Sunday, June 21, 2015

Stars and Bars

... or "The Stainless Banner" as it was called at the time, was the Confederate war flag adopted as its "national" flag in 1863.  It flew over the South for all of two years, proudly representing their defiance in the face of "Northern Aggression," particularly during the sieges of Vicksburg and Atlanta, which immortalized the "Lost Cause."

That's some heritage!  The previous Confederate flag was adopted in 1861 before hostilities broke out, and amended to include all 13 seceding states after the war had started.  Yet, you don't see this one flying over state buildings in South Carolina.

South Carolina has a long history of secession attempts, dating back to 1832, when it first tried to dodge the Tariff Act of 1828 by claiming it had a right to its sovereign boundaries since its constitution preceded that of the United States.  The dispute was eventually settled by Andrew Jackson, an anti-Federalist himself, with the Compromise Tariff Act of 1833, which significantly reduced the rates.

At the time, John C. Calhoun, a native son of South Carolina, was a major figure in Washington.  He had been Vice-President under both John Q. Adams and Andrew Jackson (at that time a separately elected office) and previously a powerful figure in the House of Representatives.  He more so than anyone defended the constitutional rights of the Southern states, particularly when it came to slavery.

Essentially, South Carolina strong-armed the Federal government into easing its tariffs and control over the states. Jackson had been elected largely on this platform, and this brief nullification bid served to remind Jackson where his priorities lay, being a Southern man himself, noted for his victory over the British in the Battle of New Orleans and his reign as the first governor of the newly annexed territory of Florida.

It is this Southern heritage which South Carolina and other southern states want us to remember.  After the Civil War, many states wove the stars and bars into their own flags.  Alabama adopted the bars in whole, reversing the colors, looking like a color negative of the original battle flag.  South Carolina has held onto its palmetto and moon flag, which dated back to 1775. Although, during the Civil War it flew this "Sovereignty flag," imagining at least 2 other states or territories to join the cause.

I guess if the Palmetto state was going to retain its Revolutionary War era flag, it needed the Confederate flag as a reminder of its role as the instigator of secession attempts whenever it felt the Federal government had overreached.

This was apparently the case in 1961, when the state legislature chose to start flying the Confederate flag over its dome in defiance of the growing pressure to desegregate the South, culminating in the Civil Rights Act of 1964. By this point, the Southern states were too heavily dependent on the federal government to consider secession.  So, flying the flag became a form of protest, which carried through to every level of society, replete with confederate flags in the back windows of pick-up trucks along with the ubiquitous gun racks as a symbol of Southern defiance.

In 1970, Neil Young addressed the issue head on in Southern Man, which Lynyrd Skynyrd saw fit to respond to in Sweet Home Alabama, which became a Southern anthem.  The Charlie Daniels Band also took pride in their native ground in the song, The South's Going To Do It Again, illustrating just how much this dubious pride resonates with the Southern Man.

Today, you can have these flags seamlessly melded into the back window so that you can still see out of it.  But, you have to love these overt displays of Southern pride, combining both the Confederate flag and US flag, as if this is a show of patriotism.  Hate to say it folks, but the Stars and Bars is a symbol of secession, and one could add dysfunction, but certainly not patriotism, other than with your Confederate Sons and Daughters.

For the most part we have turned the other cheek to these displays because they represent a kind of simple-minded ignorance that we have been able to tolerate, at least from our privileged white point of view.  However, for Blacks, especially those who grew up in a segregated South, it is another story.  They had to live with this flag long after the Civil War in the form of Jim Crow laws that kept them further repressed for another century.  Many African-Americans sought greener pastures in the North only to confront similar forms of segregation in the industrial cities, but at least they didn't have this pernicious reminder of the defiant South.  

As Malcolm X said, "as long as you are South of the Canadian border, you are South," which is why it was a bit of a shock when a Canadian band evocatively sang, The Night They Drove Ol' Dixie Down, which was similarly picked up in the South as an anthem to their "Lost Cause," whether it was meant to be or not.

In a state like South Carolina, where 30 per cent of the population is Black, the Stars and Bars remains an ugly reminder of a segregated South, especially since this "stainless banner" was revived during the Civil Rights movement, not out of state pride, but out of defiance of desegregation laws.

One can only hope that the heinous act which took place this week is the last straw.  It is a horrible reminder of what this flag means to some persons.  This "hate crime" goes far beyond the act of one demented 21-year-old manchild and calls the very roots of this symbol of "heritage" into question.  It is long past time to retire the Stars and Bars, at least in any official capacity.

It must go not only in its pure form, but also in its adopted forms, which Georgia did by removing the stars and bars from its state flag in 2001, although its three stripes still echo the original Confederate flag of 1861.  All these states had flags before the Civil War, which they were proud to fly during the antebellum period that they hold in so much esteem.  Why must they retain this symbol of defiance?  That includes Florida, which also uses the Civil War banner as its base.

For decades we have allowed these states to have their cake and eat it to, proudly flaunting their independent spirit while at the same time taking more federal dollars than they pay in.  Mississippi and Alabama, which represent the "heart" of old Dixie, take out more than twice as many federal dollars than they pay in.  Even Texas, with all its natural resources, has a net surplus in federal tax dollars received.

You can't stop individuals from displaying these defiant banners in every way imaginable, but you can stop state governments.  Unfortunately, these governments are elected by these individuals, serving their craven interests. To the point where persons who should know better, like Nikki Haley and Bobby Jindal, defend states' rights in this regard, oblivious to the fact that there would have been no room for any person of color in the governments of the Confederate states.

Yet, these two Southern state governors of Indian descent cater to the interests of white voters while ignoring the rights of black voters and other voters of color in their states.  Maybe now they will reconsider their positions rather than peddling these faux "libertarian rights."  There is nothing noble about the Confederate flag!

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