Diane Roberts: Take it down already!

I am the descendant of at least 10 Confederate soldiers. A few owned slaves; most did not. One great-great-grandfather fought at the Battle of Natural Bridge. Another survived the Siege of Petersburg.

So don’t throw the Y-word at me. Don’t tell me I don’t understand. I understand all too well. 

The Confederate battle flag is toxic. It celebrates an armed insurrection against the United States. It endorses slavery.

South Carolina needs to get it off the statehouse grounds. Mississippi needs to remove it from the state flag, and everybody else, y’all with the damned thing stuck on your bumper or your cap or flapping in your front yard, need to put it away. We lost the war.

After Appomattox, Robert E. Lee said it’s time to furl the flag.

Don’t think Florida is somehow immune from this history: Florida’s antebellum economy was cotton. Florida was the third state to secede, right after South Carolina and Mississippi. Florida lynched and burned and resisted granting African-Americans civil rights. Florida has often used Jim Crow-era laws to suppress the black vote: Remember 2000?

Florida is home to dozens of hate groups from the KKK to Council of Conservative Citizens (the white supremacist outfit cited by Dylann Roof in his manifesto) as well as more genteel outfits such as the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the United Daughters of the Confederacy. You can see the flag from the “Redneck Riviera” to Taylor County (where deserters from the Confederate army hid out in the piney woods) all the way down to Collier County, where a Gladesman once informed me that anybody from north of the Caloosahatchee was, in fact, “a Yankee.”

Indeed, you can see what’s billed as the “World’s Largest Confederate Flag” in Hillsborough County. If you’re on I-75, you can’t miss it.

Rick Scott, traveling the state congratulating himself on cutting taxes, had nothing to say about the huge, 60- by 30-foot flag.

His office later regurgitated some guff about praying for those killed in Charleston and how South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley was doing “the right thing” for her state. Besides, the giant I-75 flag is on private property.

Boy, that’s leadership. That’s taking a moral stand.

Yes, the Sons of Confederate Veterans (who erected the I-75 monstrosity) have the right to fly a racist banner. The idiots who regularly call the president of the United States a “nigger” have a right to do that, too. 

That’s not the point. The governor of a diverse state with a long, unfortunate, white supremacist past ought to be able to bring himself to suggest that while Floridians can, under the law, trumpet their racism, perhaps they shouldn’t. Perhaps they should stop hating.

Scott’s probably just worried about losing the neo-secessionist vote in the U.S. Senate election in 2018.

When Jeb Bush was governor, he removed the Second National flag of the Confederacy (called the “Stainless Banner”) from in front of Florida’s Capitol and had it placed in the Museum of Florida History. Where it belongs.

Bush didn’t score quite as well 14 years on when first asked about the battle flag and the terrorist attack on Emmanuel AME in Charleston. While he reminded us what he did in Florida, he hedged on what South Carolina would do, implying it was up to the state.

Weak as that response was, other presidential candidates were worse: Ted Cruz (one of the recipients of campaign cash from the head of the white supremacist Council of Conservative Citizens) said he sees “both sides” but comes down for states’ rights, as does Rick Santorum, John Kasich, and Bobby Jindal. Marco Rubio squawked out something similar. Rand Paul didn’t comment. Mike Huckabee didn’t see what the big deal was.

Mitt Romney had to school these guys: he tweeted that the “symbol of racial hatred” should come down right now.

Mitt Romney. Maybe he’ll call Rick Scott and explain the issue.

Meanwhile, sanity may be breaking out. The governor of Alabama has ordered that the battle flag come down in Montgomery. Walmart, Sears, eBay and Amazon will no longer sell Confederate flag items.

The banner is even coming off the top of the General Lee, the pimped out Charger driven by Bo and Luke Duke. Warner Bros. will no longer license “Dukes of Hazzard” merchandise with the battle flag. 

When you start losing even fake Southerners, I’d say the movement of history is against you. Public property or private, T-shirt, truck cap, whatever: Take it down. Rejoin America.

Diane Roberts teaches at Florida State University. Column courtesy of Context Florida.


Diane Roberts

Diane Roberts teaches at Florida State University. Her latest book, “Tribal: College Football and the Secret Heart of America,” will be out in paperback in the fall.

One comment

  • Jed Rilley

    July 9, 2015 at 10:42 am

    The truth about the confederate flag…

    the Confederate flag does not represent and never has represented racism. It is a symbol of southern heritage, representing freedom, states rights, individual responsibility, and resistance to an out of control federal government.

    It may be true that some racists have used the Confederate flag, but racists also wave the American flag. Consider this: No slave ship ever sailed from a Confederate port or under a Confederate flag. On the contrary, virtually every American slave ship was from either New York or one of the New England states and they all sailed under the United States Flag. Also, at the time of the American Civil War, slavery had been practiced in every state and colony in America and was still being practiced in several northern states, under the Stars and Stripes, even during the War Between the States.

    Ulysses S. Grant, commanding general of the United States Army during the Civil War was a slave holder. Robert E. Lee, commander of the Confederate Army, was against slavery. The Confederate constitution outlawed the slave trade and Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States of America, proposed a plan to end slavery altogether. There were more free blacks, and also more abolitionists, in the South than in the North. Also, tens of thousands of black soldiers fought for the Confederate States of America in a war which they considered a second American revolution, “War for Southern Independence.”

    Unfortunately racist groups have used the Confederate flag in recent years, but those same groups, especially the Ku Klux Klan, have historically used the American flag for a much longer period of time.

    The truth is, neither the American Flag nor the Confederate Flag is racist. If people who are racists fly either flag, that does not mean the flag itself represents racism

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