UPDATE: Al Mackey illustrates how idiotic it is to suggest that Richmond, VA needs a reminder about Confederate History in his recent post.
If you have not heard, certain members of the Southern Heritage crowd plan to erect a “Big Ass Confederate Flag” at an undisclosed location somewhere around Richmond, VA. Whenever and wherever the flag is unfurled, it will be adjacent to I-95, allowing more than just Richmonders to partake. As you can imagine, reactions are mixed. Online petitions emerge while other residents of the local community speak out in favor or in disgust. This debate probably does not answer any questions regarding the United States’s collective Civil War memory, but it definitely illustrates the importance of how we remember the past. As of right now, there are 2700 signatures exactly on the petition saying “No” to the flag. I am not sure what numbers the VA Flaggers, or other Southern Heritage groups are rallying in support. What is evident is that the majority of people seem to not care enough to sign a petition, or profess support online. To each his own.
While I do not necessarily disagree with celebrating the actions of generations long gone, especially if that celebration includes the actions of an ancestor, I do take issue with misleading statements, blatant dishonesty, and white washing the history of the flag. Take for example comments made during CBS6 WTVR Richmond News’s coverage of the story.
VA Flagger members said they are dedicated to honoring their Confederate ancestors.
“The flag will serve to welcome visitors and commuters to Richmond, and remind them of our honorable Confederate history and heritage,” Hathaway wrote. “The location is also historically significant, as Confederate troops are believed to have camped in and around the area during the Bermuda Hundred Campaign.”
Not that I disagree with Ms. Hathaway’s opinion of what the flag means to some, I do possess the courtesy to realize that to others, the flag represents a less than welcoming message to visitors of Richmond.
The story continues:
Flagger Grayson Jennings said the flag will be located in Chesterfield County on someone’s personal property that the group has leased.
When asked about the group’s plans, the head of the state NAACP called it an embarrassment. Virginia NAACP Executive Director King Salim Khalfani told the Richmond Times Dispatch the flag will bring the wrong kind of attention to Richmond and hurt tourism.
To be fair to both parties, Mr. Khalfani’s argument is loose at best. Richmond, sells Confederacy and Civil War, big time. In the plethora of Civil War sites in and around Richmond, one can get their “Lost Cause” on superhardcore at Hollywood Cemetery, Oakwood Cemetery (Confederate section of course), The Museum and White House of the Confederacy, and last but not least, Monument Avenue. In this context, the flag may be proper, but I’d like to point out that Richmond is not all Civil War and Confederacy, and more than just Civil War enthusiasts live in and around the city.
Ms. Hathaway disagrees with the sentiments of the NAACP stating:
“Response has been overwhelmingly positive. Support is pouring in from the Commonwealth and across the U.S.,” she wrote in an email.
The article continues:
He [Flagger Grayson Jennings] said the group did not intend for the flag to be a political statement, he called it a way to honor his heritage.
Jennings said his family was in Virginia in the 1600s and his great-great grandparents were Confederates.
“Virginia sent these people into war, to defend their home,” he said. “You wouldn’t want people talking bad about your grandparents.”
Well that’s a pretty debatable point right there. Soldiers fight in wars for numerous reasons. Unless we have access to Jennings’s ancestor’s papers, we can assume his reasons could be, among other things: to see the elephant; to impress a girl; to ‘defend’ home in a patriotic fervor; because he was conscripted into service; and/or yes the unpleasant defense of slavery and the social order it provided. The fact is, what Jennings’s ancestors fought for is irrelevant in the broad scheme of things. What matters is why the Confederacy fought, which I already examined here. Jennings’s ancestor represented the cutting edge of the Confederacy’s policy; a policy to maintain the agrarian society based on slavery. No one is talking bad about his (Jennings’s) grandparents, they are talking bad about the government that used his grandparents to perpetuate slavery by means of war.
Both Hathaway and Jennings’s statements go a long way to ignore more recent events in favor of recognizing the heroic testimonies of Confederate soldiers. But the fact remains that the CBF, over the course of a century and a half, adopted various meanings. The majority of which are the racist stances against integration and the Civil Rights movement in the 1950′s and 60′s. Despite claims from Heritage advocates that white supremacist groups “soiled,” “dishonored” and/or “defecated on” the flag, the fact remains that the symbolism behind the flag evolved with the times. It is simply dishonest to ignore that fact. 2700 people and counting are making that point known in Richmond. Although I do support their position, I am refraining from sending money, signing petitions or joining Facebook groups like the one pictured above. Whether or not Richmonders want the flag, or don’t want the flag, it’s their business.