By Edwin Crayton
Perhaps few debates give you a sense of the changing times as the one about the role of Confederate flag in American life today. Ever since a hate crime in which black church goers in Charleston were killed by a demented racist young man, a media-hot spotlight has focused on the flag, it has been under attack as many in the nation debate whether it should be flown over government buildings. It’s a sign of our changing culture that the debate is happening at all. The Confederate flag has been a staple of the south and even Hollywood has used it to create memorable stories about the south. In Provencal, it flies over the city hall. But for how long? I went to the streets to see what locals feel when they see the flag. In a tongue in cheek gesture, I have listed the opinions of African Americans and whites in separate but equal “black” and “white” columns. Although I have corralled the comments into categories, you’ll find that the opinions of people don’t fit as neatly into racial categories and stereotypes as the media hype might have you believe.
Joe Hayes: “I don’t think it’s offensive. But I don’t fly it either. People don’t study their history so some use it for wrong reasons—for hatred. But I don’t’ find the flag to be offensive.”
Billy Fair: “I grew up in the south so I see it is connected to heritage. I don’t see it as racist. But I’m not going to fly it because as a Christian I don’t’ want to be a stumbling block to my black brothers.”
Joe Matheson: “When I see the flag, I see plantations, slaves, everything the south stood for. God gave us a way to take care of our families without having to enslave people. I can’t believe that having slaves falls under the heading of being a Christian.”
Rebecca Myer: “It’s from a war that was fought and it’s from a part of history.”
Brian Barrett: “When I see it I think it symbolizes racial bigotry. For the time period it represented it represented racial division or the white man’s oppression of African Americans. I’ve lived outside the south so I see things differently. Not all whites who wear it or wave it are prejudiced.”
Vide Gordon: “It is the flag of a defeated enemy. But it has a particular relevant history. If you fail to remember your past you will repeat it. You have to teach history openly and honestly. You need the memorabilia.”
Alex Zeno, 34: “It reminds me that racism is still around.”
Troy Moore, 28: “it’s about racism. Whites hating blacks.”
Tye Daucette, 21, NSU student: “I know some see heritage. I just see a piece of the past.”
Ralph Wilson: “For some it’s a symbol of celebration embracing their heritage but to me and millions of others it’s a symbol of disrespect.”
Phillip Davis, spoken word poet: (Here from East St. Louis) “for some it’s a symbol of heritage. But for blacks it’s a symbol of oppression. Just like the Swastika.”
So what are we to gather from these comments? The flag sends weird mixed messages. Some see it as being about heritage. Others see it as a threat and reminder that racism still exists. Therefore it’s not fair to say that everyone who wears or flies it is racist. Yes, people should be able to fly it on their property. But should a symbol that causes such pain for so many Americans fly over government buildings? Our government facilities are supposed to represent the people. In some southern towns and cities blacks are the majority. Some people are saying it will be progress to take it down. I think it would be better if one day no one felt the need to run it up some flag pole in the first place. Now that would be real progress.