The Emanuel Nine Massacre in Charlotte, South Carolina has forced America to finally come to grips with one of the ugliest facets of its 239-year history: The War Between the States (aka The Civil War)—and, more importantly, the scourge of Racism, which has always been at the heart of American History.
When I look back over the events of the last three weeks, I am overwhelmed by the shift in the American conscience that these horrendous murders set in motion—a shift so seismic that its epicenter seems nearly forgotten. So swiftly was the murderer apprehended, and the victims buried; so quick was the groundswell to tear down the “Confederate” flag—and not just the flag but monuments to the Confederacy, that it feels like I’m caught up in aftershocks, and I’m wondering how and when this will all end.
On the one hand, it has been so heartening to see how the City of Charleston and the State of South Carolina wrapped its arms around the families of the Emanuel Nine, beginning right after the murders and continuing to this day. On Tuesday, July 7, 2015, the Rev. Clementa Pinckney’s widow appeared before the State Senate and received not just a pledge of lifelong support from this body, but also visible and tangible support as she greeted each member of the Senate one by one from the back of the Chamber. [See the article http://wreg.com/2015/07/07/south-carolina-senate-gives-final-approval-for-flag-removal/ and Rachel Maddow Show – July 7, 2015 footage if you can.] And the South Carolina legislature, at the behest of Governor Nikki Haley, voted today to remove the Confederate flag from the State House lawn.
On the other hand, as is so often the case in the “rush-to-judgment” mindset of 21st century America (and the rest of the world, for that matter), we are myopically trying to whitewash and erase all vestiges of this nation’s dark and tortured past by demanding that all Civil War monuments be either renamed or removed or repurposed.
This makes about as much sense as the Black Community’s misguided decision to bury the N-word. Or as much sense as ISIS destroying historic antiquities because they don’t fit their sense of a world order.
After all, without history, how can we know what we have done before? How can we learn from what we have done before to inform what we do in the present? How can we use what we have learned from the past to change the future for the better?
Connections and Parallels
I must give props to Bree Newsome—a native of the Free State of Maryland—for her spectacular, brave, and well planned act of Civil Disobedience in bringing down the “Confederate” Flag from the State House in Charlotte, South Carolina, if only for a moment, as the funerals for the Emanuel Nine were taking place. Her action, captured in this iconic photo, will go down in history as a seminal moment in the 21st century iteration of the Civil Rights struggle.
If, like me, you are a student of history, it would be easy to take a side trip through the connections, parallels, and ironies of this act: a woman from Maryland [which was a Free State in the Civil War yet had ties to slavery, abolition, and the Confederacy (take a look at the full lyrics of Maryland’s State Song, “Maryland, My Maryland”: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maryland,_My_Maryland)] becomes an organizer and activist in North Carolina and, in the midst of a horrible injustice in South Carolina, takes it upon herself (along with her fellow activists) to tear down a Rebel flag!
But Ms. Newsome’s interviews afterwards were equally compelling: articulate and focused. In particular, I found her interview on MSNBC’s “All In With Chris Hayes,” on July 2, 2015 [http://www.msnbc.com/all-in/watch/bree-newsome-exclusive-475519043601], to be inspiring—and the setting, at a pre-Independence Day Weekend party on the rooftop of 30 Rock in New York City—was oddly appropriate.
Of course, in the days that followed this amazing act, the defenders of the Rebel flag made their voices heard, too. And I can respect that, in part, because of our nation’s motto: E Pluribus Unum—Out of Many, One. That’s the Beauty of America—we don’t all have to agree about everything; everyone has a right to his or her opinion or viewpoint. Yet at the same time, when it comes to our laws, the majority rules.
Finally, the Rebel flag in South Carolina will be removed as a State symbol, as of 10:00 AM, tomorrow, July 10, 2015.
This historic moment did not come without a fight. The all-night session of the House of Representatives was a brilliant and impassioned—yet civil—battle of ideas. It was Democracy at its finest.
The Republicans whose constituents wanted the flag to remain were given ample time to make their case, first. One Republican Representative went so far as to introduce dozens of amendments that would have delayed or possibly killed the bill. But in the end, the Democrats—in particular, Black Democrats—and even one exceptional Republican Daughter of the Confederacy, countered those arguments with one kernel of Truth: that the Confederate Flag is a Symbol of Hate, of Racism, and of Slavery that must come down.
While this matter was being resolved in South Carolina today, the United States Congress took up the issue of whether the Confederate Flag should be removed from National cemeteries across the nation!
And so, the Battle of the Flag—and other symbols and monuments—continues.
Read all about it in The Civil War of 2015 – Part II: The Battle Over Monuments.