Fivecoat-Campbell
June 17, 2005

 

Flag sympathies, or not
by Kerri Fivecoat-Campbell

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 the symbol.

Perception is reality in the eyes of the people the symbol is meant to hurt.

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 mythical past.

Kerri Fivecoat-Campbell can be contacted at fivecoat@kcnet.com. Her blog is at www.kconkc.blogspot.com.


              
              
                 

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