The American Civil War may have
ended some 140 years ago, but a strange divisiveness still lingers
today. That debate is over the flying of the Confederate Battle Flag
on public ground.
While this topic has been debated primarily in the South for a few
years, it reached Missouri last year when then Gov. Bob Holden ordered
the removal of the Confederate flag from two Confederate cemeteries.
The new governor, Matt Blunt, a conservative Republican, ordered them
back up on Memorial Day.
I know what you’re thinking. This is another rant by a liberal
columnist to lament over the political correctness of why taxpayers
shouldn’t pay for the raising of a flag that represents divisiveness
and hate to so many citizens. Keep reading though, because for me
the issue was, at first, not so black and white (pun intended).
I was raised in a home in Kansas, but my parents both hailed from
the South. My father from Arkansas and my mother spent half of her
formative years in rural Missouri. While I never heard dad voice an
opinion one way or another in his southern drawl about having sympathies
toward the Confederacy, my mother certainly did.
This is not to say that she was/is pro-slavery. To people of her generation
southern sympathies had nothing to do with the slave issue but everything
to do with the romantic myth surrounding southern living.
To hear my mother tell it, her Depression-era childhood on the farm
bore the same romantic theme as did the South portrayed in Gone
with the Wind. Life was perfect until the federal government
came in and screwed things up.
For the South during the Civil War, it was Abraham Lincoln, and for
my mother, it was Herbert Hoover, who she still contends to this day,
“tried to starve them to death.”
I was raised with the romanticized version of the South, not the one
that depicted people of color as less than. As a child, when my family
would visit Branson and have our “old time” photos taken,
I would always choose to have my dad in a Confederate uniform and
my mother and I as Southern Belles. My brother even had a Confederate
Battle Flag that he hung above his bed during his childhood.
By the time the controversy arose over the flag flying over state
capitols a few years ago, I had been educated enough in history to
know that the symbol, which has always symbolized a country divided,
now represented something much more to many people. The South, whether
they like it or not, (and whether we Democrats like it or not) is
part of the United States. They should only be flying their state
flag and the flag of our country, not the flag of defeated rebels
who are a part of our bitter and bloody history.
However, when the issue of flying the flag at Confederate cemeteries
where soldiers are buried was raised, I still had feelings rooted
in the romantic myth. After all, this was the flag they fought and
died for, and it was my understanding the cemeteries were first cared
for by the Daughters and Sons of the Confederacy.
And there was a third reason. On many levels, I’m starting to
feel that political correctness is being taken too far.
The reason that my father probably had no feelings one way or another
over the southern issue is that my dad was also part Native American.
While my mother can trace her maternal ancestors back to the Revolutionary
War, my father could only trace his lineage back to his grandfather.
Prior to that, my fathers’ family does not exist on paper. Some
evidence suggests this is because his family defected from the infamous
Trail of Tears and landed in hiding in the mountains of Arkansas.
In a perfect PC world, I thought, couldn’t I have a beef with
the flying of the American flag? While my father’s ancestors
were fighting for their lives and then their cultural and religious
survival, the American government’s policy was to remove them
from their lands. The American military, in the shadow of the American
flag, were even guilty of mass killings and attempted genocide.
For that matter, prior to the Civil War, slavery was legal and condoned
under the United States flag, so shouldn’t descendants of slaves
have the same problem with the stars and stripes?
So is this an issue of PC run amuck?
The answer may be simple if proponents of this issue had a good argument.
But it’s the opposing side that has a good argument about the
Confederate flag now representing hate in this country, much as the
Nazi swastika does around the world. It doesn’t matter that
it has only been “certain groups” who’ve adopted
Perception is reality in the eyes of the people the symbol is meant
The final thing that pushed my opinion over the edge on this issue
came when The Kansas City Star published a letter to the
editor saying that comparing the Confederate flag to the Nazi swastika
was ridiculous. After all, he reasoned, the South was not responsible
for the killing of some 20 million people. It may not have been 20
million, but this guy obviously missed the article published a few
days prior about 100 years of lynchings after the Civil War, which
occurred mostly in the South and whose victims were mostly black.
The side that says the government should recognize and honor those
who fought for the South, against the government of the United States,
has no valid argument except in politics. Gov. Blunt knows he was
not elected to the highest position in the state by urban minorities
or liberals. A conservative base elected him, mainly from rural areas
and the southern portion of the state. In short, white, rural rednecks
that still drive around with the “stars and bars” plastered
in the back window of their pick up trucks.
I do not doubt the sincerity of some of the Sons and Daughters of
the Confederacy in wanting to honor their fallen ancestors. After
all, my Native American brothers and sisters know what it is like
not to be able to honor our ancestors. Performing Native American
spiritual rituals was illegal in this country until the 1960s.
And, if they wish, these sincere descendants should be able to honor
those rebels who fought, in part, against equality for all people
and, in whole, against the United States of America. Only they should
have to do it on their own dime. Taxpayer money should not be used
to maintain these cemeteries under the symbol of a divided nation.
My dad had Native American blood and he fought for his country
in World War II under the flag of the United States. Our country may
not be perfect, and the stars and stripes have not always flown proud
during times in our past, but it still symbolizes a better tomorrow,
not a tainted, hateful past.
A quote from E.L. Doctorow reads, “History is the present. That’s
why every generation writes it a new. But what most people think of
history is its end product, myth.”
Gov. Blunt has obviously forgotten that he represents the Missouri
of the present, not the Missouri — or the South — of a
Kerri Fivecoat-Campbell can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Her blog is at www.kconkc.blogspot.com.