My local County Commission recently removed the Stars and Bars from the courthouse grounds; but they replaced it with the “official” flag of the Confederacy. Now, I am as far removed from a political activist as you will find – as I have little confidence in governmental parties or policies. Still, I wrote this response, originally to the commission, and for my local papers. It’s not for your enjoyment, per se, but hopefully it provides a thoughtful perspective, shining a little more light and producing less heat. – Ronnie
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Special to The Walton Sun, The Northwest Daily Florida News, and The DeFuniak Herald
I have been a syndicated newspaper columnist for a decade. But you can’t pay the bills writing a few words a week, even for a hundred papers, so in addition I have also been a church pastor and an author – vocations I am enthusiastic about. But I’m writing this article today, not as a columnist, but as an individual; not as a pastor or author, but as a resident of Walton County. Recently, the Walton County Commission voted to remove the Confederate Battle Flag flying on the grounds of the Walton County courthouse. Then, in the same breath, they replaced it with the “official” Flag of the Confederacy. In two seconds I went from ecstatic to horrified.
Understand, I am not unsympathetic to the Commission’s position. It’s hard to serve in elected office, and it’s even harder, sometimes, to make principled decisions in the sound and fury of controversy, but the Confederate Flag, in any manifestation, should no longer hold any place on public grounds. I say this not as some left-wing revisionist, but as a “Son of the Confederacy,” whose ancestors bled, died, and were taken as POWs alongside Generals Lee and Jackson. I honor my Confederate forefathers for their battle courage, and because their blood flows in my veins, but I confess that their cause was horribly and irrevocably wrong.
And yes, the symbols of the Confederacy undeniably represent a proud heritage, but these also represent a marshaled army in rebellion against the United States, fighting for the “state right” to enslave an entire race of people. In the unapologetic words of Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens just days after Southern secession:
“The prevailing ideas entertained by Jefferson and most of the leading statesmen at the time, that the enslavement of the African was in violation of the laws of nature; that it was wrong in principle, socially, morally and politically. Those ideas, however, were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. This was an error. Our new Government is founded upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery is his natural and normal condition.”
Stephens’ words capture the very embodiment, the je ne sais quoi of Southern succession, it’s reason for existence. Thus, no Confederate Flag – whether it be the Flag of the Confederacy, the Flag of Northern Virginia, the Southern Cross, or the Confederate Battle Flag – can be washed clean of these stains no matter how hard we scrub. Our long history of segregation, the years of Jim Crow laws, racial conflict that continues to intensify rather than resolve, are all the bitter fruits of this country’s original sin of racism, and it’s all present in the “Stars and Bars” and it’s symbolic counterparts. It’s time – past time – to put it away.
Returning to my personal heritage, yes, my ancestors fought for the Confederacy and owned slaves. Their last wills and testaments, copies of which that are in my possession, show them granting actual human beings as property, parceling out people like they were farm animals. Now, all these decades later, I have an adopted son who is black, the descendent of African slaves.
Together, we are exactly as Dr. King envisioned: “The sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners from the red hills of Georgia who sit together in brotherhood.” As such, I must ask myself this question every day: Will I live in a way that honors the wrongful past, or will I live to protect and nurture the hopeful future? I only have to look into the dark eyes of my teenage son for the answer.
I know these words will set me at odds with many of my closest friends and family, people I deeply love and who love me. But I can’t help but write, because I do have to look that boy in the face, along with my other sons, every day. And I want to do so as one who is betting on the future, not trying to defend the past.
© Ronnie McBrayer, July, 2015