Learning history awakens, enlightens and forces introspection. But when historical items become icons, the facts take a back seat to dogma. South Carolina finally has taken down the symbol that when I was young I did not fully understand. It's now time for the rest of us to understand the hate such a symbol represents.
The question answered by the South Carolina House of Representatives today is whether their state government, as a political and democratic institution representing constituents of all races, should maintain on its capitol grounds the very flag it placed there 50 years ago to protest the civil rights movement.
As South Carolina's Capitol grounds and other jurisdictions decide the fate of their most prominent emblems of past oppression and contemporary reaction, Stone Mountain guarantees that at least one Confederate icon will loom over the South's largest city for as long into the future as mankind can foresee.
If the Jeff Davis Highway is renamed, I certainly will not shed a tear, but the symbolism of such a renaming is meaningless unless it is followed by concrete action tackling today's racial disparities. History should not be allowed to weigh us down and distract us from the issues and problems of our time.
If after 150 years we're finally going to consign the Confederate flag to the dustbin of history and to the exhibit cases of museums, we have to make sure we bury the entirety of what that flag stands for as well. It is too late to bring the traitors of 1861 to justice, but surely we can stop treating them as perverse heroes, and we can start calling the Confederacy what it really was.
Discomfort with history means that for the most part we as a country have allowed clouds of spun sugar to wrap around ugly truths. The young man steeped in racist ideology who murdered nine people in Mother Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston last week has forced the nation to confront that complacence.
Gov. Bentley probably wanted to have a legislature vote but wouldn't get much support from the conservative politicians. Some say, "Let's vote on the Confederate flag," but given the failure of prior referendums and the angst from the state debate over that issue, Bentley reasoned that it just wasn't going to work in Alabama.