At the end of the 60’s, the Establishment began a deliberate campaign to destroy a number of American symbols it considered inimical to black welfare. That these symbols—such as the various flags of the Confederate States of America and the song “Dixie”—are revered by a large section of our country for reasons not connected with race or hatred of blacks makes no difference; the liberal Establishment, both black and white, is determined to suppress them. This campaign logically extends to the American flag as well as the Christian cross, because they too are icons whose acceptance is based on tradition and faith. This plan proceeds virulently despite its obvious challenge to the right of free speech as protected by the First and, some say, the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution.
The Establishment has had a measure of success. Its many lawsuits have created new law, sometimes very confusing law, particularly in schools, where presumably the function and significance of symbols are taught, or should be. For instance, students in Louisiana may wear “Freedom Buttons” and “SNIC” buttons; students in Indiana and Iowa may wear black armbands to protest conflicts being actively engaged in by their country; students in Texas may wear brown armbands for the same general purpose; a draftee in a California courthouse may wear a jacket emblazoned with lettering urging an unlikely sex act upon the entire draft board. But a student in Tennessee may not wear a small shoulder-patch replica of the Cross of St. Andrew in memory of his grandfather. The above display of various symbols is liberally condoned by our learned federal courts, but the display of the Southern Cross is forbidden; it might offend, and those offended might become restive and vigorously protest by burning down the town.
As early as 1931, the Supreme Court ruled that “a reproduction of the Flag of Soviet Russia, which was also the flag of the Communist Party in the United States” might properly be flown at a summer camp for children. A pledge of allegiance to “The Workers’ Red Flag” in a compulsory morning ritual was also condoned. In a subsequent case the court ruled that a pledge of allegiance to the American flag could not be required in a West Virginia school.
In the flag burning cases of 1989-90 the Court ruled that there was “a perceived need to preserve the [American] flag’s status as a symbol of one nation and certain national ideals,” including the right of “free expression”; however, “free expression” included the right to burn “national ideals,” so convictions of flag burners were reversed and state statutes declared unconstitutional, as was also a later law attempting to protect the “flag as rag,” i.e., its “physical integrity.” Even this shield is not allowed because of the possible symbolic status present in the burning itself—act becomes symbol.
The latest tactic in the strategy of destruction is the discovery of a new “speech”: “government speech,” which rapidly becomes “racist government speech” or “discriminatory government speech,” and by some mysterious alchemy unsupported by any precedent, the Fourteenth Amendment, which is clearly a restriction on the several states and that alone, becomes a power that converts the First Amendment from a restriction on the national or federal government to a restriction on state governments. This is a shocking shell game; so Eastern law journals now refer to the First Amendment as an affirmative authority for the courts to forbid the singing of “Dixie” and any flag associated with the South or her heritage. For a state to fly any semblance of a Southern flag is “racist speech” that chills the “free expression” of a small pack on the fringe of a minority. A small claque is offended. The claque now seeks to use the courts and a newly discovered ogre—”government speech”—to choke the free speech of everybody else in the state. A remarkable contortion—complete censorship of speech (the flag is banned) in the name of “free speech.” Once again the courts are used as legislative bodies; judicial usurpation becomes judicial tyranny.
The NAACP and its friends seem to think they are opposing a “flag of rebellion.” I think it’s fair to point out that the “rebellion,” or The War of Northern Aggression upon the original Republic, as represented by the South, ended in 1865 for most folks. The flag now displayed by most Southerners is simply a gesture of respect to our grandparents. Those who fail to understand that are remiss in the use of good manners universally observed. For any group protesting or disagreeing with “speech” in the form of a flag, the proper response is to wave another flag—not burn or prohibit our grandfather’s. The NAACP needs a black flag, and if it wishes, it needs to get some state to incorporate or adopt it. Try Massachusetts.
Senator Carol Moseley-Braun and her sympathizers see the Confederate flags as symbols of slaver)’, racism, and prejudice, which are to be hated, spit upon, and trampled in the dust. Braun “does not want to be reminded of slavery.” What the senator obviously does not realize is that all the charges she levels at the Confederate flags (the Southern Cross, the Stars and Bars) can likewise be leveled at the Stars and Stripes. She can look at that banner and be reminded of slavery also. Our Revolutionary War flag waved over slaves. The Constitution provided for slavery for seven decades until the Thirteenth Amendment was ratified in 1865.
When the Civil War began, the Union included five slave states (Maryland, Delaware, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Missouri), with a slave population of 443,983 including Washington, D.C., which had a shive population of 3,185 (U.S. Census, 1860). (West Virginia was calculated by counting the Virginia counties that later comprised West Virginia.) None of these states was required to free its slaves in order to remain in the Union. These slaves were not freed at the beginning of the war or by the Emancipation Proclamation. That noble document freed only slaves in states under Southern control—other peoples’ slaves. The North kept its slaves until after the war and the Thirteenth Amendment. The household of General Grant enjoyed the service of slaves throughout the war. General Lee owned no slaves. The Federal Army in Nashville bought and trafficked in slaves until the end of 1865—Stars and Stripes slaves. They were used to build railroads, bridges, and forts. In the first years of the war, slaves who escaped from Southern farms were advised to return to their masters (the federals didn’t want to feed them), but later in Nashville slaves (“contrabands”) who had left their Southern masters were impressed to labor on federal forts (along with whites) and promised pay that was never rendered, whereas slaves who had left Unionist masters were returned to the loyalist owners. (In its ceaseless search for grievance, the NAACP and friends can, for a change, here find a valid lawsuit for all that backpay.) The present attack by the modern liberal upon all Symbols which suggest that the Old South still endures, and with honor, is based on the assumption that the South is evil and the rest of the country pure.
The 1861 “Army of Liberation” came, in fact, not to free black slaves, but to enslave the South, both blacks and whites. As Bishop-General Leonidas Polk observed in 1861, “All ages and conditions are united [in the South] in one grand and holy purpose of rolling back the desolating tide of invasion, and restoring to the people of the South, that peace, independence, and right of self-government to which they are by nature and nature’s God as jointly entitled as those who seek thus to enslave them.” The North prevailed and the South was enslaved throughout Reconstruction and, in many ways, into the 1930’s and beyond.
The issues in 1860 were the right of a state to secede and all the freedoms of 1776. The South feared Lincoln and those around him. Most Southerners felt that the right to own slaves ought to be decided by the states, not by the federal government. Slavery was merely one of the many fields on which a struggle for power between the federal government and the several states—Northern and Southern—took place. The New England states were the first to threaten secession, as early as 1796. Governor Wolcott of Connecticut said, “I sincerely declare that I wish the Northern states would separate from the Southern states the moment that event (referring to the election of Thomas Jefferson) takes place.” In 1845 New England threatened secession over the admission of Texas. And don’t forget the infamous Hartford convention in 1814. Nullification was used by 11 Northern states before the war, as opposed to only three Southern states. Though Negroes were denied suffrage in the South, so were they denied in all Northern states except five, where Negroes, except for one or two, existed only in books. In the North, Negroes were not given the suffrage until after Grant was safely elected. I he Republicans recognized the right of Northern states to determine who voted. Negrophobia was prevalent in so many Northern states that the party thought it best not to risk a rebellion of its own states. In most Northern states no blacks voted.
I have sketched the various attitudes of the day regarding secession, nullification, slavery, and voting rights to suggest that a little forbearance might be exercised, lest we condemn too hastily and too widely and make the South the whipping boy for Northern malpractice. Attacks on traditional symbols with no grasp of their meaning, natural or historical or otherwise, is lack of vision.
One last issue has been the source of honest puzzlement to me. Why, in a commercial industrial nation, developed in that direction by the Northeast, where “deals” are contracted everyday and all involve at least two parties, is the South always condemned for having slaves as if they dropped from heaven, or rose from hell, with no human intervention? Slaves were bought from the slave traders of New England and from the English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese slave traders, who bought them from Negro slave traders in Africa. Slavery and slave trading were sanctioned by and blessed in New England. It was saving African souls as well as filling Puritan holds. Not until the slaves were all bought and paid for did slavery become “wrong.” Only then was a Northern war of aggression waged and the Southern slaves freed, but not paid, or paid for. Susanne Langer in Philosophy m a New Key says that the most intolerable injury one man or group of men can do to another . . . to constrain a man against his principles . . . make a pacifist bear arms, a patriot insult his flag . . . is to endanger his attitude toward the world . . . no matter how fantastic may be the dogmas he holds sacred, it is never a light matter to demand their violation.” To attack the symbols under which nw grandfather gave his life is indeed not a “light matter.” Nor is it a light matter to attempt to tell him (or me) what they “mean.” To decide to hate a symbol without knowing its traditional meaning as stated by its originators is puerile and shows a lack of the minimum education necessary for good citizenship.
In Civil War battles, the color bearer was the most exposed soldier on the field. Yet the position was eagerly sought and proudly held. If the color guard was shot, the nearest soldier saved the colors from falling until perhaps he too went down. At Seven Pines, ten of the 11 color guards of the Palmetto South Carolina Regiment Sharp Shooters were wounded or killed, yet the colors passed through many hands without ever touching the ground.
Men of the North and Men of the South both fought and gave blood and life for their flags as symbols of all that they stood for. It is not meet or proper that abolitionists, old or modern, or Klansmen, black or white, should attempt to belittle that which is much larger than they are or may hope to be.