Having received a quality public school education, I learned a little bit about the American Civil War in school. I learned a little bit more in an American history class in college, but that was a long time ago.
I didn’t learn the alternative verbiage for the war — those terms such as “War Between the States” and the “War of Northern Aggression.” These seem to be the preferred terms around these parts.
Included in my education was — of course — the causes for which the civil war was fought. We learned that the war was about states’ rights and that slavery was a culminating factor in that. My northern education didn’t paint southern folks as being bad people — just people who disagreed with our first Republican president.
Now it seems like the spirit of the South is more alive than ever. It seems like every day we read some controversy regarding the history of the South. Whether the discussion is about a portrait of a Confederate general in a courthouse or a rebel flag flying atop a capital building, controversy is all over the place.
I always greatly respected the folks who stood up for what they believed in, garnered their arms and fought for independence. I still do. In fact, I’m all for flying Confederate flags over the graves of Confederate soldiers. I’m also all for somebody’s individual right to fly any flag on his or her own property, on the back of a truck or to display a flag prominently on a ball cap or a t-shirt.
I have nothing against the South or the rebel flag, but those who fly it should have an appropriate understanding of why it flew in the first place.
I was moved to answer this question by some reader comments about a story regarding a Confederate march that was planned in Dobson. One reader asked something to the effect of “I wonder if any of the haters will show up to protest.” Another answered with something like, “that flag is a symbol of the oppression of my ancestors.”
I thought, well the war was primarily about states’ rights, and the flag is a symbol of history and heritage. Another friend told me, “yeah, it’s about a heritage of hate.”
I was prompted to do some research, and I did it only using primary sources. I didn’t want the history convoluted by a historian with an agenda. I learned that the Civil War was absolutely about slavery. Here it is — straight from the pens of rebels.
From Mississippi’s Articles of Secession:
“Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery — the greatest material interest of the world.”
South Carolina’s statement makes its position on African-Americans pretty clear when it says northern states were “elevating to citizenship, persons who, by the supreme law of the land, are incapable of becoming citizens.”
Louisiana is pretty clear as well:
“The people of the slave holding States are bound together by the same necessity and determination to preserve African slavery.”
Alabama said northern states wanted “to gratify the lust of half-civilized Africans.”
Texas was all about freedom, as illustrated in their articles:
“In this free government all white men are and of right ought to be entitled to equal civil and political rights; that the servitude of the African race, as existing in these States, is mutually beneficial to both bond and free..”
It’s pretty clear to me why an African-American might not like to see a Confederate flag flying over public property or argue a case while staring at a picture of a Confederate general.
Perhaps that portrait ought to be in a museum rather than a courtroom, and the flag displayed on graves of Confederate soldiers and used at reenactments.
I don’t believe anybody should bury history. It’s important to all states, not just southern states. However, it’s just as important to understand why some might not like that flag.
To some that flag is a sign of hate, a sign of past wrongs and a sign of the oppression with which their ancestors dealt.
It’s history, and we should never forget history. However, I’m not sure the rebel flag is an appropriate rallying point for any contemporary issue our nation faces.
I’m all for an individual’s right to fly a rebel flag, but anybody who flies one should understand why that excerpt is in the history books and respect the view of a “hater” who might not like to see people rallying around a rebel flag. The Civil War was absolutely about slavery.
Andy Winemiller is a staff writer at The Mount Airy News. Andy can be reached at (336) 415-4698.