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The Confederate flag, a symbol of racial hatred, does not deserve a place of honor

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The Appalachian Online

Who says politicians are unreasonable? South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley announced her belief that the Confederate battle flag which flies near the legislature should come down.

South Carolina Rep. Doug Brannon said in an interview with MSNBC that he has pre-file a bill for the legislature’s January session which would take the flag down.

And all it took was the racially motivated killing of nine people. And massive protests and national condemnation following the racially motivated killing of nine people. But, hey we got there…maybe.

The extreme circumstances it took for lawmakers to even seriously consider removing the flag says something troubling about a country and about the South.

If you grew in the South, especially the rural South as I did, the Confederate battle flag was a common sight on cars and clothing. Often times it would be hung out in yards, often strangely juxtaposed with American flags.

The argument for keeping the flag is that it is a representation of Southern history and heritage. That is certainly true, but it is not a symbol of anything worth preserving.

Many in the South still seem to persist in the belief that the Civil War was not about slavery, but was instead about some notion of state’s rights or over some obscure tariff issue.

An examination of the documents from the time period show definitely: the South seceded over slavery and the Confederacy was explicitly based on the principle of white supremacy

Of the 11 states which seceded to form the Confederacy, only South Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi and Texas issued official statements outlining why they seceded.

A common theme runs through all four of these declarations: the need to protect the institution of slavery.

South Carolina’s December 1860 declaration of secession, which was the first issued by any state, made it clear that what prompted the decision to secede was “the election of a man to the high office of President of the United States, whose opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery.”

Alexander Stephens, the Vice President of the Confederacy, made a now infamous speech called the Cornerstone Speech in which he laid out the reasons for secession and the purpose of the Confederacy:

“Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner-stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery- the subordination to the superior race- is his natural and normal condition.”

The Confederacy then was not all that much different than apartheid South Africa and Rhodesia, two other nations’ whose symbols Dylan Roof wore.

The flag is not an outlier in this group of symbols, but a distinguished member of that happy, little white supremacist family.

Seeing the flag as a symbol of such radical hatred is undoubtedly difficult for many because of how normalized it has become.

It really would be no different than if one walked down the streets and saw swastikas displayed everywhere.

The comparison between the flag and the swastika no doubt irks many who believe that the comparison of the Confederacy to Nazi Germany or slavery to the Holocaust are unfair.

But how different are they really?

Both are symbols of racist regimes which used violence against people who were considered racially inferior.

Perhaps the fact that it was Americans who perpetrated slavery prevents many of us from objectively seeing the similarities.

Maybe the fact that the slave trade and slavery occurred over hundreds of years in a less technologically sophisticated time skews our perceptions on the matter.

But if that type of slavery had taken place in the 20th century, would it really look that much different than the Holocaust? Would the process of procuring, transporting and subjugating people into slavery look any less grotesque?

When you get down to it, the differences between a slave ship and a cattle car are few.

Aside from the considerable issue of racism, the flag and the way it is regarded in the South open up another contradiction.

From my own experience, many Southerners pride themselves on patriotism. These are the real Americans and they know what real America is all about.

Yet, they cling to a symbol of traitors. The Confederacy  wanted to be its own nation and it expressed that desire by firing on American soldiers under the same flag that is now a commonly displayed in parts of this country.

The fact that the Confederacy was made of people who were Americans before and after the Civil War does not change the fact that, for those four years, the Confederacy thought of itself as another nation hostile to the United States.

When faced with the choice to “love it or leave it,” they decided to leave it.

Where is the outrage among these patriotic Americans that the American flag was lowered in honor of the Charleston shooting victims while the Confederate battle flag stood at full staff?

All of these points seem fairly obvious, but the reaction to the idea that the flag should be removed shows that these points still need to be made.

While Americans certainly have a free speech right to own and display the flag, no government in this country has any business doing so.

Yes, we should acknowledge all of our history, but the parts we choose to honor say a lot about us a society. It is time to take the flag down not just from its perch in South Carolina, but also from the position of honor it occupies for far too many Americans.

Kevin Griffin, a junior journalism major from Madison, is an opinion writer.

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    Ryan IngerickJun 24, 2015 at 8:30 pm

    After the Civil War, the Virginia battle flag saw limited (and quite appropriate) use at first: It commemorated the sons of the South who died during the war. We can easily forgive the families of those who died for grieving. No account of the Civil War can be complete without noting how vicious the Union army could be, and how destructive its strategy toward the end of the war had become. That the cause of the war, once the damned Union army actually invaded the South and started destroying it, came to be associated with an actual, guns-out defense of real property and liberties — mainly, the liberty not to die during a war — is not controversial. That’s what happens during wars.

    But never did the flag represent some amorphous concept of Southern heritage, or Southern pride, or a legacy that somehow includes everything good anyone ever did south of the Mason-Dixon line, slavery excluded.

    Fast-forward about 100 years, past thousands of lynchings in the South, past Jim Crow and Plessy v. Ferguson, past the state-sanctioned economic and political subjugation of black people, and beyond the New Deal that all too often gave privileges to the white working class to the specific exclusion of black people.

    In 1948, Strom Thurmond’s States’ Rights Party adopted the Battle Flag of Northern Virginia as a symbol of defiance against the federal government. What precisely required such defiance? The president’s powers to enforce civil rights laws in the South, as represented by the Democratic Party’s somewhat progressive platform on civil rights.

    Georgia adopted its version of the flag design in 1956 to protest the Supreme Court’s ruling against segregated schools, in Brown v. Board of Education.

    The flag first flew over the state capitol in South Carolina in 1962, a year after George Wallace raised it over the grounds of the legislature in Alabama, quite specifically to link more aggressive efforts to integrate the South with the trigger of secession 100 years before — namely, the storming of occupied Fort Sumter by federal troops. Fort Sumter, you might recall, is located at the mouth of Charleston Harbor.

    Opposition to civil rights legislation, to integration, to miscegenation, to social equality for black people — these are the major plot points that make up the flag’s recent history. Not Vietnam. Not opposition to Northern culture or values. Not tourism. Not ObamaCare. Not anything else.

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