I grew up with the Confederate flag. I hung one on my wall as a kid. My brother, an amateur dirt track racer, had the Stars and Bars airbrushed onto his Toyota Celica -- so as to look more like the General Lee.
My friends had rebel watches, wall hangs, belt buckles and commemorative plates, and then there was all that David Duke campaign memorabilia. The battle flag was featured prominently there, of course.
I was raised to think of the Confederate flag as an honorable symbol employed by my ancestors during the War of Northern Aggression. It was the banner our fathers rallied beneath in their futile, but noble, attempt to repel the godless Yankee invaders. The Confederate flag was never represented to me as a symbol of hate, but as one of identity, community and solidarity.
This, however, is a fundamentally flawed understanding of both the symbol and the conflict that birthed it.
In modern times, the Stars and Bars has become a symbol of libertarian values, freedom and tradition -- the quintessential "rebel" standard -- this, also, cannot be correct.
Southern secession was premised on racial superiority, but also on obscene economic entitlement. Slavery was an estimated two trillion dollar industry in 1860 (adjusted for inflation). Blacks had to be inferior, because they had to remain the pillar of southern power and wealth, and the Antebellum 1% had no qualms about throwing hundreds of thousands of poor, conscripted, non-slave holding Southern yeoman at Yankee guns in defense of their ill-gotten gains.
History bears this out. After 1861, the vast majority of rebel soldiers were forced to fight on pain of death. Companies of "recruitment" officers dragooned through southern towns and forced young men into the rebel army.
These men were made to fight not truly for southern independence or the states' rights cliché; rather, these men died to defend the wealth of the planter class. The Confederate flag is more appropriate hanging in a contemporary Wall Street boardroom than above the Mississippi state capitol.
If you don't believe me, let's ask the framers of Mississippi's own Declaration of Secession: "Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery -- the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth."
The rebel flag is most directly a symbol of unspeakable racism, but it is also a symbol of greed. A callous, careless, greed that brought upon Dixie -- the same land that banner claims to represent -- the worst calamity in American history.
The Confederate flag and what it represents laid waste to the South. It burned Atlanta, it killed 10,000 southern boys at Gettysburg and then it came home to strangle racial equality in the cradle.
The South is dysfunctional because southerners are irrational -- and that is not an insult, it's a point of pride. We're a stubborn, emotional, beautiful people, the same sort of people that will rebuild a city over and over again, despite the fact it sits below sea level in the middle of Hurricane Alley.
I've walked the battlefields of Gatlinburg and Port Hudson. I feel in these places a deep, compelling connection with the past. In the fifth grade, I could tell you that Admiral Farragut burned Baton Rouge to the ground, and that Tecumseh Sherman raped Georgia on his way to the sea. My blood runs red like Mississippi clay and Ponchatoula strawberries. I've traveled the world, but my heart always returns to south of the Mason-Dixon line.
And it is because of this, I know, that the South deserves better than that rebel rag.
The Confederate flag is too small to contain all that is good in us, and it must be surrendered to heal the wounds of our past.
Therefore, as a proud son of Dixie, I reject this symbol of oppression. Both on behalf of my African-American countrymen and on behalf of my fallen ancestors. The Confederate Flag must fall -- first from our hearts, and then from our capitols.
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