park Zoo and the Cyclorama. The zoo sounded great but I had no idea what the other thing was that he had mentioned but it sounded like a big bicycle store and with the hope of a new bike in my mind off we went. For some reason the adults wanted to see the "bicycle store" first but after seeing the old block building I figured the bikes must not be very cool ’cause there weren’t any kids riding around having fun. Once inside and discovering that I had been "had" I was more than ready for the zoo until we went in to the actual room containing the Cyclorama mural of what I was to discover was the Battle for Atlanta. Back then you had to walk out on a long raised walk way into the middle of the room where you could then look 360 degrees and it appeared that you were in the middle of the battle frozen in time. 

Thinking back on my short life up until then I can’t recall anything ever having such a total effect on me. That moment in time changed my life and I felt a feeling and connection there that I had never felt before and only a few times since. Right then and there, seeing the carnage of the battle and hearing my father telling old family stories of Great Uncles and Grandfathers who had died in the War or survived to walk home and then passed those stories down, I knew then why that little old flag had meant so much to me and why I had always wanted to be a "rebel" instead of a cowboy, army soldier, or cop. I realized then and there in that dark old block building that it was all in my blood! My mother’s Great Grandfather and his father had fought there with the 54th Georgia and only her Great Grandfather had lived to fight on until the end of the War when he would walk home to Pierce County from Macon. My father’s Great Grandfather fought under Stonewall Jackson through the Battles of Virginia and Maryland and then under Early and Gordon until he was killed at the Mule Shoe at the Bloody Angle at Spottsylvania. 

As I grew into my teens years I still held on to that "little old flag" and when the old broom stick pole finally gave up I taped it to the ceiling of my old truck through High School up till graduation. When I went to Marine Corps boot camp later that year I wanted to take it with me but my Daddy, a WWII Marine himself, said it probably wouldn’t be a good idea in case my Drill Instructor ended up being from New York or some other Yankee state and it would be well hard enough without "throwing gas on the fire". Once out of boot camp and home on Leave I again decided that where ever the Marine Corps took me I wasn’t going without that "little old flag" and packed it and the new 3′ by 5′ Georgia flag a friend had given me in to my "Sea bag" for the duration of my tour which lasted 4 years. Both of the symbols of my home, family and heritage accompanied me all over the world from the Pacific Islands of Okinawa and the Philippines to the Middle Eastern sands of Lebanon and back to the Caribbean Islands of Puerto Rico, Cuba and Jamaica crossing numerous time zones and the Equator and traveling through the Panama Canal several times. No matter where I traveled the flags weren’t far away. 

My travels then and since have exposed me to many cultures, religions and political ideologies but it has given me far more opportunities to introduce others to my Southern heritage and to open dialog with many whose only exposure to the Southern lifestyle and Confederate history has been on T.V., the movies or the Liberal media. It has always been a lot of fun to watch their expressions change when I suddenly change my forced exaggerated drawl from Gomer Pyle to a more true Southeast Georgia dialect. There is always that sense of astonishment about others when they realize that our parents aren’t all brothers and sisters and that blacks and whites in the South don’t really hate each other and most often than not work and live side by side in the same neighborhoods with mutual respect for each other. Once they realize that we do indeed have modern conveniences, utilities, and Dentists down here in the Old South they finally start to understand that they have been duped all their lives about the truth of the South and her people. It is like giving sight to the blind when they discover that Southerners are just like regular people but that we are just more laid back, ethical, moral, religious, patriotic, conservative, smarter, better looking and wiser than they are. Yes we do generally as a rule of thumb like football more than baseball though we do play it from the age of 3 and up. We do also like stock car racing even though NASCAR is no longer considered a Southern sport and has turned it’s back on us. We also hunt, fish and, yes, a few of us do still make "Shine", but we also are adapting to other foreign sports like golf, soccer and tennis. The Old Plantation has long ago given way to the Country Club and now to the 300-400 home security gated subdivisions and most of our old neighborhoods in great old cities like Savannah, Charleston, Mobile, New Orleans and Pascagoula are having to post signs in both English and Spanish and suffer the endless renaming of streets and buildings which once honored great Southern Generals and Statesmen. Yes we do have some of the greatest institutions of "higher learning" in the nation but they are quickly being forced by the minorities on campus and in the media to change the names of there sports teams which have for most of the last 150 years reflected there once proud Southern heritage. The South also has more military bases spread across the region than any where else in the nation as a left over of the Yankee Occupation after the War and as a reminder that the armed forces of this country is manned predominately by patriotic Southerners willing still to serve in times of need. 

It is quite refreshing at times to have the opportunity to enlighten and educate others on our true Southern history and about us as a people in general. Once they discover that we aren’t as "backwoods" and "uneducated" as they have been lead to believe it is much easier for them to understand our pride in our heritage and our love of our Southern and Confederate symbols and to accept the fact that no matter how we are portrayed in history, T.V. and the media we are mostly still just proud to be Southern. I don’t know if it is possible for others who are not from the South to fully understand us or to ever really truly accept us after several hundred years of these differences. I truly hope to God that most other Southerners have always had that deep down feeling inside them like the one that I have always had and may be if they haven’t experienced there "awakening" like I did at the age of 10 they may can still find the trigger that will bring it to the top. As for me and that "little old flag" we have still never completely parted after all these years and even though it is old, dirty, torn and stained it still holds an important place in my life and in my home as it hangs there in it’s frame between portraits of Gen. Lee, Stonewall Jackson and my Great-great Grandfather Lyons in his Confederate uniform as a symbol of time, honor and pride. 

Every one may not have a "little old flag" to remind them of who they are and where they came from but we all have a heritage and the blood of our ancestors coursing through our veins and some times it may be just that that carries you through life and hard times so the next time you look at an old photo of one of your forefathers take a look at his face and look into his eyes because in more ways than one that is you looking back.

God bless and thank you from a Proud Southerner and Georgian,

Sam Lyons