“Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address
“He was big into segregation and other stuff. He said he wanted to start a civil war.” Dalton Tyler on friend Dylann Roof.
Dylann Roof is the young man who gunned down nine black people on June 17 in Charleston, S.C. He committed this horrendous act because he believed that black people and white people shouldn’t mix. He went to the Wednesday evening Bible study at Emanuel AME Church, sat there for an hour, and then murdered nine of the participants. He later told police that he “almost didn’t go through with it because everyone was so nice to him,” but he decided he had to “go through with his mission,” because no one else would.
During the shooting, Roof told one survivor, “I have to do it. You rape our women and you’re taking over our country. And you have to go.” Where did he get those ideas? Those beliefs are promoted by many white supremacist groups, and one of the most visible symbols of those groups is the Confederate battle flag. Roof posted many pictures of himself with this flag, confirming his commitment to these ideas.
This year marks 150 years since the Civil War ended. For many in the South, the conflict has never really been resolved. They look at the Confederate flag as a symbol of heritage and pride, and refuse to acknowledge what the flag actually means.
In simple terms, the Confederate flag represents treason, racism and enslavement. Before anyone explodes, read the “Cornerstone Speech” by Alexander Stephens, vice-president of the Confederate States of America, or the articles of secession by South Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi, etc. Here is an excerpt from the “Cornerstone Speech”:
“The new [Confederate] constitution has put at rest, forever, all the agitating questions
relating to our peculiar institution African slavery as it exists amongst us .... This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution....The prevailing ideas entertained by [Jefferson] and most of the leading statesmen at the time of the formation of the old constitution, were that the enslavement of the African was ...wrong in principle... Those ideas, however, were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. This was an error. ...Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner-stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition.” Alexander Stephens, March 21, 1861
There is much more, but the basic idea was that black people are inherently inferior and slavery is their natural state. This is why the Civil War was fought; the northern states did not want this evil to spread. This is what the Confederate flag represents. For anyone who disagrees, read these documents. There is no ambiguity in what they say.
After the massacre in Charleston, calls to bring down those Confederate flags that fly over public property swept the nation. Several communities have already done this and more are planning to do so. What many people have forgotten is that the modern veneration of the Confederate battle flag began in the 1960s, as a backlash against the Civil Rights movement. As the movement for civil rights for all people gained strength, southern whites became upset. They hoisted the Confederate flag as a symbol of their displeasure. Abraham Lincoln would have been disgusted.
Gen. Robert E. Lee, a southern hero, wrote, “I think it wiser moreover not to keep open the sores of war, but to follow the examples of those nations who endeavoured to obliterate the marks of civil strife and to commit to oblivion the feelings it engendered.” What he meant by this was – no monuments to southern battles, no flying of the Confederate flag. At his own funeral, by his request, there were no Confederate flags and he was not buried in his military uniform. Anyone wearing a Confederate uniform was not admitted.
Lee understood what many people today don’t seem to get, that the Confederate flag is a symbol of treason and racism and doesn’t deserve an honored place in today’s America. For those who still want to display it, just remember what it stood for. That is what you are promoting.
Jeanette Strong, whose column appears every other week, is a Nevada Press Association award-winning columnist. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.