One of the first issues people pressed following the murder of Clementa Pinckney, Tywanza Sanders, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Cynthia Hurt, DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Reverend Dr. Daniel L. Simmons Sr., Ethel Lance, Myra Thompson, and Susie Jackson on June 17 was the removal of the Confederate flag from the South Carolina statehouse. This was especially important as Dylann Roof, the man who murdered the Mother Emanuel Nine, attached several pictures of himself with a Confederate flag when he posted his racist manifesto.
The Confederate flag can be seen in two ways: first, as a symbol of racism and hatred and, second, as a symbol of history. However, it’s undeniable that there is a correlation between racism and the Confederate flag. Although it was not the official flag of the Confederacy, it was the battle flag of General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, it was the flag Civil War veterans used most often, it was the flag the segregationist Dixiecrat party adopted, it was incorporated as part of Georgia’s state flag in response to the Supreme Court’s ban on segregation, it is commonly used by several chapters of the Ku Klux Klan, and it is often flown or worn by those that commit racist and hateful acts. It has also been burned into African-Americans’ consciousness that this is a symbol of hate and oppression.
However, it doesn’t really hold up as a piece of history. One man, Ben Jones of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, says, “When you ask me what it symbolizes, it symbolizes, in a personal way, the courage and the valor of my ancestors, who in their time did what they believed was the right thing to do.” However, seceding from the Union because you wanted to keep slavery was not the right thing to do. Slavery was (and in many places, still is) a horrible, horrible practice that can never be redeemed no matter how often you watch Gone with the Wind or fantasize about crinoline-rich dresses. If it is wrong to idealize our ancestors who were part of the Nazi Party or the KGB, it should be wrong to idealize those that fought for the Confederacy (And it is.).
Americans are proud and stubborn, and we want to keep doing what we do without any outside interference even if our actions are despicable. However, we need to come to terms with our past and present and start looking beyond our personal wants and desires. The Civil War was bloody and vicious, slavery was the worst action our country has ever committed, and the Confederate flag is a symbol of both. We need to accept that, and we need to start making amends. I’m not suggesting reparations (which is a topic for a different day), but I do suggest that we stop romanticizing the antebellum South and what Confederate soldiers fought for. I for one am glad that lawmakers all across the US are calling for the removal of the Confederate flag and other Confederacy symbols from government places, but I also hope that this will get people talking and thinking about them in more critical, empathetic ways because if we don’t, we’re never going to change the racial climate in this country and more Charleston Massacres will happen.