One news source reported this week that one of its investigators interviewed one of Dylann Roof’s cousins, who said that Roof had been trying to romance a young White girl recently who rejected him in favor of hooking up with a local Black youth. That, buttressed by listening over and over to loud White-power music, drove Roof to the point of his dastardly deed in Emanuel A.M.E. Church, said the cousin. That rationale may or may not have substance.
A second point is that it has been a persistent part of deep South culture since the 1800s that if Whites ever let their knee off the necks of Blacks, the latter would take over the South and punish them. This belief has been as much a part of Southern White American culture as basic White privilege has been. That belief has been taught in the public schools, the churches, the media etc. It has been especially a part of the culture of states like South Carolina, where, until the 1930s, Black folk outnumbered Whites in the state’s population. This fear of Black domination is as Southern as apple pie.
Either of these two points could be interrogated and explicated in this column this week, but neither will be. Instead, we are going to talk about an even broader anomaly: the Confederate battle flag that is still at issue in South Carolina and the South in general. To begin with, it is sheer historical delusion and ignorance for so many South Carolinians to have attached so much “heritage” and relevance to the battle flag. It is not a South Carolina flag. The Confederate flag used by South Carolina soldiers during the Civil War was a large rectangular red flag with a straight cross on its front and a crescent and a palmetto in its top left corner. The flag now known virtually everywhere as the Confederate battle flag, was merely the flag of the Northern Virginia Army, once used by Tennessee Civil War regulars, and the confederate Navy for a time.
The battle flag was occasionally brought out during the early 20th century at Civil War celebrations of Southern victories. In 1948, South Carolina Sen. Strom Thurmond, and the Southern Democrats (called Dixiecrats) liked it enough to trot it back out as a symbol of Southern resistance to federal civil rights legislation and executive orders (e.g., Truman’s order to integrate the United States armed forces). Thurmond liked its big red color and the cross across it.
In 1961, in celebrating its centennial for starting the Civil War at Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, the South Carolina government used the battle flag, and hoisted it atop the statehouse as part of that celebration. During that same year, George Wallace used the battle flag as a symbol of resistance against school integration in Alabama, and Georgia had also started using it to resist the Brown v. Board decision. By 1862, legislation had passed in South Carolina to make the battle flag an official flag of the state and to keep it on the state capital flag pole along with the U.S. flag and the older state Palmetto flag. This legislation was in response to the growing thrust of school desegregation efforts in the South and in South Carolina by the federal government. The flag was to represent southern resistance to the federal government and maintaining control of the Black population in its midst.
In South Carolina, the flag has no historical relevance to South Carolina’s war, or its participation in the Civil War. Its real Civil War flag was with the palmetto and crescent, not the red with the cross (inaccurately called the Stars and Bars). People have made up a fake history in order to argue that the flag should be kept flying above South Carolina’s state government buildings.
Removing that flag will not bring back the nine people killed, any more than the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Right Act justified the bombing and killing of those four little Black girls in Birmingham in 1963 at the 16th Street Baptist Church. However much it is an unequal exchange, taking down that flag is the minimum White folks can do now.
Professor David L. Horne is founder and executive director of PAPPEI, the Pan African Public Policy and Ethical Institute, which is a new 501(c)(3) pending community-based organization or non-governmental organization (NGO). It is the stepparent organization for the California Black Think Tank which still operates and which meets every fourth Friday.
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