Friday, July 3, 2015

Could We Please All Decide on One Flag?

Old Glory, the Stars and Stripes, the flag of the United States of America. We all grew up pledging allegiance to this symbol. It is carried all over the world as a symbol of unity, of freedom and justice for all of our citizens. It has been changed and adapted over the years as more states joined the Union. We try to teach our children proper respect, and the proper ways to display our banner. On this topic, the majority of us easily agree.
          Another flag has recently been in the news, and although we don’t enjoy controversy and disagreement, this flag is bound to be discussed in many places in our country, especially in the South. I’m referring to the Confederate  Battle Flag, the banner that is remembered for  representing  the Confederate States of America during the Civil War.
          I believe that the Confederate flag has a proper place in American culture. It is a part of our history, and should be used to commemorate a great struggle that defined our country. The definition of Commemorate is to use a symbol or a ceremony to remind people of an important event or person from the past. Children today will not remember the Civil War, nor will their parents or grandparents. A commemoration is proper, to be sure that they know about this pivotal point in their country’s history.
          Some form of the Confederate flag is often used by people who have no intention of teaching hatred. They are simply showing how proud they are to live in the south. It was famously displayed on the top of a great car in a 1980s TV series that still plays in reruns.  However, for someone whose family and friends have endured abuse and dishonor for generations, this symbol causes only fear and pain.
          I suppose the closest my family can come to understanding the negative feelings generated by this flag is to recall a painful chapter in our own family tree. My husband’s mother was a descendant of one of the survivors of the Mountain Meadows massacre. The infamous attack on the wagon train from Arkansas occurred before the Civil War. It took a long time for the surviving children to come home and tell their story. For years, the murderers covered up and denied what had really happened. Justice was a long time coming, and the families here at home never quite got over that event, even as the original survivors died off. As the attack  finally became a part of the past, the family continued to teach their children the truth of that terrible day.
          Imagine if, over a hundred years later, there was still someone coming to Arkansas, disturbing our peaceful lives to remind us of the hateful things that happened so long ago, and even suggesting that the murders were somehow justified.  How would we feel? Of course, the people who were responsible are long dead, but the emotions would be easily stirred again.
          The atrocities committed against our black friends and neighbors did not stop at the end of the war. Shamefully, they continued into the twentieth century. Many people who are still alive witnessed terrible things that were done to their families simply because of the way they looked, or where they lived. If the Confederate flag revives those memories, it is totally understandable that they would be upset.
          After the terrible murders in South Carolina, we must place ourselves in the shoes of those who have been so recently harmed. Those people were targeted for no other reason than the color of their skin. This is a hard truth, but one that we must face squarely. Those who were killed had welcomed this young man with open arms. If we could speak to them now, they would most likely tell us that they have forgiven him. That is the kind of people they were. But those of us who remain owe them something. It is time to make a change. Time to put the past firmly behind us and move on to the future.
          This week, I have seen many people displaying the Confederate flag “Just because I can.” I agree wholeheartedly that they have the right to do so. People have died defending their right to do and say whatever they want. However, when we have a chance to make a positive statement, rather than a negative one, we should think twice about doing something just because we can. If our expression becomes a stumbling block for someone else, is it really worth it? We are also allowed to reach out in love to all of our brothers and sisters. Isn’t this a much better way to spend our time?

          On a battlefield important to the Civil War, President Lincoln dedicated his Gettysburg Address to “a new birth of freedom.” We have a perfectly good banner to rally around. One that promotes freedom for all, and unity of purpose. Let’s keep the Confederate flag for special commemorations and to honor the graves of its soldiers. Let’s put things of the past in the past. Going forward, let’s all display the American flag with pride. One nation under God,  indivisible. With liberty and justice for ALL.