Joseph Cotto, 7/15/2015 [Archive]

Fight Over Confederate Flag Light on Facts

By Joseph Cotto

The Confederate flag no longer flies over South Carolina's statehouse lawn. Still, battles over the Rebel standard rage on.

We must remember that the Confederate flag most people recognize was not a national banner. During the Civil War, its use was restricted to certain military regiments. This flag was first flown by the Palmetto State in 1961 to commemorate the Civil War centennial. It presided over the capitol dome until 2000, when legislative compromise sent it to a military memorial.

Now it has been placed in a museum. Heaven knows what a future compromise might entail.

From my perspective, the rancor over said flag has been light on facts and heavy on passion; specifically from anti-Confederate heritage activists. Slavery plays the pivotal role in denouncing any and all things C.S.A. However, slave ownership remained legal in the U.S. throughout the Civil War. It wasn't abolished until December of 1865, several months after Robert E. Lee surrendered.

Contrary to popular belief, Abraham Lincoln's 1863 Emancipation Proclamation freed zero slaves. It applied only to Southern states, which were foreign territory at the time. Lincoln allowed the continuance of slavery in parts of Dixie under Union control.

Legendary U.S. General, and eventual President, Ulysses Grant remarked that "(i)f I thought this war was to abolish slavery, I would resign my commission and offer my sword to the other side."

No surprise is warranted. Consider the words of storied Confederate General Patrick Cleburne: "It is said that slavery is all we are fighting for, and if we give it up we give up all. Even if this were true, which we deny, slavery is not all our enemies are fighting for. It is merely the pretense to establish sectional superiority and a more centralized form of government, and to deprive us of our rights and liberties."

Various American locales still fly the flags of Great Britain, France, and Spain for historical purposes. However, each of these powers not only legalized slave labor, but traded material goods for slaves with sub-Saharan African tribal leaders. It was the Spaniards who first brought this barbarism to what is now U.S. soil.

Why isn't anybody suggesting St. Augustine furl its Spanish standards or uproot monuments to Spain's centuries-long rule over Florida?

Speaking of Florida, in 1994, Tampa's Hillsborough County voted to remove Confederate insignia from its county seal. Local reaction was largely negative, but politicians refused to offer a public referendum. Fast forward to 2001, when then-Governor Jeb Bush faced reelection the next year and immense unpopularity with Black voters after the 2000 recount. Bush decided to remove the second national Confederate banner from capitol grounds and sequester it to a museum.

After this, it seemed that Rebel imagery was all but lost to the Florida mainstream. By 2008, though, the tide had turned. The Sons of Confederate Veterans raised what it calls the largest Confederate flag on Earth. The structure is located where Interstates 4 and 75 meet; one of the busiest intersections in one of America's highest-traveled states.

Following Dylann Roof's reign of terror, the spotlight turned to Marion County, a horse-and-retirement haven about 90 minutes north of Tampa. Its interim administrator removed the third national Confederate standard from a display of flags which have flown over Florida. This display is situated in front of the county government complex. Last week, after an overwhelming outcry from constituents, every commissioner voted to reinstate the flag.

Why not? According to a post-Roof CNN poll, most Americans believe the Confederate flag to symbolize heritage as opposed to hatred.

When all is said and done, the Confederate standard denotes a country that once was. Like other nations of its age, slavery was permitted. However, for untold millions today, the banner is all about identification with a geographical area; the South. Flying it is a celebration of the culture within this region.

Allowing Roof to define the Confederate flag simply because he was photographed with it is beyond absurd. He is a colossal blight upon Southern society, not a representative of its ideals. The likes of him do not deserve to be in the same room with a Confederate or, for that matter, American banner.

End of story.

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Copyright 2015 Joseph Cotto, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Joseph Cotto is a historical and social journalist, and writes about politics, economics and social issues. Email him at joseph.f.cotto@gmail.com.

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