Today in the Charlotte (NC) Observer, community columnist David Hamrick asks the question, "Why are there so many of these [Confederate] flags?" He concludes that most people fly the Confederate flag, not for racist reasons, but in order to show respect for the Confederate soldier: "In the end they gave their lives for a country and a people they loved — that ‘last full measure of devotion.’ And to many, in that sacrifice is honor."
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Posted on Fri, Oct. 22, 2004
CONFEDERATE PAST FLIES ON TODAY’S ROAD
Recently I was sitting in traffic with a relative who is not from this area. He commented on all the Confederate flags he saw on the back of cars and trucks. Even I was a little surprised at how many there were once we started looking, not only bumper and window stickers, but on other items including hats and T-shirts. He wanted to know why there are so many, and what does it mean?
In the days that followed I noticed Confederate flags flying outside several homes on my daily commute, and suddenly they seemed to be everywhere. And I had to wonder, in this age of political correctness, why are there so many of these flags?
What does the flag mean in today’s South, if anything? Has it been reduced to a visual sound byte that generates a lot of noise and emotion with no real regard to reason or history?
But upon further reflection, it seems that the larger question being wrestled quietly by the Southern white community is this: Can we be pro-civil rights, have a disdain for slavery, and yet value our shared heritage? There are many who equate all things Confederate to evil in its simplest form, and indeed the easy, emotional, and I think wrong answer is this — that everyone who displays the Stars and Bars is racist.
I spoke to several local folks who fly these flags, and to others who have an interest in Southern history, to try to puzzle out the sustained interest in all things Confederate.
When asked, several folks told me that their flag was about free speech, and feel strongly that Southern history has been unfairly and inaccurately written by the victors. It’s almost as if the Confederate flag is a modern version of the "Don’t Tread On Me" made famous in Revolutionary War times.
One thing I was most interested in determining was whether any of the folks I spoke with were closet racists. Instead, all of them expressed dismay over the fact that the flag and cause that their ancestors fought and died for has been stained by hate groups using the flag as a symbol for things the average Southerner not only doesn’t believe in, but abhors.
If not racism then, why the enduring interest in something that happened 150 years ago? One answer has to do with heritage, and that we are still generationally close enough to remember. One fellow whose family still owns the same farm after 150 years told me, "I walk on the same ground that my grandfather fought and died for; he died for what he believed in and that has to be respected. The flag should be a symbol of heritage and devotion."
At the heart of the matter seems to be a dispute about what were the real issues of the Civil War, and these fall into three major divisions. The first had to do entirely with economics, the second concerned the right of secession and the 10th amendment, and the third and most emotional is slavery. In the end they gave their lives for a country and a people they loved — that "last full measure of devotion." And to many, in that sacrifice is honor.
This is not to deny for a moment that there are those who have appropriated the flag for their own causes celebre, or in any way to mitigate the evil that is slavery.
Maybe we aren’t quite finished with Reconstruction. William Faulkner said, "In the South the past is not dead; it isn’t even past." Even so, I look forward to a time when, still keeping the hard-learned lessons, we can let go of the bitterness and be touched, as Lincoln said, "by the better angels of our natures."