Several years ago, I wrote an op-ed piece discussing the merits of flying the Confederate flag. And today as a result of the murder of nine people, the controversy has re-arisen.
The Confederate flag was a battle flag, not the flag of a nation. Robert E. Lee carried the flag into battle with the Army of Northern Virginia. When the states decided to secede, they justified their case in the “Declaration of the Immediate Causes which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union.” They wanted to retain that peculiar institution of slavery. They wanted to preserve their right to enslave people and treat them less than human.
It was not a states’ rights issue. The only way that they could retain their way of life, to which they had become accustomed, was to have slaves. They needed a cheap source of labor to man the thousands of acres that made up their plantations and needed people to maintain their households.
Remember, we did not have combines, tractors, etc. It was people, black people, who did this back-breaking work.
These slaves lived in deplorable conditions, worked long hours, were fed meager amounts of food, and were not taught to read and write. A few were, but a very few. This was all done to keep them in their place.
We tend to gloss over this ugly reality when we wave the Stars and Bars. It is a flag that represents oppression and racism. It has divided this nation for long enough.
I had thought, by the time that my children were grown, that we would be beyond this. As a child of the ’60s, I experienced segregation. I watched the marches and heard Dr. King’s dream that one day we would be judged not by the color of our skin, but by our character. That day has not come, as was evidenced by Dylann Roof in Charleston and that band of people who want to perpetuate racism and hatred by waving the flag.
Many of the people advocating leaving the flag in place do not have any relatives who fought or died in the Civil War. They are not worried about history or culture. They want to use the flag to intimidate others. They can honor their relatives who fought bravely and died in the Civil War in other ways. The war was fought over 150 years ago. The South lost. We need to move past it.
The real constitutional question is this – Did the South have a right to secede? This historian says no! In 1869, the Supreme Court in Texas v. White said that under the Articles of Confederation, the agreement between the states was “to be perpetual.” When they agreed “to form a more perfect union,” the belief that the union was indissoluble was asserted. In 2006, Justice Antonin Scalia said that if any single right was decided by the Civil War, it was that there is no right to secede from the union. This is found in our founding documents and is the law of the land.
While taking down the flag and relegating it to a museum is a first step, we must heal the wounds of society. This will not be an easy task.
The deaths of these fine people in Charleston should send a message. It is 2015. The flag belongs in a museum where its rich history may be told. It was a battle flag of the Confederacy.
In closing, I refer back to the words of Thomas Jefferson, a man who himself owned slaves, “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men … are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” This means all people — black, red, white, and yellow.
Dr. King once said that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” He continued by saying that “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.”
Let us take that first step. The road may be rocky and long, but together, “We the People” have the capacity to make this happen. Let us all unite under our flag, the Stars and Stripes, as we move forward.
Amy C. Reed