Southern transplant proudly lets his flags fly

By Bernie Dotson  The Independent
July 10, 2013

GALLUP, New Mexico — Phillip Hester is known around Gallup as "the guy that has a license plate on his car with the Confederate Flag on it."

But he doesn’t take it as an insult.

The Lincolnton, North Carolina, native and gas station and convenience store clerk didn’t get hit with the label by setting out to saturate the public with what the flag represents, but through years of research on the American Civil War.

"The Confederate Flag has a lot of different meanings to a lot of different people," Hester, 43, said. Hester proudly flies the rectangular blue "X” flag with the white stars and red backdrop on the front of his gold 1979 Lincoln Town Car. "For me it’s about Southern culture — Southern pride, you know what I mean? I’m from North Carolina and it has nothing to do with race. It has nothing to do with hate — and I don’t like it when people put things like that into its history."

Pick any city in America, Hester said, and there are probably misunderstandings about what is the most controversial and inflammatory symbol of American culture. Why do people still feel so strongly about a conflict that took place more than 140 years ago? What insight can we acquire by studying the concept behind the design of the Confederate Flag? And does the Confederate Flag have meaning outside of states like Mississippi, Tennessee, Alabama and Louisiana?

"Some of the people that ask me about it are from the South," Hester said. "Oh, yea. People definitely notice it."

The Confederate States of America, also called the Confederacy, had three different designs for its flag — one with stars, then the one adorned with the blue "X” and then one with the blue "X” that featured a white backdrop. That was between 1861 and 1865 and at the height of the Civil War — a war fought between the Union (North) and the South regions of the United States. The war had its origin over slavery. Southern "slave states" declared their secession and formed the Confederacy. Those states consisted of Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and Texas. Arkansas, Tennessee, North Carolina and Virginia later joined the Confederate coalition.

The war resulted in a Union victory and the abolishment of slavery. No foreign nation officially recognized the Confederacy as a sovereign country, but several granted belligerent status. Then President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated just days after the end of the Civil War at the age of 56.

"It’s not a political statement anymore," Hester said of the flag. "Me having it represents the here and now."

The rectangular variant of the square Confederate Army battle flag was used by a few Army units, such as the Army of Tennessee. Nowadays, it is commonly referred to as "the Confederate Flag" and remains a widely recognized symbol of the South. That same flag is also known as the "Rebel Flag," the "Dixie Flag," and "Southern Cross." South Carolina, Mississippi and Georgia incorporated the "Rebel Flag" into their state flags — albeit against the wishes of Civil Rights groups. The flag is flown over a number of Southern cities and, Hester believes, has been unceremoniously adopted by white supremacist groups like the Ku Klux Klan. "Red Necks," the slang term given to bigoted people who are against modern ways, tend to fly the flag because it brings them that much closer to Southern lore, some historians say.

"One of the main issues of the Confederate War was slavery," Martin Link, 78, a professor of history at the University of New Mexico-Gallup, explained. "And slavery is still associated with the South and the South is symbolized, in part, by the Confederate Flag." Link continued, "Today the flag has a romantic connotation that represents a lost cause."

A Gallup resident for four years, Hester — "I’m a Southerner and I miss everything about the South," he proclaimed — said he gets looks and comments almost everyday from a variety of people when driving around Gallup. Nothing negative, just a comment or two about the "Rebel Flag" and the fact that such a thing is rare on the streets of Gallup.

Hester mused, "I’m not here to make enemies. I’m a country boy and the flag reminds me of home."

©2013 Daily Journal

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