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MIDKIFF: Confederate flag recalls slavery -- and a long, hot year of racial tension

A good start -- but only a start

By Ken Midkiff


COLUMBIA, Mo 9/10/15 (Op Ed)
--
I am a son of the South.  

The recent controversy about removal of the Confederate flag at South Carolina's statehouse -- a flag that state's U.S. Representative, James Clyburn from Charleston, insists never flew over South Carolina's Civil War troops -- has been of more than passing interest to me. 

When I see the Stars and Bars as a bumper sticker, or even worse, flying as a real flag and displayed proudly, I see ignorance.   Ignorance about the feelings of others; ignorance of the history behind Southern states' attempted secession; ignorance of the flag's recent history: it was flown in protest only during and after the Civil Rights period. 

Ignorance of what the flag actually means.   

The Confederate flag represents support for slavery.  Call it what you will, but "state's rights" and the economic issues Southern sympathizers hung their hats on before, during, and after the Civil War were nothing more than code for the ownership of human beings. 
 
My ancestors were divided on Civil War issues.   My maternal grandmother was a member of the KKK; a great-great grandfather was a chaplain for the Confederacy; another great-great grandfather was a chaplain for the Union.   Hardly ever mentioned at family reunions, my ancestry only came out when I, as an inquisitive youngster, asked questions.  Even then, it came out privately.  
 
The Civil War was not a topic for public discussion.
 
My present-day family and I have spent a month or so each year for several years at a beach resort community about 50 miles south of Charleston, South Carolina.  
 
We have met many South Carolinians, mostly from Charleston, but also from Greenville, Walterboro, Barnwell and so forth.  Probably because this is a beach community, these folks were mostly no big fans of South Carolina's secession that led to the Civil War. 
 
Not so in Beaufort, S.C., where the Daughters of the Confederacy have their offices and where I, as a now-Northerner, ventured.  Defenders of the Confederacy there refer to the Civil War as "the war of Northern aggression", when, in fact, it was no more nor less than a war of Northern liberation, wherein Union troops fought Confederate soldiers to free slaves President Lincoln had formally emancipated. 

It is lamentable it took more shooting – and the deaths of nine innocent people -- to get South Carolina politicians to remove the Stars and Bars, but in the end, only 20 hidebound state legislators voted against taking it down.   93 voted in favor.     Their actions and the leadership of SC Governor Nikki Haley give me hope -- and a bright spot in a long, hot, simmering year of racial tensions that started with Ferguson and evolved into a heated discussion of whose lives matter. 

Confining the Confederacy to history does not mean the end of racism and ignorance.   But it is an appropriate, and long overdue, start.


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