The Times, They Are a-Changin’
Many readers may not remember, but the Confederate battle flag flew over the Alabama Capitol for decades, until the early 1990s. There was the U.S. flag, the Alabama flag, and the (for whatever reason) Confederate naval battle flag.
During a major renovation of the Capitol building, all three flags came down. In a court case, black lawmakers sued to keep it from going back up. They won that suit, and then Gov. Jim Folsom simply refused to appeal the ruling.
The reason is simple: The Confederate battle flag is a symbol of racism. It is not the “official” flag of the Confederacy. It’s a symbol of white supremacy adopted by the Ku Klux Klan and the Dixiecrat Party in the early-mid-1900s, but was permanently placed atop the Capitol by Gov. George Wallace in 1963. Wallace knew what the flag symbolized, even if many felt it reflected their Southern heritage.
Indeed, during the controversy over Alabama’s display of the Confederate battle flag on the Capitol in the early 1990s, I was an editorial writer at The Birmingham News. I received a call one day from a disgruntled man who didn’t understand why the flag was controversial. I believe he was sincere.
As I listened to his complaint, he said something along these lines: “Why can’t we whites have our heritage? There’s a black history month. But we’re not allowed to fly our flag over the Capitol, and I don’t understand. Black people have their symbols. Why can’t we have ours …”
I interrupted and told the caller that I didn’t like the Confederate flag flying over the Capitol, either, and I’m white. The flag sends a terrible message. The flag means hate and racism to African-Americans. It a threat to everybody, and we shouldn’t be threatening anybody.
The man on the phone didn’t hang up. He paused, took a deep breath, then let go: “Why, you’re just like my daughter!”
All this fuss over Confederate symbols – the battle flag; statues to men who were, in fact, traitors to their nation; the names of Confederate military commanders on our military bases – is a generational phenomenon. Now, the opposition to such symbols has reached critical mass.
We should actively be stripping racist symbols from our nation’s buildings and town squares, and not to be “politically” correct, either.
We should do this to be, simply, correct.
Since the murder of George Floyd on Memorial Day by police officers in Minneapolis, we’ve witnessed protest after protest, as diverse crowds march across the nation and, yes, the world.
In Birmingham, we have our demonstrations, most of them peaceful. Early on, one focus was the Confederate Memorial in Linn Park. Demonstrators tried to pull it down, but weren’t successful, so they misguidedly rioted downtown, breaking windows and starting fires.
Mayor Randall Woodfin understood the danger of continued violence, so he had the city remove the memorial in a couple days. It may cost the city $25,000 in fines for violating a stupid state law protecting racist monuments, but it’s worth the cost if the protests stay peaceful.
Here’s a weird fact: There are no military bases named after Ulysses S. Grant, who won the American Civil War for the Union. But there are nearly a dozen named after both skilled and unskilled Confederate generals. There was a statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis in the U.S. Capitol, for goodness sake.
The Confederate states lost the war. But before they did, they were all traitors to their nation with a one-goal agenda: save slavery. Not tariffs. Not water rights on the Mississippi River. Perhaps states’ rights – a state’s right to allow its citizens to own another person and work that person to death.
I’m a life-long Southerner, born in Texas, raised in south Louisiana, and a citizen of Alabama for more than 40 years. All three states were part of the Confederacy. I heard all about the glory of the South. But once I started becoming curious and thinking for myself, I read and studied, and I learned the truth. That is, our Southern “heritage,” our “honored” legacy, was built on treason by men who wanted to save the institution of slavery. Period.
Even after the slaves were freed, the Southern states in particular passed the so-called Jim Crow laws that kept black and brown people in bondage. If they stepped “out of line,” forgot “their place,” in rode a bunch of white-robed KKKers with their flaming crosses and lynching ropes and terrorist acts.
Don’t ever forget that Birmingham was once called “Bombingham.”
Today, sadly, the new Jim Crow exists, through voter suppression and overt discrimination against people of color.
Most people are tired of it. Black people and white people are tired of it. Asians and Latinx people are tired of it. Native Americans, the few who remain, are tired of it.
The only people not tired of it are the racists, like those who blindly follow Donald J. Trump. Ironically, they are the true minority today. They are the Angry White Men. They’re about to be so overwhelmed and shamed and ostracized, that they’ll be forced to bury their overt racism, and not because that’s “politically” correct, either.
Because their attitudes, their hate, their ignorance, are, simply, wrong.
Joey Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize winner, writes the back-page column every month for B-Metro Magazine. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.