"When dawn spreads its paintbrush on the plain, spilling purple... ," Songs of the Pioneers song from TV show "Wagon Train." Dawn on the mythic Santa Fe Trail, New Mexico, looking toward Raton from Cimarron. -- Clarkphoto. A curmudgeon's old-fashioned newspaper column, cross-breeding metaphors and journalism and art, for readers in 150 countries.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

I am a Confederate, but...

I am a Confederate.
My folks fought for the Confederacy.
I grew up with many white Americans, hearing the romantic myths about the Confederacy, and very little about the horrors of slavery.
In high school I believed the argument that the war was not about slavery, but about northern economic aggrandizement (which is where I first heard that word).
There was even a TV show, "Johnny Reb."
I love history and romanticized the South, because I also love underdogs. To this day, my brother Jerry says that I just like to be contrary.
I'm also a Texan, and that adds to the chemistry of misty eyes at the sound of the word "Alamo."  Can't help it...it's part of my heritage. Thus I still like causes that take on the odds, the established authority.
I've even seen that flag flying from a ranch house in the remote Texas panhandle, and with U.S. troops in Afghanistan. It is a pervasive symbol for some of defiance.
But for others, it is uglier.
Still, I'm proud of my ancestors who fought for "Southern Independence."
But.
Thanks to genealogy work by my oldest son, I found that my great-great grandfather did own slaves. That is a very disturbing feeling, when we always thought that we were somehow purer, and just fought for "The Cause."
I had a photo in my office one year of some Confederate re-enactors, marching under that battle flag.  
A black student in my office  commented that he hoped I would treat him with dignity.
That's when it first dawned on me that the Confederate battle flag had become a symbol of racism and hatred.
I despise the KKK and others making that flag of blood and bravery--a flag many brave people served and died under-- a disgrace, but they have.
The Stars and Bars
It is not the flag of the Confederacy, the Stars and Bars--which flies at the Oklahoma capitol and at Texas welcome centers. That flag was so similar to the stars and stripes that the Confederate battle flag, at first square, was adopted because it was hard for the Southern armies to tell if those in the distance were friend or foe. Like the U.S., there are several versions of the flag through the brief history of the Confederacy.
I have mixed feelings about this. I even read an article in a British paper recently claiming that slavery wasn't the cause of the Civil War--"The War Between the States," for my people. The author argued that if the South hadn't seceded, slavery would not have been done away with so soon. I agree with that small point, but it is moot.
I see a few car tags and bumper stickers here in Oklahoma that are the actual Stars and Bars...those are Southerners making their point without being racists.
I know graves in Oklahoma and across the South are decorated with the battle flag every Memorial Day. I think that is ok, though many disagree.
I also agree that the battle flag should be allowed during the Civil War re-enactments held every year...it is a historical document--men marched and died under that flag--accuracy demands it. I know others will disagree, and others--including a Union re-enactor-- sum up the controversy by saying, "It's complicated." Indeed.
In my freshman year in college in Oklahoma, my debate partner was a black Church of Christ ministerial student, Arthur Smith. We lost debates because of that, and were refused service in Texas. I heard him called the "N' word on the Oklahoma Christian College campus.
I know this now...that  Confederate battle flag would have insulted and disturbed him...with good reason.
And the actions of the maniac in South Carolina and the KKK, add salt to an honorable wound.
It's time to take that flag down. It belongs in museums, on graves, and in re-enactments, like the tattered one at Gettysburg, but not flying from government buildings or elsewhere in  America.
This proud Confederate says, "Take it down."

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