Ted Cruz said Saturday that the Confederate flag flying in front of their statehouse is “a question for South Carolina” to decide.
He is not alone. Marco Rubio said the same: “This is an issue that they should debate and work through and not have a bunch of outsiders going in and telling them what to do.” Scott Walker and Carly Fiorina also feel it is an issue for South Carolina alone to decide.
Funny. I seem to recall South Carolina trying to decide that issue in 1861, when on April 12 they opened fire on Fort Sumter, inaugurating the Civil War.
Also, as I recall, they lost. The flag they waved at the end was white.
That should have been an end to that affair.
By the vote of an all-white legislature, a Confederate flag was raised once again above the South Carolina statehouse in 1962. In 2000, another vote removed it, and placed a square battle flag – oddly, the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia – over a monument to Confederate dead. This is the flag that is, in the wake of the Charleston massacre, the point of contention between Democrats and Republicans.
The flag chosen was not the national colors of the Confederacy – or even of South Carolina – though it did form a component of the second (1863) and third (1865) national flag.
It may have been raised in 1962 because that year was during the Civil War Centennial. It may also have been a reactionary white racist response to the Civil Rights Movement. Opinions differ. Perhaps both accounts are true.
The point is this: there is no long, unbroken tradition of this flag flying in the vicinity of the statehouse since the Civil War.
It is not even a South Carolina flag, nor the Confederacy’s national flag. There is nothing special about it even for descendants of Confederate soldiers unless their ancestors served in the Army of northern Virginia.
In other words, it is a peculiar way of honoring South Carolina’s Civil War dead and likely one that would not have been understood by the Civil War generation.
Ted Cruz ignores all this. Cruz wants us to believe he is a reasonable man, the voice of impartiality, a claim he threw away when he claimed Democrats were using the flag as a “wedge” issue:
I understand the passions that this debate evokes on both sides. Both those who see a history of racial oppression and a history of slavery, which is the original sin of our nation, and we fought a bloody civil war to expunge that sin.
But I also understand those who want to remember the sacrifices of their ancestors and the traditions of their states, not the racial oppression, but the historical traditions, and I think often this issue is used as a wedge to try to divide people.
NAACP President Cornell Brooks admits there are different viewpoints here, but he has a different answer: “Yes, there may be multiple sides to this debate, but clearly we all have to be on the side of those who lost their lives in a church.”
According to Cruz, however, “the last thing they need is people from outside the state coming in and dictating how they should resolve that issue.”
That’s funny. Last time – I’m talking 1861 again – South Carolina needed all kinds of help. The Confederate march, “The Bonnie Blue Flag” tells us (third and fourth verses below),
First gallant South Carolina nobly made the stand
Then came Alabama and took her by the hand
Next, quickly Mississippi, Georgia, and Florida
All raised on high the Bonnie Blue Flag that bears a single star.
Ye men of valor gather round the banner of the right
Texas and fair Louisiana join us in the fight
Davis, our loved President, and Stephens statesmen rare
Now rally round the Bonnie Blue Flag that bears a single star.
Never mind that the song’s writer, Harry McCarthy, got the order of secession wrong in the third verse. The point to be made is that South Carolina had ten other states siding with it, rather than leaving it to South Carolina to decide alone. People from outside certainly did have a say in 1861.
In response, other states, known as the Union – twenty free states and five border states – stood up to oppose the Confederacy’s defense of slavery. We all – the entire nation – helped South Carolina with its “flag” issue.
It was very much a national affair then, and it is very much a national affair now. The wedge issue then as now is racism, and the rebel flag represents that wedge.
The Army of Northern Virginia’s battle flag is not the American flag. It is the flag of traitors. Of traitors whose cause was lost a century-and-a-half ago. It has no business flying over any state capitol.
Ted Cruz is wrong when he says this is South Carolina’s affair only and there is an answer to him: The NAACP has a long-standing boycott in place due to the flag. Brooks points out that,
“One of the ways we can bring that flag down is by writing to companies, engaging companies that are thinking about doing business in South Carolina, speaking to the governor, speaking to the legislature and saying the flag has to come down.”
If we, as a Nation, can make the State of Indiana stand up and take notice, as we did in the case of their RFRA directed at gays, we can certainly have the same effect on South Carolina for flying a symbol of hatred directed at blacks.
Hrafnkell Haraldsson, a social liberal with leanings toward centrist politics has degrees in history and philosophy. His interests include, besides history and philosophy, human rights issues, freedom of choice, religion, and the precarious dichotomy of freedom of speech and intolerance. He brings a slightly different perspective to his writing, being that he is neither a follower of an Abrahamic faith nor an atheist but a polytheist, a modern-day Heathen who follows the customs and traditions of his Norse ancestors. He maintains his own blog, A Heathen’s Day, which deals with Heathen and Pagan matters, and Mos Maiorum Foundation www.mosmaiorum.org, dedicated to ethnic religion. He has also contributed to NewsJunkiePost, GodsOwnParty and Pagan+Politics.