Thursday, 1 July 2010

The tragedy of the Confederate Flag.

From 1861 onwards 13 states seceded from the United States of America.  They were:

Alabama, Arkansas, FloridaGeorgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Mississippi, North CarolinaSouth CarolinaTennesseeTexas and Virginia.  Their reasons for succession were varied. 

For some it was a matter of property rights (e.g. if you moved from a slave state to a free state did your right to own slaves (property) move with you).

Others asserted that the U.S. was a “federation” of sovereign states which they had freely entered and could freely leave.  (That’s the big question for the European Union these days.  It is not clear whether it is a union of sovereign states, or a federation of like minded states).

Another state seceded on the basis that the election of Abraham Lincoln would lead to tyranny (not unrealistic given the fact that in due course Lincoln partly suspended “Habeas Corpus”.)
The 13 States eventually came together in a Federation, known as the “Confederate States of America”, with Jefferson Davis as the President.  That Confederacy was defeated in battle by the troops of the Union Army.  It had also sown the seeds of its own destruction, for within it “States Rights” frequently trumped the needs of the Confederacy itself.
The C.S.A. rallied around a new flag, known as the “Stars and Bars”, or the “Rebel Flag”, or the “Confederate Flag”.
There is nothing intrinsically wrong with that Flag in it historical context. 
But sadly, after the failure of the (ill advised) post- civil war Union programme called “reconstruction”, the Confederate flag became a symbol for racial segregation; for ghastly lynchings; and for “Jim Crow” laws. It became a symbol of violence and oppression for African Americans.  It became a polarising and divisive symbol.
That is why those of us who live and work for the civil rights of all Americans get sad when the “Stars and Bars” is used by racists and bigots; and also by those with a sentimental view of history.   
Thus it was that I grew very angry when I visited my local Mennonite owned farm stand today and saw the owner’s son (aged 19) wearing a Tee shirt bearing a Confederate Flag decal and the words “If you do not like this flag, you do not understand history”.  I sent the following letter to the owner:
3901 Glen Oaks Drive East, Sarasota FL 34232

 Farm Market
Sarasota, FL 34232
1st July 2010

Dear Mr D
I am a faithful customer at your Sarasota Farm Stand, one who was chagrined when you were forced out of your former Fruitville Road location, and delighted when you opened up again on Palmer Blvd.
I am also a Christian, and a great admirer of the Mennonite movement and its history. Mennonites have been so faithful in their witness to Jesus Christ, and in their loyalty to the Gospel, a loyalty which surpasses all human and political loyalties.  For this they have paid the price of persecution and martyrdom.
So I was disappointed when at your Palmer Blvd. Store this afternoon I saw that your son Hwas wearing a “tee shirt” with a message in support of the “Confederate Flag”. 
That flag may well have been an appropriate Southern symbol in 1861, at the beginning of the Confederacy.
But after the Union victory and reconstruction it became a symbol not of Confederate pride, but of  white racial pride, of “Jim Crow” laws, of segregation, and of the abomination of lynchings.
In short it became a symbol of the persecution, victimisation, and martyrdom of African American former slaves, many of whom were Christians.
I told young H that I was unhappy at the message which he “tee shirt” conveyed.  He replied “this is America” - an astonishing reply for a Mennonite! 
I reminded him that we are Christians who are called to unity and that his “tee shirt” was a symbol of disunity. I added that I could not, in all conscience, do business at the Farm Stand should he continue to wear and defend the Confederate Flag.
Your son was unmoved by my words. I left the Farm Stand immediately, without making purchases. Nor will I return unless you can assure me that your family and staff will not support political messages such as the one I saw on young H's tee-shirt.

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