In 1998, the high school marching band in whose district I live caused a bit of a firestorm when it performed a halftime show with a Civil War theme, with part of the show including the playing of the tune “Dixie” and the displaying of Confederate flags — which offended many African-American parents. In response, I wrote an op-ed, “Don’t look away, but play ‘Dixie,” in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, during which I referred to my time attending Georgia Tech, seeing that banner on a consistent basis and not bothering me at all.
That being said, given the massacre last month in Charleston, S.C. in which a young white man expressing racist ideology shot to death a state senator who was the pastor of the historic church where it happened and eight other African-Americans, Southern states probably should retire it from official status and relegate it to museums and private homes.
To say that what is more accurately the battle flag of the army of Northern Virginia simply represented slavery and, thus, racism and needed to come down for that reason is a bit of a stretch, as racial justice and reconciliation weren’t even on the agenda in those days and African-Americans were, really, an afterthought.
Remember that Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee was an opponent of slavery, and even when running for president, Abraham Lincoln, because of whose election 11 Southern states seceded, said he didn’t believe that the races could live together and proposed shipping blacks back to Africa — in line with the views of many even abolitionists. And while Lincoln also opposed slavery, he also proposed a compromise that one “free” state would be admitted to the Union for every slave state. (Only after his Christian conversion in 1862 and the possible recognition of the Confederacy by Britain and France did he decide that slavery needed to be eliminated altogether.)
The flag, however, did make an official comeback in South Carolina during the civil-rights movement, its proponents insisting that doing so commemorating the centennial of the beginning of the Civil War — which, while true, certainly came across to many as opposing desegregation.
Moreover, one of my PG colleagues — and now that I think about it, he was right about this — noted back then that the flag also represented treason against the U.S. government. And while it’s fine to recognize that period, that’s not something to celebrate at any time for any reason.
That’s why it needs to be officially retired.