Wednesday, April 14, 2010

For Southern Rights Hurrah: The Attempt to Rehabilitate the Confederacy

For what it’s worth, here’s some of my commentary at Eduardo Peñalver’s Commonweal thread last week about abortion and the black community.  That thread launched into a discussion of one of the burning issues of the moment—what to make of the legacy of the Old South, and whether the Confederate flag is a racist symbol.  Is it possible to rehabilitate the Confederacy by retrieving its sterling values, without rehabilitating racism?

As a native Southerner with deep roots in the American Southeast, I certainly have a perspective on this issue, one that, I believe, complements that of many Catholics who have taken a conservative political turn in recent years due to the pro-life issue, but who are insufficiently informed about either what the Stars and Bars means to most Southerners, or about the racial history of the nation in general, and the recent racial history of their chosen party in particular. 

Here’s a snippet of my commentary:

. . . [Y]our comments about the Confederate flag certainly evoke memories for me.

I was in high school when the integration process finally took place in my small and very Deep South town. Our school was integrated in 1967 when a hand-picked cohort of African-American students was selected to attend the town’s white high school. Prior to this point, the community had two high schools, one for blacks and one for whites.

Up to the point of integration, we had proudly carried the Confederate flag into every school assembly, waving and strutting it as the band wildly played “Dixie.” When it reached the stage, along with the American flag, the flag bearers crossed the two flags over each other as the assembly shouted, “The South will rise again!”

I’ll leave it to your imagination to guess which of the two flags was on top when the two were crossed.

When the school was integrated, we had a problem on our hands. For some strange reason, the new African-American students of the school didn’t appreciate the flag waving, the playing of “Dixie,” and the cheering about the Old South. After much acrimony and debate, the school finally ended that custom.

I’m still close to a number of those African-American students who integrated my school in 1967–fine folks, every one of them. From the conversations we continue to have, I’d be very surprised, indeed, to find them concluding that the Confederate flag is not a racist symbol.

For anyone who’s following this discussion as various governors and their supporters try to run the old battle flag up the flagpole again, there’s quite a bit more on this thread, from many different perspectives.