The Aiken Chronicles

The Confederate Battle Flag and the High Cost of Perpetual Secession (page 3)

Posted in Uncategorized by canarypapers on December 22, 2009


The Confederate Battle Flag Today: Heritage or Hate?

In this same vein, it’s a good bet that, if presented with a photo line-up, the average battle-flag waver in South Carolina — unless a Columbia resident — would be hard-pressed to recognize the Confederate monument on State House grounds. And they’d be equally hard-pressed to find many images of this monument on ‘the google’ because the interest in the heritage of this monument is so minuscule as to be nearly non-existent, compared to the interest in the battle flag flown beside it.

Which is kind of sad. The monument “To South Carolina’s Dead of the Confederate Army” is a quite lovely and poignant memorial to the dead. Erected in 1879 by “The Women of South Carolina,” this statue pre-dates the United Daughters of the Confederacy, the organization that has raised so many Civil War monuments throughout the South — enough of them, in fact, to prompt General Bennett H. Young, Commander of the United Confederate Veterans, to remark in 1914: “It has been said, and it is probably true, that there are more monuments erected to commemorate Confederate valor and sacrifice than were ever built to any cause, civil, political, or religious.”

General Young was speaking on the occasion of the unveiling of the Confederate Monument at Arlington Cemetery almost 50 years after the end of the Civil War.

Confederate statues and monuments are not, in themselves, inherently hateful. Those who would seek to obliterate every bronze, marble and granite trace of the Civil War aspire to nothing nobler than merely erasing history. Like all historic monuments, these exist — and should exist — as tangible remembrances of who we’ve been, which is inseparable from who we are today and tomorrow and tomorrow. No history book can so vividly convey this story. What may shock the conscience of one person may be an object of reverence for another. We fool ourselves if we think we can, or should try to manipulate these perspectives by merely razing a statue. Better we look our history squarely in the eye and take from it what we will.

Having said this, there is a thin line between preserving history and perpetuating hatred. Heritage or hate? Of all the answers that have been offered to this question, the most powerful are, perhaps, those delivered nearly 100 years ago, during the 1912-14 dedication and unveiling of the cornerstone and the Confederate monument in Arlington Cemetery in Washington, D.C.

The Arlington Confederate monument was designed to be a statue of peace. And, once upon a time, it was just that: a bronze statue standing at the center of a historic truce between the North and the South. Writing on this in 1914, Herbert Hillary of the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) said:

May that peace last as long as bronze endures or the sun shines!…. Within a single generation we in America have been able as among ourselves, “To reap the harvest of perpetual peace, By this our bloody trial of sharp war.”

On this point, in the year 1914, the North and South had reached genuine agreement. But the seeds for this unity — planted in the bloody soil of the Civil War — had only really taken root with the conception for the Arlington Peace monument. And it grew throughout the collaboration, design and planning for the monument. Those, today, seeking an answer to that question, “Heritage or hate?” would do well to read (or re-read) the speeches delivered during the 1912 Cornerstone dedication and in the final unveiling of this monument in 1914. The insets below offer a few notable excerpts.

The Master of Ceremonies, Colonel Hilary A. Herbert of the UDC, wove together the rocky path to this unity — from secession, to war and hatred, to resolution and a shared vision of perpetual peace — in his speech during the 1912 Cornerstone dedication:

Time is the blessed mother of reconciliation. The embers of passion die out. The kindly winds of heaven blow away the smoke of battle. Everywhere our people are engaged in the arts of peace. The bright sunshine falls upon green fields and growing crops. Trade flows where armies trod. Commerce floats where ships of war sailed. Respect, confidence, and mutual admiration take the place of hatred and distrust. Ex-Confederates in Congress help to maintain the army and build up the navy. The questions that once divided the North and the South are settled forever. People North and South see each other as they are, and the Union is more complete than ever before….

Now we know that the Union is to be perpetual, because there never can be secession, that question having been settled forever. To us has come, instead of uncertainty, certainty. Ours is the substance of what the fathers only hoped for. It has been given to us to see with our own eyes what their prophetic vision could not have forecast — the material prosperity, the grandeur, the power of this united Republic as it is today. Our eyes have seen, too, the unspeakable horrors of disunion — an outpouring during four years of war of blood and treasure which it never could have entered into the imagination of our ancestors to conceive, and for which nothing could atone except the exaltation of this hour, in which there comes to us from every battlefield of our great war memories of heroic deeds that have brought us closer together in a union to present which our posterity will never be called upon to make sacrifices….

Before the cornerstone was laid, a box was placed beneath it, filled with various historic records, memorabilia and artifacts, from coins, stamps and newspapers, to a facsimile of the Declaration of Independence, to documents of the various groups, including both the United Daughters and United Sons of the Confederacy. Also included were two flags: the U.S. Flag and the 1st national flag of the Confederacy, the Stars and Bars.

Upon the placement of this box, William Jennings Bryan delivered a speech in which he, too, described the path to war and peace.

The North and South jointly contributed to the causes that produced the war between the States. They share together the responsibility for the introduction of slavery; they bore together the awful sacrifices that the conflict compelled and they inherit together the glories of the struggle, written in bravery and devotion. Enormous as was the cost and bitter as were the animosities that were aroused, charity and forgiveness have sprung up like flowers from the battlefields and their fragrance will endure….

As precarious as this peace between North and South may have been that day — and even as it was backdropped by the continuing brutality of the Jim Crow era — both sides were dedicated to never again perpetuating the horrors of secession and war. As Bryan said at the conclusion of his speech:

So let this monument be emblematic of our nation’s unity of aim and purpose. Standing on the line that once separated two unfriendly sections, it becomes a bond of unity, and, breathing the spirit of Ilini who laid ‘the foundations of a universal brotherhood, it will be to the country a promise of never-ending good will.”

Two years later, at the unveiling of the completed statue in 1914, this spirit of good will had only grown. In the words of General Bennett H. Young, Commander of the United Confederate Veterans:

This monument is a history, a pledge, and a prophecy: as a history, it memorializes the devotion of a people to a cause that was lost ; as a pledge, it gives assurance that North and South have clasped hands across a fratricidal grave; as a prophecy, it promises a blessed future in which sectional hate shall be fully transmuted into fraternity and good will.

This was echoed, as well, in the words of General Washington Gardner, Commander-in-Chief of the G. A. R

“This memorial structure speaks the language of peace and good-will. It says to all who come hither and read the superscription that the swords and bayonets that once gleamed along the battle’s fiery front have been ‘beaten into plowshares and pruning hooks.’ It declares through the symbolical wreath of unfading laurel held in outstretched hand above the sleeping dead that the spirit of heroic devotion and lofty self-sacrifice which they manifested is held in grateful and affectionate memory.

If there was a Confederate battle flag at the ceremony, it was not mentioned in the official record. Given the tenor of the dedication, a battle flag would have been inappropriate. The national flag of the Confederacy — the Stars and Bars — was flown throughout the ceremony along with the American flag. In his speech that day, Colonel Robert E. Lee, grandson of General R. E. Lee, paid poetic tribute to these two flags:

“All the States stand once more under one grand glorious national emblem with a star for every State and a State for every star. Your flag and my flag how it flies today O’er your land and my land and half the world away, Rose red, and blood red, its stripes forever gleam Snow white, and soul white, the great forefathers’ dream. Sky blue and true blue, with stars that beam aright, A glorious guidon by the day, a shelter through the night. Your flag and my flag and oh, how much it holds Your land and my land secure within its folds. Your heart and my heart beat quicker at the sight, Sun-kissed and wind-tossed, the red, the blue, the white. The one flag, the great flag, the flag for me and you. Glorified all else beside, the red, the white, the blue.’ “

When the statue was at last unveiled, a tremendous thunderstorm, which had been threatening throughout the ceremony, began to break, forcing them to omit the planned 21-gun salute. Instead, Mrs. Daisy McLaurin Stevens, the President of the United Daughters of the Confederacy spoke, delivering the official presentation of the monument to the United States. Herein, she echoed Lee’s praise of the Stars and Bars as well as the unity symbolized by the U.S. flag flying now flown over the Confederate dead:

“They sleep within the shadow of the home of Lee and in sight of the dome of the capitol of their fathers and their sons. Above floats the flag they fought, but it does not wave above their dust in jeering triumph, but in loving protection. It seems to send from each stripe and star benediction upon their graves.

There is little doubt that Gen. Robert E. Lee would have also embraced the benediction of the American flag over the Confederate dead. While there were battle flags raised daily throughout the South over its many Confederate monuments in the half-century after the Civil War, it was the flag of “peace or parade” that was raised over the national Confederate monument. It was the Stars and Bars that stood next to the Stars and Stripes during this historic truce between battlefield enemies. When Gen. Lee signed the Gentleman’s Agreement of April 1865, he gave his allegiance, with honor, to the United States, and he kept this until his death — at one point famously urging an embittered Southern woman:

“Madam, don’t bring up your sons to detest the United States Government. Recollect that we form one country now. Abandon all these local animosities, and make your sons Americans.”

Although the war was not fought for the cause of unity, this was the ultimate outcome. The war had answered, once and for all, the long-unanswered questions. Our unity in its wake inspired the entire world and, indeed, inspired the gift from France of our own Statue of Liberty with her unshackled ankle.

A Perfect Peace

One of the most eloquent speeches attending to the Confederate monument of peace at Arlington cemetery was an impromptu speech given at the Cornerstone ceremony in 1912 by Corporal James Tanner. He’d been asked only minutes earlier, while laying the cornerstone, to deliver a speech. Corporal Tanner, a Union veteran who’d lost both legs in the Second Battle of Bull Run/Manassas, was introduced by a man who’d fought against him on that same battlefield — Master of Ceremonies, Colonel Hilary Herbert. Albeit brief, Corporal Tanner’s speech spoke volumes about the spirit of that day and of the monument itself. Herein, he told the story of an old friend, Confederate veteran John Daniel of Virginia. From the story of their friendship unfolded a hard-earned wisdom — one that was shared by the best of the men who survived that war, and which Corporal Tanner passed onto posterity that day:

“In my library there is a small but treasured volume, rich in its expression of lofty sentiment, which came to me from the author thereof, who, I am frank to confess, was one of the loves of my life among men. He wore the gray; I wore the blue. But on the fly-leaf of that volume he inscribed the sentiment — ‘All brave men are true comrades.’ The signature was that of the lion-hearted, sweet-souled John W. Daniel of Virginia. He and I had much in common, symbolized in part by his crutch and my cane.

“As we sat at times in social converse, though each carried physical reminders of the searing effects of the contest which would remain with us until the grave should close over us, and though our brows might be furrowed with pain, there was never a moan in our hearts. We had each played our part in the mighty game of the 60’s and if to us had fallen the rough end of it, still it was in the game. We resolutely set our faces to the front for the speedy restoration of unity, good feeling, and perfect peace between the hitherto discordant sections of our country. Daniel kept his face consistently that way until God took him. I face that way yet and shall until the end comes. And it is that spirit which has so readily brought me to my feet here today.

We of both sides, as we were aligned of old, want you young men — the men of today — to bear in mind that we old fellows met these issues in the long ago and we fought them out ; we settled them for all time. Today the feet of innocent children picking flowers press the sod once torn by the ruthless wheels of artillery. Cannons rusting in disuse are enmeshed in clinging vines, and the birds in safety build their nests in the mouths that once belched death and destruction. We have brought to you a great united nation, a republic founded on principles that shall carry it along ’til the end of time.

Here, on this day, the thin line between heritage and hate had been respectfully drawn. There were no praises raised to the Red Shirts, the Klan or Jim Crow, even as their cause still pervaded the South. No, it was not a perfect peace, but it was a good start. It was not to last.

As these old soldiers died off, their wisdom died with them. Their camaraderie was usurped, their truce dismantled by sons and daughters who embarked on a re-writing of history, on the unsettling of settled issues, on the rekindling of old animosities. The men of today who speak before the Confederate monument of peace at Arlington are a different caliber of men.

The men of today speak of President Lincoln and the federal government as forces of “money, power, war and domination, greed, hate, lust and ambition” who designed to “crush and destroy the South” and, with it, “the noble aims of the Confederacy.”

The men of today argue, still, over the causes of the war, inventing new causes as they go. One such proposal weaves faith and the Bible into the cause, suggesting that the South was willing to die to preserve their “robust, traditional, Trinitarian Christianity” against the influence of the “Northern intellectual leadership [that] preached a heretical and socialist Gospel.”

The men of today, still arguing that the proper name for the war is “The War of Northern Aggression,” have taken the argument a step further — arguing, now, over the name of the cause, suggesting that the “Lost Cause” should be renamed, in honor of their ancestors, to the “Just Cause” or the “Righteous Cause.”

No, it seems that nothing short of a brutal, bloody, real-life re-enactment of that hellish war could restore this progeny to the wisdom of their ancestors. In the absence of this war, they practice for it: they strategize, they reenact, they re-engage, they romanticize over a war that never was. For these men and women, there could be no other flag than the battle flag.

South Carolina’s Monumental Oversight

Here, it bears repeating: Most South Carolinians — outside of Columbia passers-by and dedicated history buffs — would be hard-pressed to identify our own state’s Confederate monument in a photo line-up. Nor could they explain the reasons for the stars on our Capitol building. This ignorance of our state’s history might be of little consequence, if not for the concurrent, lop-sided professions over the historical significance of the battle flag flown beside this monument. A marble slab is an inert object. Carved into a monument, however, it then poses its own questions to posterity: What meaning will your draw from this history? What wisdom? How will you remember those who lived this history?

The larger questions of the war are lost on the state of South Carolina. The memory of the dead is equally lost, their fallen cause now resurrected into something different — into blustery pageantry, into making a hobby of reliving a romanticized version of that brutal war. The flag, too, has been altered, its image long ago commandeered to serve a different war. Today this image is cast about our state as it were the official stink eye of South Carolina, glaring with equal insult from pick-up truck bumpers, bikinis and our own State House grounds.

On that note, it might come as a surprise to many South Carolinians to know that the nation is perched on the threshold of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. Minor plans have been sketched out for a national committee to oversee the planning of the various sesquicentennial commemorations to take place around the country. Enthusiasm is slight, at best, given the political climate, the state of our economy and the absence of a cause, such as segregation, around which to rage.

At the same time, there has been a resurgence of racial hostility ever since the election of Barack Obama. While he is no Lincoln or Kennedy, he is black, a matter that greatly offends some people. The rocking chair brigade has been rocking more furiously of late, with South Carolina heading the charge. It seems that it’s not enough to merely hold animosity for our black president. It is also necessary to undermine his credibility — paint him as a scary black man, a constitutional rapist, a communist, a socialist — and to subvert his every attempt at leadership.

To this end, the conservatives have rediscovered the tenets of fiscal responsibility, something that was grossly absent over the previous 8 years. And in some states — South Carolina being one of them — fiscal responsibility has been turned into a states’ rights issue. This may not be the oldest trick in the book, but it’s darned close. As South Carolina’s own homeboy, GOP political strategist Lee Atwater once explained:

You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968 you can’t say “nigger”—that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights and all that stuff. You’re getting so abstract now [that] you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites.

Which brings us full-circle to South Carolina’s love affair with ignorance, illiteracy and intolerance. During the past few years, there’s been a new movement afoot in the state: re-segregating the public school system. Resurrecting an old segregation-era strategy — a trick that was tried in virtually ever Southern state in the wake of the 1954 Brown decision — our leaders have been working behind the scenes to dismantle the public school system. It is only fitting that this agenda is being driven by a man named Rich.

Let Them Eat Cake

The pity is that the sordid details of Howard Rich’s affair with Governor Sanford are not sexy enough to warrant wall-to-wall national media coverage. In fact, Howard Rich’s agenda — dismantling public education in South Carolina — is so unsexy, that it mostly flies under the radar. Otherwise there would be more widespread outrage over the fact that a New York real estate mogul has not not only made a whore of our governor, but has purchased the loyalties of every Palmetto State politician whose ethics could be bought.

I view guys like him as patriots. He’s a guy that passionately believes that choice in education is better education.Governor Mark Sanford, speaking of Howard Rich, who donated a total of $21,000 to the governor’s campaign

It is our state’s poverty, our deplorable education statistics and our history with race and class that make South Carolina such fertile ground a man like Howard Rich. The solution he proposes is this: Rather than address the pathology of our diseased state, we’ll ignore it. Rather than aspire to unshackle South Carolinians from our historic bondage to poverty and illiteracy, we’ll legitimize it. It worked in the Jim Crow era; it can work today. Simply make laws that will disenfranchise all but the rich white folk. The trick is in getting the poor white folk to go along with the plan.

One way to doing this is to blame minorities for everything that’s wrong. Another is to wave the Confederate flag and talk about God and the importance of family values. If you play your cards right, you can convince the poor white folk that the rich white folk got their backs, inciting them to vote for most anything, no matter how bad it shoots ’em in the foot.

Howard Rich — for all his generosity to our education system — would be powerless if not for the wealth of greed and ignorance in our state. To date, Howard Rich and his gang have made substantial progress toward convincing South Carolinians that:

  • Public schools, being a form of socialism, are ineffective and inherently evil.
  • By privatizing our school system, we will lower the cost of education and raise the quality, via the hoodoo magic of the free market, which will liberate our state, much as it has freed Wall Street and the U.S. health care system.
  • It’s cheaper, per child, to subsidize private school than to fund a public school education.
  • Therefore, a better use of our taxpayer dollars would be to spend it on subsidizing private school tuition for those families who “choose” to send their kids to private school.

Paying for this new-fangled school system would be a snap, as federal funds would be diverted from our already-struggling public schools to subsidize, through a school voucher system, those parents who make the “choice” to send their children to private school. To any who might worry that this plan would effectively re-segregate our schools, the Rich-Sanford folk have an answer. See, there’s nothing preventing minorities and the poor from enjoying these tax cuts and school vouchers. Everyone has a choice, see. All they have to do is cough up the $3,000 out-of-pocket tuition, per child, per year — or, alternately, choose from the many charitable organizations that will no doubt be clamoring to give scholarships to minorities and poor people who cannot afford private school tuition.

This is how we do things in South Carolina. It’s how we “get around” certain laws. It’s how George Wallace did things in Alabama. Only, rather than just outright close the public schools, we’ll strangle them slowly, dollar by dollar, child by child. We’ll seduce people of privilege and greed with words like “tax credits” and “school vouchers.” We’ll seduce the intolerant with words like “choice.”

Listening to Howard Rich’s spin on saving taxpayer money and cutting spending, the dog whistle is crystal clear. We know exactly who and what Rich is talking about in the video (below) when he says:

The ‘other side’ is in it for one thing — taxpayer dollars. They love it every year when the legislature gives them more money for what they call [and, with this word, Rich gestures with finger-quotes —->] “education.”

Lee Atwater couldn’t have crafted a more subtle delivery. If all goes as planned, regardless of the status of Mark Sanford’s fall from grace, South Carolinians will soon have a “choice.” Our children can either attend quality, federally-funded private schools, or attend inferior, federally funded public schools.

States’ Rights

But the real beauty of privatizing the school system is that it will restore states’ rights, because — in theory, anyway — the state would have authority over the curriculum. No more federal intrusion in matters like racial quotas, school prayer and teaching evolution. No more federal meddling in our noble Lost Cause, in our Southern way of life, which our ancestors gave their lives to preserve some 149 years ago.

In the spirit of this cause, I say we should embrace our heritage. Let’s celebrate, Edgefield-style, our secession from the future. Let’s celebrate our heritage one of the worst states to raise children (47th place at last count) and as one of the last to lower the battle flag against its own. Let’s celebrate South Carolina’s 114-year old constitutional mandate for a “minimally adequate” education for each and every child of this great state!

Let’s celebrate our bitter battle to claim last place. Let’s celebrate ranking 49th in graduation rates; celebrate 48th place in SAT scores; celebrate 45th place for infant mortality; celebrate 47th place for low-birthweight babies; celebrate 40th place for child deaths; celebrate 42nd place for children living in poverty; celebrate 47th place for human health. Let’s celebrate the 5th highest unemployment in the country. Let’s celebrate our century-old heritage as one of the top ten poorest states in the country. Yee-haw!

And when we’re done celebrating, maybe we can pause long enough to reflect over why we’re in 1st place for the most violent crime in the country. Could it be — after spending the past 150 years, not only tolerating, but cultivating poverty, ignorance, illiteracy and violence — that we are incapable of aspiring to better? Could this be the reason why progressive leaders in business and industry are not tripping over themselves to relocate their families to South Carolina?

States’ Wrongs

While it is not considered fashionable in political circles to talk about poor people and poverty, you can be assured that potential businesses and industries are talking about it. When they travel to South Carolina and see that some parts of our state resemble a third world country, it influences their decision. When they see the deplorable state of our education system, it influences their decision. And when they see the Confederate flag still flying on State House grounds, they are embarrassed for us.

With our state holding the 2nd worst graduation rates — and with 10 of the 20 worst schools in the country standing within our borders — we need to be talking about education. With the 5th worst unemployment in the country — and with unemployment over 22% in Allendale County — we need to be talking about attracting new industry. And with poverty rates climbing to 37% in some areas — and “choices” falling to zero — we need to be talking about the relationship between poverty, education and jobs.

We need to be talking about the poorest of the poor who live in the counties of South Carolina’s aptly named “Corridor of Shame.” But — just as important — we need to be talking about the growing number of South Carolinians who precariously cling to that economic purgatory between the poverty line and the ever-dwindling middle class. Because this, Mr. Confederacy, is our heritage.

Corridor of Shame: Neglect of South Carolina’s Rural Schools — Trailer for a 58 minute documentary that chronicles the story of the challenges faced in funding an adequate education in South Carolina’s rural school districts, located along I-95. Introduction by Pat Conroy.

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For whose cause do we elect our leaders to fight? The Red Shirts? Your children? My grandchildren?

On that note, there were six generations of South Carolinians born to this earth during the 100 years between the Civil War and the 1961 centennial. Another three have since been born. In another 50 years, God willing, another three more generations will be born. Today, as our country stands on the threshold of the Civil War sesquicentennial, we might do well to ask ourselves: What future do we aspire to pass to these generations — both the born and unborn?

For whose cause will we fight?

It appears that Mullins McLeod, 2010 Democratic candidate for South Carolina governor, has already asked and answered this question. As a lifelong South Carolinian, my hat is off to Mr. McLeod for taking the courageous step of urging that we remove the Confederate flag from State House grounds. Still, as we’ve long known, it’s what happens beneath the flag that creates our history and our heritage. Moving the flag to a museum is part and parcel of the efforts needed to address the root causes of our state’s deplorable statistics. Here, too, Mullins McLeod seems to have thoughtfully asked and answered the important questions. His answers are worthy of our attention.

In the meantime, I hope South Carolinians can embrace his call to move the flag to a museum, which is the appropriate home for displaying historic relics. But then there’s that seemingly unanswerable question: Which flag to replace the battle flag?

What about the flag of the United States of America — a country whose people were ultimately united and freed through this war? Is this not, ultimately the best cause that was realized through the sacrifices of the Confederate and Union soldiers alike? Is this not our heritage? As the president of the United Daughters of the Confederacy said during that historic truce at the unveiling of the Confederate statue of peace nearly 100 years ago:

Above floats the flag they fought, but it does not wave above their dust in jeering triumph, but in loving protection. It seems to send from each stripe and star benediction upon their graves.

Should South Carolinians choose to hitch their wagon to Mullins McLeod’s star, they can take pride in standing by a man of real courage, conviction and vision — a man who understands that our most important battles have yet to be fought, and our best history is yet to come.

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