I used to have a Confederate flag pinned up inside the top of my green ’67 Mustang. I was eighteen years old in rural South Carolina. The race part of that flag blew right past me; that flag was about pride.
My plain Mennonite Church community in upstate South Carolina was full of immigrants – immigrants from the north. They’d casually mention that “up north we do it this way” and proceed to explain how they built a house, raised cattle or trimmed their toenails. Their way was usually better and it was annoying. It felt as though we had to keep surrendering long after Lee and Grant met at Appomattox. Most of us kids were about twelve years old before we found out damn and Yankee were two different words.
We had southern pride. Southern pride and a quarter could buy coffee at the corner store, but we had it aplenty. So I pinned that confederate flag to the ceiling of my Mustang even though it blocked the car’s dome light and maybe general enlightenment as well.
One day I gave two African-American high school friends a ride. They crawled in and shrank back. They didn’t say a word about it, just shuddered. The ride was awkward and no words about the flag were spoken. When the ride was over, they got out faster than they climbed in. But a little light went on in my head and the flag came down. I wonder if they saw me as a naive white kid (true), a budding Dylann Roof (not true) or something in between (probably not true).
Lights about that terrible flag are popping on all over the place. The tide is rolling and naive white guys will no longer get to fly it behind a southern pride façade. It can’t only mean southern pride anymore since nine people were shot in a church by a guy in love with those colors. Now flying that flag means you’re okay with shooting worshipers in a sacred space.
Governor Nikki Haley gave a powerful speech the other day and the Confederate flag will leave the state capital. But for generations, half the South Carolina population has shuddered at those colors. I wish that would’ve been enough. She could have given that speech her first day in office, but we’ll take it today.
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