As an introductory matter, I’d bet my soul and yours that you couldn’t tell me off the top of your head when Flag Day is. Go ahead. I’ll wait . . . . .Ok. Times up. It’s June 14th. It commemorates the adoption of the United State Flag on June 14th, 1777. Bet you didn’t know that. Flag day seems to be something you only celebrated in elementary school. In fact, there are all sorts of things that many public schools do that attempt to imbue our impressionable, Dragonballz-watching, Lunchable-eating minds with patriotic fervor. If you went to a mostly-black elementary school like I did, you probably sang “My Country Tis of Thee” as much as you sang The Black National Anthem: “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” In my elementary school, every single damn day, we sang “My Country Tis of Thee” followed by the pledge of allegiance. Patriotism is a large part of the socialization that occurs in primary education. Pride is one’s country is often thought of a a good thing. But lest we forget, there was a time when out single Nation was in fact two nations.
During the Civil War, the United States was effectively sundered in two into the Union and the Confederacy. Stop me if this sounds unfamiliar, and then read an American History Text . . . but not the ones they adopted in Texas. This is all relevant because of a news story that was brought to my attention. It can be viewed here: default.aspx?bctid=1311057941001
Yes, this good brother at the paragon of liberal education that is The University of South Carolina at Buford has lobbied successfully for the right to hang a Confederate Flag in his dorm room window.
I don’t know about you, but I basically had pictures of Stacey Dash’s playboy spread on the walls of my Freshman Dorm room and a collage of club and party fliers. This guy: The Confederate Army Battle Flag. This post was inspired by a dialogue I had with some of the black law students at my law school via email responding to this story. There were some who firmly believed not only in the misguided nature of this young brotha’s attempts, but also in the hate that they felt was inherent in this flag. While initially conceding that this dude’s energies were at best misguided and at worst the dumbest shit I have ever heard, I felt he had every right to fly the flag, and I somewhat agreed with his argument that the flag, in part, represents history and tradition in the South and not merely “We-like-slavery-and-you-darkies-gotta-get-in-line.” Let me discuss what I mean.
Above, I identified the correct name of the flag in question: “The Confederate Army Battle Flag” It was not in fact used as the official flag of the Confederate States of America. That was this flag:
Seems eerily similar to the Betsy Ross variant of the Official United States Flag:
Wikipedia indicates, and I fervently agree with the crack scholarship on that site, that the Confederate Army Battle Flag was used only by a few Army units during the war. It was not until the modern day that its use has been almost universally equated with the Confederacy . . . and by proxy Slavery, Hate, the subjugation of African Americans, and every other negative thing about the South.
I’ll be frank at this point and say that I was born in the South. Atlanta to be exact. However, I grew up in the North, spent half of my life there. The most recent half of my life however, was spent back in the Metro Atlanta area. I worked for a time at arguably the most prominent landmark of Confederate Pride anywhere: Stone Mountain. Yep, Stone Mountain, the place where the Klan was revived at the turn of the century. It also has the largest bas relief carving in the World. The carving features Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, and “Stonewall” Jackson. Yeah, two Confederate Generals and the President of the Confederacy himself. In my experience working at this lovely place for four summers of my young life, I encountered many individuals who either had the Confederate Army Battle Flag on their cars or on their clothing. Interesting thing about these folks though: I never encountered a single derogatory word, or deed from any of them. Some of them would have patches on their denim cut-off vests with the flag.
Some even had ancestors who were officers in the Confederate Army. For them, it meant pride in their Great -grandfather’s military service. The fact that he may have been fighting for the right to own slaves is secondary or even non-existent.
The vast majority of Southerners did not own slaves. Many of them were poor, illiterate farmers. Much in the same way kids form small towns in America rallied to the cause and enlisted in the Military during the Second World War, many of these folk rallied to the cause of the new nation they happened to find themselves in. Patriotism was the motivation. I ask how is patriotism in what your Nation is today different from patriotism in what your nation was in the past?
You can probably tell from the tone of this post that I somewhat agree with this brotha. However, in the interests of remaining neutral, I’ll let you make up your own mind and encourage comments, from White and Black readers, about what they think about the story and the flag. Complex symbols have complex meanings. I might think it’s misguided for a Black college student to be hanging this flag in his dorm room. I might even look in horror if someone posted it around my law school. But I have enough insight to understand that these symbols mean different thing to different people.
Continue to Question the World Around You.