Battle Stirs Over Confederate Flag and from the Cracker Squire Archives
Today's WSJ article:
A conceptual-art project that includes plans to burn and bury Confederate flags in 13 mostly Southern states on Memorial Day has drawn the ire of groups such as the Sons of Confederate Veterans that consider the events disrespectful and divisive.
The planned flag burnings and burials also raised concern that such a public and symbolic act would fall short of the artist’s stated goal to simply retire the flag as a “symbol of terror” and would instead serve to aggravate tensions.
The controversy is the latest in a long string of flare-ups over the flag and highlights how fraught a symbol it remains 150 years after the Civil War ended. While some denounce the flag as an emblem of racism and oppression, others revere it as a representation of the South’s cultural heritage.
John Sims, a 47-year-old conceptual artist in Sarasota, Fla., who is organizing the Memorial Day events, said he hoped to prod people “to reflect upon and critique the complex nature of the Confederate flag as a lasting symbol of terror.” He said he planned to stage funerals for the flag in the 11 states that formed the Confederacy, along with Kentucky and Missouri.
The events, in cities including Nashville, New Orleans and Clarkston, Ga., will involve poetry readings and musical performances as well.
Police department spokespersons in Orlando and Nashville said they weren’t aware of any security concerns tied to the events.
Some groups that cherish the Confederate flag reacted angrily to news of Mr. Sims’s project. “This is not only terribly offensive, but astonishingly idiotic,” said Ben Jones, a former Democratic congressman from Georgia and spokesman for the Sons of Confederate Veterans. “This sort of thing merely inflames old divisions.” Mr. Jones said he had a message for Mr. Sims: “For every flag he burns and buries, we will put 10 more up.”
Clashes over the Confederate flag are less intense now than they were in the 1980s and 1990s, said Lesley Gordon, a history professor at the University of Akron and editor of the journal “Civil War History.” While she understands Mr. Sims’s desire to combat what he considers a symbol of racism, “burning a flag has powerful symbolism,” she said. “I don’t see that in any way bringing people together and creating opportunities to learn.”
Barry Isenhour, a member of the organization Virginia Flaggers, which has protested the removal of Confederate flags from buildings, said the planned events, on a day to honor the country’s veterans, were disrespectful. “These people fought and died to protect all of us,” he said. “We think that’s sacred.”
Other controversies have erupted recently over the flag. The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in March over whether Texas violated the free-speech rights of the Sons of Confederate Veterans when the state rejected the group’s proposal for a license plate bearing the Confederate battle flag.
Last year, Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Va., removed Confederate flags from a chapel where Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee is buried after a group of African-American students protested that the school was unwelcoming to minorities.
Mr. Sims has stirred up controversy before. A 2004 show he did in Gettysburg, Pa., that featured a Confederate flag hanging from a gallows triggered a campaign to cancel the exhibition and raised security concerns. This time around, it is unclear whether protesters will descend on the Memorial Day events.
“We don’t plan any particular response,” said John Adams, public affairs officer for the Sons of Confederate Veterans’ Florida division. “My members feel that taking the high road” is best.
Cameron McWhirter, once on the staff of the AJC, has penned a keeper in The Wall Street Journal that reminds me of my feelings about our heritage and history that are reflected in the following 8-29-04 post entitled "I'm with the flaggers on this one -- Mock hanging of Confederate flag; I say hang the carpetbagger":
The Gwinnett Daily Post has an article entitled "Plan for mock lynching of a Confederate flag stirs controversy." And damn well it should.
It seems as though this guy from Florida – a no-good Yankee carpetbagger no doubt – has got it in his mind to hold a mock lynching of a Confederate flag as part of an art exhibition at a Gettysburg College art gallery early next month.
There is a minor movement afoot to cancel the show. Count me in.
Of all places, Gettysburg, a sacred place where both sides fought valiantly and lost thousands and thousands of lives. I took my three girls there, and hope to take my grandkids there one day just as I look forward to taking them to the Statute of Liberty.
I voted with the majority (the vote was 3-to-1) in the nonbinding referendum that approved our present flag, almost a replica of the Confederate national flag, the Stars and Bars. And I am proud of our present flag, not just because it is a part of our heritage and disguishes us from say Nevada, but because it is one good-looking flag.
I also liked the looks of the flag the legislature adopted in 1956 that contained the St. Andrew’s cross. I also like the looks of the flag the legislature replaced in 1956, but not as much as I did the looks of the 1956 flag.
(Andrews was the brother of Simon Peter, was supposedly the first-called disciple, and was reportedly crucified by the Romans on an x-shaped cross, claiming he did not feel worthy to be crucified on a regular cross as Jesus was.)
Am I glad we changed flags? You dern right I am. We had no choice.
Congress could outlaw "white only" signs, but not what the Confederate battle flag based on the St. Andrews cross had come to be – a symbol of rascism and hatred. Unfortunately, to many Americans it conjured up memories of lynchings, the KKK and nightriders, Jim Crowism, etc.
It had to go and I am glad it is behind us. Changing it took courage. We won’t hear about it next week, but Sen. Miller almost lost re-election in 1994 as governor for trying to change the flag during his first term.
And we all know it contributed to Roy Barnes’ defeat. Barnes has said: "Of course, I knew there was a chance [that changing the flag] would affect my re-election, but I also knew that the time had come to do it. We had watched what was happening in South Carolina and Mississippi. I didn't want the flag to divide Georgia more than it already had. It was the state government that changed the flag in 1956, and it was our responsibility to correct that mistake.''
I am happy the Stars and Bars has no such connotation. To try to give it such would be a mistake and injustice to the South’s history and heritage. As the Confederate national flag, Stars and Bars is part of our history as are our ancestors who fought with valor to the end, regardless for which side.
Just as the we now sing that great anthem The Battle Hymn of Republic which was the Union's marching song, we should not forget what the colors blue and grey represent, or let the song Dixie go the way of the Edsel and Oldsmobile, and not appreciate the book and movie Gone with the Wind.
And as far as I am concerned, neither should our Confederate Monuments in counties such as my own and so many others in Georgia and the South; the statutes that line the streets in Richmond, Virginia; and those on state capitols throughout the South, be regarded as other than part of our region's history.
The Civil War, the War Between the States, the War of Northern Aggression -- call it what suits you -- is part of our history. The Confederate flag is part of that history. The carpetbagger and not our history is who needs to be lynched.
In his keeper, Cameron Whirter writes:
A leafy park in downtown Memphis, Tenn., until a few weeks ago was named in honor of Nathan Bedford Forrest, the Confederate lieutenant general. But the park—home to a large statue of Gen. Forrest astride his horse as well as the graves of the general and his wife—has just been renamed Health Sciences Park by the Memphis City Council, a move that has set off the latest battle in the South's continuing culture clash over the Civil War.
The council made the switch Feb. 5, days after learning of a bill introduced in the Tennessee Legislature that if passed would prohibit renaming any parks or monuments honoring war veterans, including Confederates. The council voted quickly to strip Gen. Forrest's name from the park, as well as change the names of two others, Confederate Park and Jefferson Davis Park, which honored the Confederacy's president.
No one on the council voted against the park renaming, an action that was supported by civil-rights groups in the city. Gen. Forrest, aside from his military prowess, was also a slave trader and the first grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, a legacy that has long rankled many in Memphis, one of the largest black-majority cities in the country. But the council's move has infuriated Confederate-heritage activists
Republican state Rep. Steve McDaniel, a self-described "big-time Civil War buff," proposed his "Tennessee Heritage Preservation Act" because he worried that public parks and monuments honoring American conflicts and their veterans could be renamed or removed by groups that found parts of history distasteful, he said. "If we don't preserve our historic places today, who's going to have them there for our posterity?" he said.
In Tennessee and across the South, thousands of communities have named streets, parks and monuments to honor the "Lost Cause." But since the civil-rights movement, disputes have erupted as public views have shifted.
Confederate battle emblems have disappeared from several state flags. Street names have been changed. Just last year, the city council of Selma, Ala., halted repairs to a monument to Gen. Forrest after a bust of the general was stolen.
While many in the South are proud of Confederate heritage, others see rebel monuments and parks as glorifying the institution of slavery. Gloria Sweet-Love, president of the Tennessee State Conference of the NAACP, said in an interview that Mr. McDaniel's bill was "crazy."
Nowhere has the bill caused more uproar than in Memphis, Tennessee's largest city. After learning of Mr. McDaniel's bill, the city council stripped the parks of their Confederate names and set up an advisory committee to find permanent names. In addition to the Forrest Park change to Health Sciences Park, Confederate Park was temporarily renamed Memphis Park and Jefferson Davis Park was renamed Mississippi River Park.
Lee Harris, a councilman who led the name-change effort, said fear of Mr. McDaniel's bill becoming law galvanized the council. He said history "is of less importance than making sure our public space is common ground." He said the parks were "not historical at all. What we had was celebration" of the Confederacy.
But Becky Muska, who lives near Memphis and has Confederate ancestors, told the council the day it voted to change the park names: "You do not have the right to spin, edit, denounce, slander, revise, tear down, hide [or] destroy my history, because when you do that, you do that to Memphis."
Mr. McDaniel said his bill wouldn't be retroactive, so if it passes, the Memphis parks wouldn't revert to their Confederate names. He said he believed it would pass the Republican-controlled Legislature. Ms. Muska said in an interview that she and others are considering suing Memphis.
Gen. Forrest is considered one of the Confederacy's greatest cavalry commanders, according to biographer Jack Hurst. But he was also a slave trader before the war and commanded troops involved in a massacre of black soldiers at Fort Pillow, Tenn., in 1864, and was a leader of the Ku Klux Klan after the war, Mr. Hurst said.
Lee Millar, Memphis spokesman for the Sons of Confederate Veterans, a Confederate heritage group, said Gen. Forrest was a "very humane" slave trader. He also said the Fort Pillow incident wasn't a massacre and that the KKK under Gen. Forrest was "like a neighborhood watch," not the racist organization that it became later. "Unfortunately, he gets a bad rap by association," Mr. Millar said.
Historians disagree. Mr. Hurst said Gen. Forrest was "one of the biggest slave traders in the western South," and slave trading was by definition inhumane. John Cimprich, a history professor who published a book on Fort Pillow, said Gen. Forrest's exact role in the incident is unclear, but black soldiers, many of whom had surrendered, were slaughtered by troops under his command. Mr. Cimprich said Gen. Forrest's KKK involvement remains "the worst thing on his record."
"I understand if a local community is not comfortable with a park being named after him," he said.
And The Gen. lost: From The New York Times:
But this month, the Memphis City Council voted unanimously to begin an intricate process of removing the brass statue from the park — along with the remains of Forrest and his wife, encased since 1905 in its marble base. This effort joins a national wave of casting off Confederate icons since the massacre last month at a church in Charleston, S.C.