He has loosed the fateful lightning of his terrible swift sword;
His truth is marching on.
—Battle Hymn of the Republic
In the three weeks that led to South Carolina’s historic decision to remove the Confederate flag from the State House grounds, no reasonable person-on-the-street was asking for other Confederate symbols, such as monuments, to be torn down, or for streets and parks to be renamed, etcetera. But others—those who felt most threatened by the tide of history—did raise the issue, almost in the form of a tantrum. It was a matter of pride; i.e., that feeling of fear and trepidation when the cause you’ve held onto, especially a Lost Cause as visceral as the Confederacy has been, is finally exposed as a lie.
But once that “fateful lightning” of change was loosed, it was inevitable, I suppose, that municipalities not just in South Carolina, but around the nation, including Baltimore, Maryland and even Washington, D.C., began to push for more.
Likewise, social institutions and television stations took matters into their own hands: NASCAR is now discouraging, but not outright banning (Thank Goodness), displays of the Confederate flag in their racing venues. That beloved old relic of the 1980s—“The Dukes of Hazzard” (yes, I was a fan!)—was snatched from the air, and the current owner of the General Lee car, Bubba Watson, was determined to paint over the Confederate flag that defines the car! Thus. Erasing. Its. Value.
I believe such actions and responses from our social institutions are a mirror image of the pride that the children of the confederacy are experiencing—but borne of a fear of giving false hope and any vestige of legitimacy to the Lost Cause.
Baltimore, Maryland, aka The Monumental City, Overreacts
Baltimore has been known by many names in its 286-year history: among them, “Charm City,” “The City That Reads,” “The City That REcycles,” and, of course, because we have so many monuments, “The Monumental City!”
From Fort McHenry to the Star-Spangled Banner Flag House—which honors the earliest United States flags—to the Washington Monument in Baltimore’s Mount Vernon Place (which pre-dates The Washington Monument in our nation’s capitol), to the Baltimore Civil War Museum, and with statues in public parks honoring everyone from Christopher Columbus to Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson (the latter two in a single monument), Baltimore has something for everyone.
The Mayor Has Spoken
In the wake of the events in South Carolina, on June 30, 2015, the Mayor of Baltimore, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, announced plans for a task force to study Baltimore’s Confederate Statues [http://mayor.baltimorecity.gov/news/press-releases/2015-06-30-mayor-rawlings-blake-announces-review-baltimore%E2%80%99s-confederate-statues].
My gut, initial reaction was that this is a waste of valuable resources and time. We have more important problems to solve. Like Crime. Poverty. Distrust between our citizens and our leaders.
But, as one would expect, the response to this call has included both heated and thoughtful opinions expressed in letters to the editor of the local newspaper and in phone calls to talk-radio stations. They range from “Let’s rename [fill in the blank] because that wasn’t the original name to begin with…” to “Let’s add new monuments honoring the other side, to balance out the existing ones.”
My response to this is: Let’s not!
The Truth, As I See It
My primary objection to the Confederate Flag is that it does not belong as an official symbol in any building of governance that represents the people of any of the 50 states that make up the United States of America, or in the national houses of governance that represent our entire country, because it symbolizes an attempt to fracture this Union, and that attempt at treason failed. Likewise, it should not be displayed on license plates in any of the 50 states.
However, as I’ve said before, it is wrong to try to erase, rewrite, or whitewash History. If we don’t examine and learn from our past, how can we hope to build a better today and a brighter future?
As a matter of historical record and inquiry, I believe that there are acceptable places to display the Confederate flag and other symbols and monuments of this critical era in our nation’s history.
First, it must be preserved at Gettysburg National Military Park. How else can we explain to visitors what the Civil War of the 1860s—and especially the Battle of Gettysburg—was about? I also can respect the display of the Confederate flag in the cemeteries and burial grounds of the people who fought that God-awful war, simply and only as a marker of that period in our history.
Beyond that, the statues in public parks should be allowed to stand, with explanations of their historical context posted nearby. In effect, that would make them relics of our history to be observed and learned from as markers of our continuing journey to build a more perfect Union.
While we’re at it, the whole story of the Mother Emanuel Nine, including all the significant reporting of this crime against Humanity as well as the extraordinary response of the citizens of Charleston and of the entire state of South Carolina, should be a required unit of History classes throughout the United States, at all grade levels, so that we can learn the lessons this story has to tell about hatred, forgiveness, liberty, justice, and the progress that has been made, as We the People of the United States continue to strive for the ideals of our Founding Fathers.