And still, there is a history to the Stars and Bars that is worth preserving…
Once the furor over the flag, the Confederate flag, dies down, let’s not be all political correct about it all. I mean let’s not have it be like Christmas where you can’t put up a nativity scene or even say Merry Christmas without someone calling the cops or threatening a civil suit. But yes, maybe the days of it flying from state houses, or otherwise displayed officially, are about over.
And it is right to call out the racists who try to use the banner for intimidation.
A few days ago I wrote about the momentum in favor of ceasing to fly the Confederate flag, because regardless of historical value it symbolizes slavery, human bondage, the terrible things we as a nation made black people endure. I was writing about the zeitgeist more than my own feeling, but I did opine that it was probably just as well to on a personal level to refrain from displaying it because of the terrible feelings and memories in brings up.
And I certainly don’t think it should have the imprimatur of government if it is displayed.
But the Stars and Bars represents a history a Southern heritage, a story of America that should be preserved and read about and understood in order to fully appreciate our unique American identity. We are like a family who had a major disagreement long ago and got over it (well most of us did) and are stronger for it. Along with the bad, comes the good.
However, the sad truth is there are ignorant and dangerous people who will display the confederate flag for nothing more than an attempt at intimidation and a statement of racism with no regard to legitimate history or even knowledge of it.
One misguided and full-of-hate young man recently gunned down people in a Bible class. He used the Confederate flag as a symbol for his hate. And his actions of course are what prompted all the current furor, and rightly so.
While I don’t think our modern governmental entities at any level should fly the flag, or otherwise display it or authorize it, I’m sure it will remain in museums and be used in other instances, such as Civil War re-enactments.
More about the pride of the South:
Throughout my lifetime it has been an accepted thing — well among white folks — to root for the South if you are from there. Football is popular down there, so it’s kind of like taking pride in the home team. And people of course have ancestors who fought and ones who were killed or injured in that terrible bloody conflict known down in Dixie even today not as the Civil War but the War Between the States.
It would take more than I can devote, or more than I know, here to fully explain why so many common soldiers from below the Mason-Dixon line were willing to put their lives on the line when most of them did not own slaves themselves. And I only kind of think I know what their thinking may have been. I mean I have read about it at some point.
(Blogger’s Note: due to some weird computer glitch not all the paragrahs have enough or any space separating them. Eventually I’ll probably just delete this post. It’s just that I wrote so much…)
Somewhere in my family line some distant relatives may or may not live in the south, but basically my direct heritage is from people who migrated from primarily Germany and France to the Midwest, Ohio and Illinois, as well as Nebraska on my father’s side and then to California. Both my parents were born and raised in California. My only possible connection to the Civil War as far as I know is my mom always used to say that one of her ancestors was a drummer boy in the Union Army.
But I recall my dad used to tell me that Southerners would say: “save your confederate money boys, the South will rise again”. And they were saying this well into the 20th Century.
And one of my little pals when I was young was from Texas, and although only a little boy who could not have fully understood it all, he took pride in being a rebel, identifying with the Stars and Bars. But that was in the time when a popular western on TV was “The Rebel” with its theme song beginning: “Johnny Yuma was a rebel…”
But seriously, one has to put themselves in the place of those rebel soldiers. They were fighting for their home territory. The ways of the South were different from those of the north. And they did not run things. The power was with the slave-holding gentry who ran sprawling plantations and who lived sort of like nobles in a feudal society.
I don’t think there was much of a middle class. Maybe the middle class basically consisted of shop keepers and professional men.
But, whatever, the whole economy down South was tied to cotton raised with the help of vast numbers of black slaves. Way back in the colonial days our forefathers seemed to have a way different attitude toward human rights, even if they did create the great experiment in democracy that is the United States. Even some white people were essentially slaves under the indentured servant system.
(And strangely enough there were some free black people then, and stranger still, I have read some even owned black slaves themselves. And history tells us that black people in Africa rounded up other black people and sold them to white slavers — and of course this does not excuse slavery in any way.)
(And by the way I am just going by a generalized knowledge of history in all of this, and the subject is of course much more complex and convoluted than I present here. But I do take steps to be accurate as possible as far as I go.)
Black slaves from Africa were originally imported to work tobacco and rice and sugar plantations, but once Eli Whitney invented that machine that mechanically picked the seeds out of cotton, the cotton gin, cotton became king, but it demanded a lot of field labor in the days before tractors and cotton picking machines (and interestingly those cotton picking machines did not take off until the early 1950s, although they were in development before that, but that is another story, and a fascinating one I think in that as a little boy I was a witness to that to a degree, tagging along with my dad, who made photos of them in the southern San Joaquin Valley of California) .
And then of course, as reprehensible as it is, black people were considered by many as something less than fully human — of course that was mainly out of convenience, I mean it makes for an excuse (albeit phony) for less than human treatment I suppose.
Once the millions of black slaves were here there was widespread fear that they would revolt (I mean wouldn’t you?). There had been a revolt in in Haiti, among other places. And there is another family connection. I have a French ancestor who was in the French military, I believe, and was killed in a slave revolt in Santo Domingo, according to a relative of mine.
There was also the fear that Northerners would force an end to slavery, and then what? The Southern economy would be ruined and what would happen with all those people becoming free men and women?
The white gentry encouraged the fear of black people in the minds of the lesser whites to both help keep the blacks in line and to protect themselves from the lower class whites who themselves might vie for land, power, and money in the South.
William Faulkner wrote several novels with the theme of the upheaval in the post Civil War South when, for lack of a better term here, some of the poor white trash usurped the role of the plantation owners who had been ruined by the loss of the war and their black slaves. (And I am not calling anyone trash myself, just using a known term and explaining the story line).
And then I think the more recent movie Cold Mountain deals with the social and peer pressure put upon the mostly young men of the times to sign up for the Confederate cause.
But it’s a new day. Equal rights among all human beings is the law of the land with no qualifications and most of our society has bought into that.
However, our history and our heritage survives.
I think it’s ironic that Joan Baez, the wonderful folk singer and civil rights and peace activist from the 1960s era (well her fame and talent has gone beyond that) did her own version of this song that tells the fictional story of a young rebel soldier in defeat:
THE NIGHT THEY DROVE OLD DIXIE DOWN
(The original version of the song was written by Robbie Robertson and recorded by The Band. This is the Joan Baez version.)
Virgil Caine is my name and I drove on the Danville train
Till So much Cavalry came and tore up the tracks again
In the winter of ’65, we were hungry, just barely alive
I took the train to Richmond that fell
It was a time I remember, oh, so well
The night they drove old Dixie down
And all the bells were ringin’
The night they drove old Dixie down
And all the people were singin’
They went, “Na, na, na”
Back with my wife in Tennessee and one day she said to me
“Virgil, quick, come see, there goes Robert E. Lee”
Now I don’t mind, I’m chopping wood
And I don’t care if the money’s no good
Just take what you need and leave the rest
But they should never have taken the very best
The night they drove old Dixie down
And all the bells were ringing..
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