Dancing in Circles.

There was one thing that struck me more than anything else in Tony Horwitz’s Confederates in the Attic: the story of Freddie Morrow and Michael Westerman.  The most basic version of the story is that one night at a gas station Freddie saw Michael and his wife, Hannah, at a gas station sitting in their truck.  As Horwitz describes it, “The pickup was hard to miss: a big red Chevy 4×4 with a jacked-up chasis, a rebel-flag license plate, and a large rebel flag flapping from a pole in the truck’s bed.”[1]  Having had enough of the racial animosity in Todd County, Freddie took out a gun and shot Michael that night, landing him a sentence of life imprisonment for murder.[2]

This story immediately prompted me to start asking questions of myself.  Do I think it is right that Freddie shot Michael given what the flag and the waving of the flag means to African Americans?  Do I think Michael was wrong in flying the flag in the first place given that there is no law against it and two wrongs ever make a right?  As the week progressed I decided that I wanted to see what my generation had to say about this and if it was still an issue ten years later outside the realms of academia.

I first posted it this question on my facebook page: do you think the Confederate flag (used during the Civil War) should be able to be flown in the South? The Confederate Flag represents states’ rights, but also offends some people as it represents a time of slavery.  The answers ranged from some saying that it should be the South’s freedom to fly it to they should be respectful of everything that it represents, not just fighting for the Constitution and preservation of states’ rights.

I then decided to go and see what the United Daughters of the Confederacy and Sons of the Confederate Veterans had to say, given that we had just read Dixie’s Daughters: The United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Preservation of Confederate Culture.  It should not have come as a surprise, then, when I found that the United Daughters of the Confederacy’s website does not even acknowledge that slavery even happened nor how the flag represents that time in history.  In their webpage on why the Civil War is called “The War between the States,” the UDC does not even mention slavery or African Americans.[3]  Furthermore, the Sons of the Confederate Veterans’ (SCV) website includes a resolution on the battle flag that was just passed in September of 2010 that denounces any extremist group trying to use the flag.[4]

To me, especially with the Sons of the Confederate Veterans, this seems extremely hypocritical.  The Sons specifically say that they do not want an extremist group using the flag in inappropriate ways, but what if African Americans see the SCV as just that?  It seems like that the UDC and SCV are trying to honor their heritage while prohibiting another to do just that.  They are able to honor their ancestors, yet by doing so, they are relinquishing that right from African Americans who want to honor their great-grandfathers rather than ignore it ever happened.  What makes one heritage more important than the other?  Furthermore, is the SCV and UDC doing the exact same thing they are so vehemently opposed to?  They try to preserve states’ rights, yet by ignoring half of the history behind the Civil War, they are pushing their values and norms on the African Americans all across the South.

I can only sum up this problem in one critical way.  What if a German citizen wanted to bear the flag of Nazi Germany throughout his/her neighborhood that also had Jewish citizens living within it?  Just because they have the right to, does that make it right in terms of common courtesy and historical awareness?

I do not think this issue is going to be solved anytime soon, but if we just choose to ignore it and not even realize it is there, then we will be ignoring history that is being made in the present day.

[1] Tony Horwitz, Confederates in the Attic (New York: Vintage Books, 1999), 94.

[2] Horwitz, 122.

[3] United Daughters of the Confederacy, “Let’s Say….”The War Between the States,” http://www.hqudc.org/ (accessed June 21, 2012).

[4] Sons of the Confederacy, “Battle flag Resolution From Anderson Reunion,” http://www.scv.org/pdf/2010BattleFlagResolution.pdf (accessed June 21, 2012).

  1. jmmblog said:

    I believe that people need to understand the difference between flying a flag and displaying a flag for historical purposes. Being that the Confederate Flag is symbolic of the South’s rebelion against the U.S. government, flying it makes it a direct offense not only against African-American’s, but against the U.S. government. Therefore, all U.S. citizens regardless of color should be offended by it being flown. However, I see no problem with the Confederate flag being hung up for display in a museum, private home, or even at a Southern State Capital. So as long as it is being displayed for historical and educational purposes. I believe that it should not be flown anywhere at anytime because by waving and flyling it, you are symbolically saying that you oppose the U.S. government. And in doing so the person flying the flag is symbolically throwing the first jab at all U.S. citizens and is leaving themselves open for retaliation. Hence what happened in Todd County between Michael and Freddie.

  2. charlesanselmo said:

    Your questions remind me of an instance that took place in the 70’s that I read about long ago. A Neo-Nazi group wanted to have a parade through a primarily Jewish neighborhood that included Holocaust survivors. I couldn’t remember exactly where it took place but then I found this link: http://www.kansaspress.ku.edu/strwhe.html

    The American Civil Liberties Union defended the Neo-Nazis right to assemble and won. The Neo-Nazis never actually did march there – but they were allowed to march there if they wanted to. I do not like the decision that the court made, I understand why they made the decision that they did, I just do not agree with it. I feel that some things are “out of bounds.” Whenever I see the Stars and Bars of the Confederate Battle Flag I think of section of Americans rebelling against the United States government because they wanted to continue to enslave their fellow human beings. I understand the argument that the Southern States claim that they wanted to commemorate the Centennial of the Civil War when they flew the flag in the 1960s. However, the fact that they have continued to fly the flag over their state capitals long after the Civil War Commemoration ended is a slap in the face of the millions of African-Americans living in the South. I view both the United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Sons of Confederate Veterans as extremist groups that support white supremacy

  3. zfwerkowitch said:

    I mentioned in class this week that the KKK attempted to adopt a highway south of St. Louis several years ago. There was a legal fight that ended in the group being allowed to do so. The State of Missouri responded by renaming the stretch of highway the “Rosa Parks Highway.” All this happened about 11 years ago, so the only free article I can find about it is on Snopes at http://www.snopes.com/inboxer/outrage/rosapark.asp. The State was able to take down the KKK’s sign when they failed to clean the highway.

    In another case, also in Missouri in 2009, a neo-Nazi group also adopted a highway. The State retaliated that time by naming the road after a prominent Jewish theologian and civil rights activist. Here’s a link to that article: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/23/us/23heschel.html?_r=2&ref=us

    • Kristen Epps said:

      I love that response!

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