by Walter Brasch
Judge A. Joseph Antanavage, with shotgun in hand, stood before a modified Confederate battle flag, and looked as if he had planned to defend whatever it is that the Confederate flag stands for.
But, this wasn’t in the South. This was at a pigeon shoot near Hamburg, Pa. Pennsylvania is not only where the only legal organized pigeon shoots still exist, but where it’s not unusual to see shooters waving the Confederate flag or wearing clothing that features the flag.
Pennsylvania is the Keystone state, the state where the Declaration of Independence was written, and the Articles of Confederation approved. It is where Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address on Nov. 19, 1863, four months after the three-day battle led to 7,058 fatalities and 33,264 wounded, most with what would be life-long injuries. It is where the country heard that its Founding Fathers had believed, “all men are created equal.”
The beliefs of the Founding Fathers, even the few who owned slaves, have not been accepted by hundreds of thousands of Americans who are willing to tell anyone within voice range there are inferior races in America.
Those who defend that flag—the symbol of treason against the United States of America—say it is history, a part of the South’s heritage. But it is a symbol of defiance that should have died with the surrender at Appomattox Court House in 1865.
But it didn’t die. It was invigorated by the rise of the Ku Klux Klan, White Citizens Councils, and the declaration, “The South Shall Rise Again,” often spoken by men with guns and broken-down pick-ups.
The original battle flag, with the stars-and-bars, was square, and there were several variations. The rectangular flag became popular in the Reconstruction era, so the heritage dates not to the Civil War but to the era of racism.
The murder of nine Blacks at a church in Charleston, S.C., reignited the fires of hatred as well as a realization that the Confederate flag is a symbol of that racism. (Of course, while the nation is talking about a flag, they have conveniently overlooked critical issues of responsible gun control and civil rights.)
Nevertheless, Gov. Nikki Haley (R-S.C.), following the murders, changed her view about the Confederate flag, padlocked to its staff and flying proudly on the statehouse grounds. During the 1960s, it was flown from on top of the state house, a symbol of protest to racial integration. In 2000, it was moved to a staff on the statehouse grounds, the result of a compromise by the Republican-controlled legislature and civil rights groups. Gov. Haley wants the flag removed. But, she needs a two-thirds vote of her legislature to do that. There are still legislators who, for the cameras say they oppose segregation but that the flag is a respected symbol of the South’s history.
The Sons of Confederate Veterans say they will fight to keep the flag where it is, flapping in the wind, high above the heads of Blacks, Jews, Hispanics, and all minorities. They say it is their heritage. But, there are other ways to preserve a heritage. There are articles, books, and documentaries. There are plaques, statues, and museums. Some say they wave the flag because, like them it is a symbol of society’s rebel. But, the only thing they rebel against appears to be the rights of all people. Their defiance may hopefully relegate them to insignificant obscurity.
Georgia’s official flag, from 1956 to 2001, adopted as a defiant protest to civil rights, was dominated by the stars-and-bars before finally being replaced.
Gov. Robert Bentley (R-Ala.) ordered the Confederate battle flag removed from the Confederate memorial on the state Capitol grounds. Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D-Va.) wants to ban the confederate flag from the vanity license plates of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
The Republican-dominated Mississippi legislature has no plans to modify its state flag. That flag has a replica of the Confederate flag in the corner where the American white stars on a blue field would be, and a blue stripe, a white stripe, and a red stripe in the area where the U.S. flag’s alternating red and white stripes would be. As long as Mississippi and the South continue to fly the battle flag, some of the more legitimate reasons for the South’s secession will forever be obscured by the racism of slavery.
Major retailers—including Walmart, Sears, Kmart, eBay, and Amazon—have banned the sale of flags and items with the Confederate stars-and-bars decorations. Apple has removed from its website and stores several games with the Confederate flag. Perhaps this should have been done decades ago, but for whatever reason they are doing it now, it is a good reason.
There has been a strong brush-back by Confederate sympathizers. Sales of the flag and flag-related items have increased in the past week at retailers that have more of an interest in profits than a moral conscience.
For southerners and other sympathizers who are offended that a symbol of racism and treason may not be available to them, there is an easy solution.
They can take a trip to northeastern Pennsylvania, home of the Civil War Fishing Creek Confederacy, which actively opposed the Union. In Summer, they can attend one of the largest monster truck rallies in the nation; in Fall, they can attend the state’s largest fair. Vendors will sell them a variety of Confederate battle flag trinkets, toys, and clothing. They can buy flags from vendors, put them on their trucks, drive down Main Street, whoopin’ and a-hollerin’ as if they were the ones who are entrusted with protecting white womenhood and the way of life that existed in ante-bellum America.
Or, if they can’t attend the rally and the fair, they might be able to spend a weekend at one of a half-dozen pigeon shoots, where they can dress like hunters, hold a shotgun meant to kill caged pigeons, and proudly pose in front of the rebel flag.
[Dr. Brasch is an award-winning social issues journalist and professor emeritus of mass communications. The latest of his 20 books is Fracking Pennsylvania, an overview of the environmental and health issues of horizontal fracturing, as well as the history, economics, and politics.]