CORRESPONDENCErnLetter From thernLower Rightrnby John Shelton ReedrnCapture the Flag, Part IIrnWe have it on good authority that thernpeacemakers are blessed, and that’s onlyrnfair, because we sure catch hell in thisrnworld. Not long ago I suggested thatrnmost Southerners who display the Confederaternflag are not bigots and got somernhate mail to the effect that only a bigotrncould believe that. Last month I observedrnthat there’s something to be saidrnfor state symbols less divisive than thatrnone and concluded that if I were arnGeorgian I’d probably favor taking thernSouthern Cross off the state flag. Now Irnfind nivsclf being chastised by folks whornapparentlv believe that this is not a matterrnon which decent people can disagree.rnPolitical correctness comes in a varietyrnof flavors, doesn’t it—or maybe I justrnwasn’t clear. Let me try again.rnWe’re going to be hearing a lot morernabout this flag business. So far thernGeorgia flap has received the most attention,rnpartly because of the Olympicrntie-in, partly (I suspect) because mostrnof the national press has regional bureausrnin Atlanta. But you may also havernheard that next door in Alabama thernflag’s opponents recently went to courtrnto get an order forbidding the state tornfly it over the capital where JeffersonrnDavis took his oath of office. As it happens,rnI’m writing this month from Mississippi,rnwhere yesterday Aaron Henryrntold an audience at Mississippi Collegernthat if Martin Luther King were aliverntoday changing the state flag would bernone of his top three priorities. (I forgetrnthe other two.) Obviously the winds ofrnchange are starting to blow.rnIncidentally, Mississippi put thernSouthern Cross on its state flag in 1894,rnlong before Georgia, not hesitating tornresort to the kind of subterfuge thatrnwould later give literacy tests a badrnname. Here’s a part of the description:rn”It [the state flag] incorporates the nationalrncolors and has 13 stars of the originalrncolonies. It has a union square withrna ground of red and a broad blue saltierrnthereon, broadened vith white and cmblazonedrnwith stars.” Just coincidence,rnvvc are to suppose, that the result happensrnto be the Confederate battle flag.rnAnyway, Ernest Renan once observedrnthat the existence of a nation requiresrnthat some things be forgotten, and hernwas obviously right about that, as we’rernseeing in the breakup of alleged nationsrnaround the wodd today. But the Southernrnnation somehow has to surmountrntwo facts: that Southerners won’t forgetrnany time soon what the Confederaternflag means to them and that unfortunatelyrnit means different things to differentrnSoutherners. As I say, the Southrnmust surmount these facts—that is, ifrnit’s to have a future as well as a past.rnIn earlier letters I’ve mentioned somernstudies of what the flag means. All showrnthat to most Southern whites it meansrnone of two things. For some, like myrncorrespondents, it conjures up a varietyrnof worthv Memorial Dav sentiments,rnhaving to do with tradition, duty, honor,rnvalor, sacrifice, and so forth. For a growingrnnumber of others, less historicallyrnminded, the flag’s specifically Confederaternassociations are muted. For themrnit connotes simply a hell-raising, goodtiming,rnoutlaw kind of Southern pride.rnThe songs of Hank Williams Jr., for instance,rnoften “brag on that rebel flag,”rnand his fans wave it at his concerts, butrnhe doesn’t mean any harm by it andrnthey don’t either. (It’s a white Southernrnthing. You wouldn’t understand.) Ifrnyou expect either group—the filiopictisticrnor the boogie-till-you-puke—tornrenounce or abandon its orientation,rnyou’ve got a long wait coming.rnBut neither of these views is sharedrnor even understood by most non-Southernersrnor, more importantly, by mostrnSouthern blacks. The same studies showrnthat most black Southerners (and arnsmall minority of white ones) see thernflag as a sign of the Ku Klux Klan or,rnmore generally, of resistance to therncivil rights movement. And, of course,rnthey’re not always wrong about that.rnLast year I paid a visit to the new civilrnrights museum in Memphis. Locatedrnin the old Lorraine Motel where MartinrnLuther King was shot, this has to bernthe worid’s wordiest museum—yvall afterrnwall of text to read. I was skimming mrnway through the place when I camernacross a quotation from James JacksonrnKilpatrick, back when he was still a Richmondrnnewspaperman and no friend ofrndesegregation. Kilpatrick wrote thenrnthat he was taken aback b- the sight of arnflag once carried into battle by bravernand honorable men, waved by a hatefulrnrabble who turned out to bully blackrnschoolchildren. It gives one pause, hernwrote. It still should.rnThat association is not merely a leftoverrnfrom the 1950’s and I960’s, either.rnThere’s no mistaking the meaning ofrnthe rather grim householder in myrnhometown who flies the battle flag oncerna year—on Martin Luther King’s birthday.rnWhen the Klan sent a few dozenrnoutside agitators to march down ChapelrnHill’s main street a few years ago, theyrncarried that flag. And ads for biker regaliarnin Easy Riders magazine sometimesrnoffer the choice of the swastika orrn. . . that flag.rnThe jackals who deploy the flag thisrnwa are in a perverse collaboration withrnthe flag’s opponents to make the symbolsrnof the Confederacy stand for whiternsupremacy and nothing else. ‘I’hoscrnwho want to defend the flag might givernsome thought to defending it againstrnthem. Last spring I read a news itemrnfrom Montgomery reporting that a racistrnskinhead group had announced its intentionrnto decorate Confederate graves.rnThe usual crowd of antiracist groupsrnturned out to protest the skinheads’ ver’rnexistence, but my question was: wherernwere the Sons of Confederate Veterans?rnI wish that they, too, had turned out—rnto protest this desecration.rnWe need more stories like that, andrnlike a recent one from Roanoke reportingrnthat the S. C.V. there joined withrnthe city’s black mayor and its oldestrnblack Presbyterian church to celebraternthe anniversary of a stained-glass windowrnhonoring Stonewall Jackson. Thernwindow was installed by an early ministerrnwhose parents had attended a SundavrnSchool for slaves, established byrnJackson when he was a professor at VMI.rnThat is the kind of story that shakes uprnpreconceptions, that suggests history’srnnot as simple as the textbooks paint it.rnI hope it’s not too late to redeem thern38/CHRONICLESrnrnrn