Sunday, July 10, 2016

The Confederate Flag - The South is Gonna Rise Again!

It was just about a year ago that the Confederate flag came down off of our State House here in South Carolina.  We had just suffered the tragedy of the Charleston Nine.  While Governor Nikki Haley wanted to come out the hero on this one, it was clear that she had no choice.  The emails that she received left it clear that the vast majority of South Carolinians had to have it down.  

"First, I am a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. Many of my ancestors served in the Southern Confederacy ... For many years I have been a supporter of keeping the flag in place on statehouse ground. However, the murder of the Rev. Clementa Pinckney along with 8 other of my Christian Brothers and Sisters changed my heart ... My Christian duty requires me to call for the removal of the Confederate Battle flag from statehouse grounds."
Randolph from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

"About 2 weeks ago there was a shooting at Emanuel AME church. When I heard about this, I was sad as can be to know there are people out there against Black People."
Handwritten note, with a smiley face stamp and hearts, from Amayah, age 10

"The current flag needs to come down either way. It has been allowed to be hijacked by hate groups. Those that revere it while being upstanding Americans will suffer unfairly."
Larry from Charlotte, North Carolina

Of course there were many responses condemning Haley for her actions to take down the flag...

"While I do not minimize the tragedy to the families of the seven [there were nine] Negros [Negros, really?!] who lost their lives nor condone the actions of Dylann [sic] Roof, I consider you a disgrace and a traitor to America, to the state of South Carolina and to your race."
Mark from Middleburg, Florida

"The rebel flag means to me home. Southern pride. Wheat fields, sunflower fields, deer hunting, hard work, trucks, racing, family and pride in where I am from. Born and raised here and damn proud of it. Ignorance 'flies' both ways. An item can not be racist, unless you are an easily offended person, or racist yourself." [Stanley seems to be easily offended to me.  Just saying.]
Stanley from Greenville, South Carolina

It was a no brainer.  She got out in front of it and made it seem like it was her brave idea.  And she got a lot of credit for it.  Who cares?  It came down.  We were there at the protest.  Heidi and her class took time away from their studies to walk down to the State House to witness the historic furling of the flag.  That flag that stood for states' rights to be sure.  Mainly for states' rights to own other people like property.  Then later for states' rights to keep a group of people down, to keep in their lower place, to keep them from voting, from drinking at the same water fountains as whites, from swimming in public pools and eating in the same spaces.  


It came down.  

And it seemed like the beginning of a new era in South Carolina.  And maybe a new era in our country.  If that flag could come down, then maybe other symbols of racism could be removed.  Maybe the Nine wouldn't have died in vain.  Maybe Dylan Roof would have started a new beginning of lives lived in peaceful understanding and celebration of our differences.  Maybe our kids could grow up in a world where we learned from our mistakes and we put racism behind us.  Maybe the Confederate flag would be a relic, a symbol of a bygone era before we were sensitive to the hateful memories it stirred.  Just maybe...

I remember that time when the flag came down as one of hope.  I love South Carolina.  I love the soft drawl and the wide open hospitality.  I love the way people down here ease into conversation with sincere questions about family.  I love the unhurried lifestyle and the gentility.  I love the fact that people let you in if you are stuck in traffic - even if it means they make themselves a little bit later.  I love the "please" and "thank you" and the way people hold doors for each other.  I love seeing mixed race couples and the beautiful children in these families.  I love teaching in a classroom where children of all races come together to talk about how to make a better world.  

And then I see this as I am driving through the country.  Then I wonder how far we've come.  

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