Do you remember this from grade school, “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America – one nation, indivisible, under god, with liberty and justice for all?” From the time I started Grammar School in 1946 until I graduated in 1958 this pledge started the school day, and was also included in weekly assemblies where it was recited by the entire student body of Sandersville High School. The stars and stripes again played a significant part in my life when in 1963 as a newly commissioned Second Lt. of Engineers, I pledged to defend the Constitution of the United States.
As a privileged southern white child of the 1960s in the midst of the turmoil regarding the Vietnam war, school and college intergradation, I had received an excellent education in Georgia’s segregated school system. My class produced a number of doctors, lawyers, career military officers and the present Governor of Georgia, Nathan Deal, who was on the debate team with me. As I later discovered, my same-age black contemporaries also received an education, but not the equivalent of mine. It was during this era that the Confederate battle flag was resurrected throughout the South as a symbol of resistance to the imposition of Federal intergradation statues. It became incorporated as part of Georgia’s state flag, and it was during this era of resistance to the Federal Government that it was flown on the statehouse grounds in South Carolina.
I have a deep reverence for the Confederate Battle Flag as a banner under which my ancestors, as men and boys, fought for the rights of individual states to chart their own paths to economic development which included, but was not exclusively about, the preservation of slavery. I asked myself, “Had I been alive during the 1850s and faced with the same economic circumstances, would I have owned and worked slaves?” I would have probably have used slave labor, as did everyone else. Would I have been better or worse at it than anyone else? I do not know. One does not really know how one would react to any given situation until you has been placed in it. This is the “walk a mile in another man’s shoes” concept, and not having had the opportunity, I don’t know what kind of plantation owner I would have been.
We southerners of Scotch-Irish ancestry are an independent bunch who do not like to be dictated to. The Confederate Battle Flag was transformed from a venerated relic held in a place of honor in memory of the sacrifices of our fallen ancestors who fought to preserve their homes and families into a popular symbol of rebellion against all authority. The use of this symbol proliferated during the 1960s along with the rise of protest music, rock and roll and mass marches. It was carried as a symbol of rebellion and resistance by some, and denounced as a symbol of repression and brutality as the worst offences of the Jim Crow South and State-enforced segregation came to light.
Organizations with older roots, like the KKK and Sons of Confederate Veterans, had also employed the Confederate Battle Flag. The KKK was responsible for cross burnings, shootings, hangings and other acts in an attempt to intimidate the black population of the south. The Sons of Confederate Veterans, on the other hand, kept to their purpose of honoring the Confederate dead and their service. Not unexpectedly, they incorporated the battle flag in their logo as a universally recognized symbol of the Lost Cause and their logo later became an option for printing on vanity license plates in Georgia.
The horrific shootings of nine people in a historic black church in Columbia, South Carolina, by white supremacist Dylann Roof, who recorded a video of himself with the Confederate Battle Flag, brought renewed demands that flag be removed from the statehouse grounds. One of the those killed, State Senator The Rev. Daniel Simmons, was laid in state in the Capitol Building while the flag remained flying. A few days later, at the request of Gov. Nikki Haley, the state legislature voted to remove the flag. These actions were widely publicized and garnered more than a month’s nearly continuous news coverage. Mass market retail stores that had sold images of the battle flag printed on towels, T-shirts, coffee mugs and almost anything else imaginable, removed these items from their shelves.
Emboldened by their success with having the battle flag removed from the statehouse grounds, a number of other calls have arisen to remove all the Confederate monuments from cities across the South and even to obliterate the carvings on Georgia’s Stone Mountain. These monuments were largely paid for by money raised by the widows, sons and daughters of the fallen along with collections from the survivors of the units that had fought in battles like Gettysburg, the siege of Vicksburg and the battle of Atlanta. Once these survivors marched shoulder-to-shoulder on Confederate Memorial Day through the cities of the south. Death had taken its toll, and none remain to defend their honor and comrades.
Like the monuments or not, agree with what you suppose they fought for or not, these monuments are part of the history of these United States. While it is desirable to debate the continuing legacy of the Civil War and to seek a better understanding of our shared history, these monuments are a part of that history and should be respected. So far as the battle flag itself is concerned, I agree that it should not now be flown on statehouse grounds or incorporated in state flags, but its use with other displays of Confederate flags in museums and on battle grounds should be continued. The attempt to hide this flag from all view is an overreaction. I never did particularly like to see the battle flag on T-Shirts and coffee cups, but it should be available on these products for those who want them.
I live and served under one flag and received the Distinguished Service Metal and a letter of commendation from the Governor of Alaska for my service. My ancestors fought during the Revolutionary War and under the Confederate banner during the Civil War. When I die the flag of the United States will be placed on my coffin. While I live I will honor them both.