Friends of Padre Steve’s World
I am honored to be at Gettysburg this weekend leading a group of my students on another Staff Ride. This is hallowed ground at which the forces of a rebellion founded on the principles of White Supremacy and the enslavement of African Americans were decisively defeated when they attempted to invade Free States to secure their right to enslave others.
When you come to Gettysburg you can buy all sorts of crap with the Confederate Battle Flag or the national flags of the Confederacy emblazoned on them. You can also see the Confederate Battle flag in the windows or hung outside businesses ride alongside the American flag. In some ways I can understand this. Lots of people come to this place, many of who had ancestors who fought for the Confederacy. Heck my ancestors did and at one time I was proud of that Confederate “heritage” until I actually got beyond the history of the Lost Cause which I had assumed was true and the whitewashing of the school textbooks that were part of my education, and not just in the South, mostly on the west coast.
I often get asked questions by my non-American students, my students from NATO or other allied countries on how a flag that symbolized treason and a failed rebellion can fly next to our own national flag, the Stars and Stripes. Part of this is heritage, and in fact the Confederate Battle Flag disappeared for a while after the Civil War except as a marker placed by grieving families on the graves of fallen Confederate soldiers. Truthfully I have no issue with that because they did not die fighting for Old Glory. However, when that flag became the chief symbol of the Ku Klux Klan in its terror campaign against newly free African Americans and their supporters it ceased to be simply a symbol a failed rebellion and of fallen soldiers, but became a symbol of race hatred.
Now let me make this clear. If a family who had a Confederate ancestor wants to fly the flag from their house or put one on a grave, I may disagree with them but they can do it. However, when I have that flag stuffed in my face by people who drive big-assed pickup trucks with massive Confederate Battle Flags flying from mounts on their truck beds my blood boils, especially when they drive through the streets of Gettysburg with it flying like the one that drove past me last night. Likewise one of the popular items sold by the souvenir stores is the t-shirt with the Battle Flag that says “Heritage not Hate” but I digress…
Now if someone wants to be so silly as to display their ignorance about what that heritage is, that is their choice, but I will not assist them. Since it is late here are just a couple of quotes from a Confederate Flag designer and the Confederate Vice President as to what that flag symbolized and what that cause was.
The designer of the second Confederate National Flag, which incorporated the Battle Flag as its jack, the so-called “Stainless Banner” which was introduced in 1863 was quite clear on the meaning and heritage of that flag. William T. Thompson, designer of the Second Confederate National Flag and editor of the Savannah Morning News wrote in 1863:
“As a people we are fighting to maintain the heavenly ordained supremacy of the white man over the inferior or colored race; a white flag would thus be emblematical of our cause. Such a flag would be a suitable emblem of our young confederacy, and sustained by the brave hearts and strong arms of the south, it would soon take rank among the proudest ensigns of the nations, and be hailed by the civilized world as THE WHITE MAN’S FLAG.”
“As a national emblem, it is significant of our higher cause, the cause of a superior race, and a higher civilization contending against ignorance, infidelity, and barbarism. Another merit in the new flag is, that it bears no resemblance to the now infamous banner of the Yankee vandals.”
The latter comment was due to many Confederate’s unhappiness with the Stars and Bars, the first national flag of the Confederacy, which to some too closely resembled the American flag that they admittedly hated.
Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens in his Cornerstone Speech 1861boldly proclaimed:
“Our new Government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition.”
Since it is late and I have an early day tomorrow, I will close by saying if you choose to fly this flag and shove it in my face at least have the intellectual honesty and integrity to admit what that heritage was; it was about White Supremacy and Slavery, and the only state right that the South fought to protect was to ensure that slavery could not only continue to expand. The rights of Free States did not matter to them as was evidenced in the Congressional Gag rule of 1836 which forbade the discussion of slavery in the congress, something that John Quincy Adams fought for years until it was lifted. They had no problem with censoring Northern newspapers, which criticized slavery in the 1830s and 1840s. The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 forced citizens of Freed States to deliver escaped slaves back to their Southern owners, and the Dred Scott decision denied that African Americans could be citizens.
I could go on but like I said I am tired. Have a great and hopefully thoughtful and reflective weekend.