For those who still insist that the Confederate flag is a mere symbol of southern heritage and not one of hate, it should come as no surprise to the rest of us to whom it symbolizes and evokes years of Black oppression.
Racism and denial run deep in our culture.
After the Civil War the symbol of the Confederate flag may have been a source of southern pride and heritage used primarily at veterans events to commemorate fallen Confederate soldiers, but nearly 60 years later, the battle flag of General Robert E.Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia got co-opted by White supremacists, becoming the very emblem of racism displayed at cross burnings and lynchings.
I Don’t Know Nuthin About Racism
Americas sense of moral superiority has long been blemished by that “peculiar institution.” 150 years later we still have a problem in this country coming to terms with the existence of slavery – the stubborn stain we just can’t seem to whitewash away. But not for lack of trying.
The mythology of the grand Old South is seductive. The Civil War was fought and the Confederate flag hoisted to preserve the “traditional” southern way of life as immortalized in countless movies and books. Even today Gone With the Wind, despite its many inaccuracies, forms the basis of American popular memory of the glory of the Old South.
Viewed through a gauzy haze of magnolia blossoms and weeping willows, the heritage of happy antebellum plantation life and their equally happy, loyal slaves co-existing in a mutually beneficial arrangement, is of course pure fiction. The romantic South is a figment of American popular imagination but one that has deep roots in our culture
I Wish I Were in Dixie
The gracious hospitality of the Old South was celebrated by Budweiser in 1948. That same year while some Americans were hoisting a beer to southern hospitality, others were also hoisting the Confederate flag.
Toasting the Old South’s contribution to good taste may not seem to be in good taste today, but the depiction of the southern hospitality of a plantation owner admired in this ad, ran the same year the Confederate flag was adopted by the Dixiecrats, the segregationists that formed to oppose the civil rights platform of the Democratic party that called for racial integration and reversal of Jim Crow laws.
In 1948 the fear that the federal government (and one controlled by a Democrat of Confederate stock no less) intended to tell the White majority how to treat “our Negroes,” was too much. Southerners needed to “preserve their way of life.”
Lavishing the plantation legend, Budweiser praised Southern geniality in their ad:
“Yes, be it lavish or modest, hospitality is quickly recognized as an expression of friendliness”
With a nod to their loyal customers below the Mason Dixon line the ad notes : “Certain customs may vary in different parts of our vast country, but thoughtful locals in the every clime have learned guests welcome Bud as a gracious compliment.”
What exactly were these “gracious customs” the “thoughtful locals” of Dixie wanted to preserve?
“Yes the southern gentleman has a particular tact in making a guest happy”… as long as he’s white. Hospitality was not just modest…it was nonexistent if you were a southern African-American.
This was the southern heritage they were holding onto so vigorously. Here are some things a Black man dared not do in the South in 1948.
-Buy a cup of coffee or a meal in a “white restaurant” or even get a glass of water in an emergency.
-Expect service from a white woman clerk at a dime store or department store, he was expected to stand quietly in the store until a man noticed him and asked what he wanted. He could not try on garments for size; he likely was not given a bag for his purchases.
-Sit on the ground floor of a movie theater. He bought his tickets at a separate entrance and climbed to the balcony.
-Ride in a taxi driven by a white man; Blacks were serviced by a separate fleet of ramshackle cars (“nigger taxis) run by the local undertaker.
-The back benches of city buses were “reserved for Blacks” with White drivers periodically adjusting the boundary marker ( a card with arrows marked “white and “colored”) depending on the composition of the traffic. “Surplus” blacks stood regardless of the number of empty seats.
-Drink from a public fountain that was not marked “colored” Department stores that sold to Blacks had separate water coolers they offered no restrooms for Blacks whatsoever.
-Vote in the primary elections for city and county officials. The dominant party considered itself “private and did not admit Blacks. A black who insisted on paying his poll tax and registering to vote in a state or national election risked losing his job or worse.
-Swim in public pool, take books from the library, walk on the sidewalk if a white indicated he wanted right of way; be sure of service at a gas station, have a paved road in front of his house even though he paid his taxes.
This was what the Confederate flag was hoisted to preserve in 1948.
Walking out of the Democratic Presidential convention, the Dixiecrats waved confederate flags and chanted support of then-Governor of South Carolina Strom Thurmond for President. The platform called for the segregation of the races and the racial integrity of each race.” Their campaign slogan was “Segregation Forever.
The Confederate flag co-opted by these white supremacists was forever stained by hate . To those who lived under Jim Crow laws there was no doubting the message or symbolism of the flag.
(©) 20015 Sally Edelstein All Rights Reserved
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