Suppose, for the sake of argument, I grant that the Civil War was not fought over the issue of slavery and that the Confederate flag is a proud symbol of Southern Heritage.
I've heard it said that the flag honors those who fought for freedom. We celebrate the soldiers of World War II, they say, those of the greatest generation who fought for freedom and democracy and against tyranny. Those that the flag represents did no less.
To make this argument requires that we stop right here, and not probe the question any further. That we not ask, what was this freedom for which the brave sons of the Confederacy fought and died? Because it wasn't some vague, nebulous, feel-good, peach pie freedom to live the good life. It was the freedom to destroy the United States of America. The tyranny against which they fought was the democratically elected government of these United States.
I've lived in the South for twenty years and I love it. I hope never to leave. There is so much to be proud of. The myriad contributions to music and literature and great food. The Tuskegee Airmen, the great Universities, and the incredible bravery of the heroes of the Civil Rights movement, sung and unsung. So many men and women of the South have done so much to make this country a better place. But this is not the heritage for which the Confederate flag flies.
A good friend of mine, a decade older than me, once said, "I don't remember World War II, but I sure remember the War Between the States." She meant that growing up as a barefoot red dirt girl in rural Georgia in the late forties & early fifties, World War II was something distant that the men had gone off to. It wasn't talked about much. But the Civil War -- or, rather, the War of Northern Aggression -- was a daily presence. For many in the South, it is still that way.
The virulent hatred of the federal government remains strong. The siren call of "states rights" still sings. When the Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court proclaimed earlier this year that federal court rulings regarding same sex marriage should not be obeyed, he was hailed as a hero by his supporters. This is the heritage that the Confederate flag celebrates. It is anti-American in principle and as long as it flies as an official statement in state capitals it gives solace and support and encouragement to those who refuse to accept that we are one nation and who will, on horrific occasions, feel that they are entitled to use violence to "take our country back."
The Southern heritage that I want to celebrate will take that flag, fold it carefully and put it away gently as a reminder of the mistakes that men and women make on our march toward true democracy and the great promise of America. In putting it away, we will honor the best of those who died wearing the Confederate grey, thank them, and forgive them for the mistaken cause for which they fought.
The Southern heritage that I want to celebrate was shining in those stunning scenes on Friday, as family member after family member spoke to Dylann Roof of forgiveness. Felicia Sanders' son was killed. She said, “You have killed some of the most beautifulest people that I know. Every fiber in my body hurts, and I will never be the same. Tywanza Sanders is my son, but Tywanza was my hero. Tywanza was my hero. But as we say in Bible study, we enjoyed you. But may God have mercy on you.” "You took something very precious away from me," said Nadine Collier, whose 70 year old mother was among the murdered. "I will never talk to her ever again. I will never be able to hold her again. But I forgive you."
This is the heritage of the South. It sings of the best that human beings can be. It proclaims that hatred never wins and that love is the most powerful force in creation. Can you live up to it? Can I?