The Rebel Flag still flies in front of the South Carolina Statehouse. I’ve been slow to comment on this despite being very passionate about the issue as a Son of the New South for one simple reason – this is playing out in a very complex and different way this time. Change may be coming, and Dixie may finally be gone with the wind.
When Dylann Roof opened fire in Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston, he was hoping to start a new Civil War, according to his manifesto. It seems that in some ways he did, and like the last Civil War 150 years back the result appears to be the same – a society built on the twin pillars of oppression and privilege must fall. The victims’ families, like the truest of Christians, forgave his actions but around them a movement has grown to insure that what Jon Stewart called the “racist wallpaper” is taken down, encouraging no one to follow suit.
Followers of the Rebel Flag controversies know that this has been a decades long struggle. When it was removed from South Dade High School football games in the 1970s the fight was bitter. When South Carolina lowered the flag from the top of the Statehouse in 2000 the compromise merely planted it on its own poll in front. The state of Mississippi rejected an effort to strip the emblem from its state flag in 2001 by a nearly two to one margin.
Through it all, I have always had one comment. It’s one of two things – either the war is over and you take down the flag, or the war is still on and it’s time for some of us to suit up in blue like my great-great-grandfather and teach you bastards the same lesson we did the last time you pulled this crap.
While that makes for good schtick, I know it’s more complicated than that. I grew up in the South, or something like it, in the swampy nether reaches of Florida south of Miami as the son of “carpetbaggers”. I saw how racial healing came in fits and starts, sometimes with a high-five and sometimes through court order. Race based fights, when they came, were always viscerally violent and tore at the guts of the community.
What we called the New South in the 1980s was a different place. People about my age were able to talk about this as something like brothers and sisters regardless of the color of our skin. Having seen this go down the way it did we wanted no part of the “heritage” that divided and suppressed. We knew that if the South was indeed to rise again it would have to do so united and free, working together hand in hand.
The South did rise, but it is still divided. That is, perhaps, until today.
Though there was a New South, it didn’t naturally include all of Dixie. South Carolina in particular has always been something of a “special child” to my generation, the unreconstructed back channel that somehow just didn’t get it. We all saw the Rebel Flag flying proudly there and usually shook our heads and just let it go. Yes, it’s easy for a white boy like me to have this attitude, coming from privilege, but I always had the feeling that blacks in South Carolina who had to live with this crap had a similar feeling. You have to pick your fights one at a time – you can’t just change everything at once, it seemed to go.
Perhaps we were wrong. Today, it looks like you can change an awful lot all at once. When a man who was a servant to no one but God was gunned down in church alongside those he prayed with the real horror of oppression became clear. That’s what it apparently took.
The Rebel Flag may finally come down, but not because we suited up in blue and sang “Glory, Hallelujah” one more time. The people of South Carolina, black and white, have apparently had enough. Those of us on the outside can keep the pressure up to make sure that the Palmetto State fully rejoins the union after seven score and fourteen years denying reality.
It is time for the potential of the New South to be realized. It is time for everyone to join hands and make it happen. We can do this, well beyond Dixie and all across the nation where harsh lines of black and white have drained the bright colors of prosperity and happiness from the lives of far too many of us.
We shall overcome. We must overcome. We have no choice left but to overcome and take strong action that shows our fearless resolve. The flag must come down and the symbols of oppression must fall all over this land. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the lord, he is tramping out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored.
It’s been a long time coming. Let’s finally make it happen.