Thursday, June 25, 2015

HISTORY MATTERS - HERITAGE MATTERS

A Wednesday night church meeting in South Carolina is taking place.  A young white male sits and studies the Bible with the predominately black members of the church.  There hasn't been a report on how the young man was treated by the black parishioners, but from my experience in similar situations, I imagine the young man was treated well, respectfully and welcomed into the congregations midst, treated as anybody would expect to be treated when visiting or attending a church function.

Suddenly and without provocation, the young man has a gun in his hand and is shooting randomly at the Minister and church members with one intent in his mind.  That intent is to kill.  Not just kill people, but black people.  When he is finished, nine lie dead with many others injured.  It is a nightmare that this country should be far past from having to even think about.  But we must think about it because minds like this are still being taught hate.  The sad part is that it isn't just white minds being taught hate, but black minds are being taught hate.  Hispanic minds are being taught hate.  Not all though.  That is a mistake we should be certain not to make.  A vast majority of the minds, whether they be Black, White, Hispanic, Middle Eastern, are not being taught hate at all but rather tolerance.  It is but a small minority in each of these communities that is being taught the politics and the living of hate towards others.  This is what needs to change.  The teaching of hate needs to stop.
In July 239 years ago, leaders in what has become the United States of America, decided to break from England and it's empire.  They feared for their lives because after all, at that moment in time, each one of them became a traitor to the throne in England.  Each one of them committed treason under English law and could be put to death.  Any of the colonists who joined in the fight to break from the throne also became traitors and could be hung if caught by the British.  The American flag at that time, which were many and varied depending on where it was located, was a flag of treason.  It was a symbol of insurrection against England.  Today, that flag represents a country that gives citizens the right to stomp on it, burn it, rip it to shreds and is known around the world as a symbol of freedom.  It isn't looked upon as a flag of traitors, but a flag that represents a country that, while making mistakes in policy at times, has come to aid those in crisis, to help free those that long to be free, that leads the world with a government that comes about as close to an utopian society as you will find.  After 239 years, it is no longer considered a flag of treason by the British government or the English Throne.  The American flag is flown in England with respect as any sovereign nation's flag is flown.  England and the United States have been allies, strong allies, for a very long time and will continue to be so.

After the shooting and murders in South Carolina, people began looking for answers to all of the "why" questions.  The obvious answer was that this young 21 year old was a racist.  He was a White Supremest who felt that his race was being run over by minorities and that he was losing rights that were guaranteed him by The Constitution.  It had to be more than that though.  He had a diseased mind that had been infected by the politics and the teaching of hate.  That being said, he was not "insane" when he killed those nine innocents who welcomed him into their Bible study.  He knew what he was doing and he knew what the consequences would be. That is what I believe anyway.  I am sure that will be his defense if he decides to present a defense, much like James Holmes in Colorado is doing for killing twelve random people and injuring dozens of others in a movie theater in 2012.  People who do take this kind of action are not of right mind, but they do understand.

April 9th, 1865.  It has been 150 years since General Robert E. Lee representing the Confederate States of America surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant representing the United States of America.  It was a war that was fought for many reasons, among them the right of each individual state to allow or outlaw slavery in that state.  It was about how much control the Federal Government could hold over a state and how the state laws would have to be aligned with The Constitution of the United States.  It was a terrible war in which many brave men lost their lives fighting for something they felt very compassionate about.  The states that joined the Confederacy were labeled as traitors committing treason against the United States.  The Confederacy fought under many flags and each flag was considered as a sign of the treason these men were committing.  The United States won that war and under an act labeled "reconstruction" confederate soldiers were allowed to come home and and the states that succeeded were once again members of the United States. Reconstruction partially involved the taking of land from plantation owners and former slave owners and giving the newly freed slaves of the south a place to settle and begin life as free men.  The ancestors of the Confederate soldiers and supporters grew up still believing in what their for-fathers fought for.   They were, and still are, proud of not necessarily what the Confederacy stood for or believed, but proud of how their ancestors fought for what they believed in.  The south was and is full of proud ancestors of these men and they do consider it part of their heritage, their family history as well as their state history.  Men proud and brave, putting their lives on the line, knowing they could be put to death for treason if captured and knowing that the chances were good they would die in battle for those beliefs.  It is part of their history and to them, that history is important.
After the American Civil War, as a way to honor their heritage, people who had a family history of fighting for the formation of the Confederate States of America, begin to adopt the Confederate Navy Jack flag to display their pride in what their State has attempted and what their ancestors had died for.  It was flown on flag poles at homes, churches and schools.  Confederate Parades were held to honor those that died for the cause they so much believed in.  Soon the Confederate Navy Jack became the symbol of the post war south in the United States

After the war was over, a group was formed that called themselves the Ku Klux Klan.  Little pockets of these organizations began forming around the south and in 1867 the first meeting was held to establish the Klan as a group under one leader.  As the Klan instituted policies of why they existed it soon grew to be a group that would become a hate group of white individuals who were opposed to the policy of reconstruction and the Federal Government taking of States Rights. It became a violent organization and began harassing and even killing black men and women to send their message of growing hate.  It was long though, before the separate Klan units began fighting among themselves, killing each other and soon the Klan faded away into obscurity although there still existed Klan organizations here and there.  The Klan would be revitalized in 1915 with D.W. Griffith's "Birth of a Nation" movie which focused on the Reconstruction policy and the Klan as righting wrongs in the south.  The Klan would never go away again.

It has been 51 years since President Lyndon B. Johnson signed one of the most important pieces of legislation in the 20th century when he put his signature on the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in July of that year.  The hope was that this act would be a giant step forward in erasing the line that divided Black and White Americans.  Theoretically Blacks would be given every right that Whites held in the country.  The right to vote, the right to a sound education, the right and freedom to go and do what they wanted.  It would give blacks access to places that they were barred from earlier.  It wasn't perfect but it was a step in the right direction.   Minorities in the country would still find themselves fighting for basic rights but with the Civil Rights Act in their hand, they had more success than ever before in fighting for those rights.  Three years later in 1967, the Supreme Court would take another giant step in the equality of the races by deciding that interracial marriage could not be hindered under an individual States law prohibiting it.  Loving v Virginia was considered at the time as controversial as same sex marriage is today.  (I am writing this before the Supreme Court rules on  Obergefell v Hodges)
Now the year is 2015.  Over the last 70 years or so, since the mid forties, the Confederate Jack has long been the symbol of southern heritage and pride.  Unfortunately it has also been the symbol of racial hatred and white supremacy.  For many, it is a symbol pride, not of the beliefs necessarily, but of the Confederate soldiers bravery in fighting for something they believed in.  It is a heritage of strength and a heritage of independence.  It is not a symbol of treason to the southern citizen.  It is not a symbol of hatred or bigotry for the majority of southerners.  For many all over the country though, it is indeed a symbol of hate and bigotry and racism.  There is a large portion of Americans who are offended by the flag. Other Americans pledge allegiance to it.  Most of the white Supremacist these days have opted delve into the teachings of Adolph Hitler and the Nazi Party.  Their flag is not the Confederate Jack, but the Nazi flag which flew over Germany from 1939 to 1945.  Slowly but surely it is the Nazi flag that the race haters and bigots salute.  The Confederate Jack is still there, for sure, but relegated into the background for the most part.  The Confederate Jack is slowly moving back into a symbol of heritage by being replaced by the separatist and white supremacist movements with the Nazi flag.
The "why" questions on the taking of these nine lives in South Carolina turns into an over reactive hunt to find anything that may have influenced this young man's thinking.  The first target that is pointed to is the Confederate Jack.  In South Carolina it is law that the flag be flown on the grounds of the state capitol.  As a target while looking for an answer to "why" the flag is labeled once again as a symbol of hatred, racism and bigotry.  The moment fingers point at the flag it is no longer a symbol of heritage at all and if it is, it is a heritage of hatred, not the personal moral of fighting for something you believe in and a reminder of the history of the state and it's people.
The flag must come down they say and to a degree I do agree with this.  It should not be state law to fly the confederate flag on the grounds of the state house.  I personally believe that only two flags should be flown on any state house in the country.  The State Flag, and the United States Flag.  But now things are getting out of hand.  The Confederate flag should be banned.  As of this morning, Amazon has said it will not sell anything that has a depiction of the confederate flag.  Books could be effected that deal with the history of the war or the south.  The mindset over the last week has become one of get rid of the flag, that symbol of hatred, ban it everywhere and things will be better because that symbol of hate isn't in peoples faces.  That I can not agree with.  The flag, is a part of history, of all the United States History.  Show it.  Respect it's symbolism as a part of a lot of people's heritage and respect it as a symbol of what this country went through and what the outcome was.  No, the Confederate Jack should not be banned and disappear.

Now things are getting even more out of control.  Tear down statues of Jefferson Davis and Robert E Lee.  Tear down monuments to confederate soldiers.  Erase any thing that has anything to do with the Civil War or anything that condoned slavery.  Ban the film and the book of "Gone With The Wind". That isn't the answer.  The events and men that these things portray is part of the history of this great nation.  We can't and shouldn't pretend that it never happened.

So where does it stop?  Where does all of this revisionist history lead to?  That is what it is you know, revisionists history.  Rewriting history so it makes you feel good instead of learning from the past and the mistakes and the damage that some policies did to society and to individuals.  Do we go to Stone Mountain, Georgia and dynamite that huge piece of rock that depicts the great Generals of the Confederacy?  Do we simply erase that part of our collective history and the heritage of millions so we can pretend as if these men did not have an impact on our history and our country?

President Washington and President Jefferson both owned slaves.  They condoned slavery and practiced it.  Raze Mount Vernon and Monticello?  Destroy the Washington and Jefferson Monuments in The District?  Do we remove Washington from the dollar bill and quarter and replace Jefferson on the nickel and two dollar bill?  Do we strip them of credit for serving terms as President because of their actions at their homes?

No is the answer to all of these.  Any kind of censorship or banning is a dangerous thing as we step out on slippery slopes.  I would think we would have learned this by now.  We have, for the most part, taken that first step onto the slope by virtually banning the Confederate Jack from ever seeing light of day again.  Will we slide onto destroying any representation of General Lee?  Will Art museums be banned from painting of the General? What about the next slip when all of a sudden Jefferson Davis is gone?  Where is the line drawn?  We have learned that it is very difficult to redraw a line once it has been crossed.

History is important.  It is important as a learning tool so that mistakes are not repeated.  It is important to know history so that progress can continue to be made.  It is important to know who Robert E. Lee or Jefferson Davis or even George Wallas and Lester Maddox were so we can study the thinking process and the strength and weaknesses of these men.  Robert E. Lee was a great patriot.  He loved the United States, he believed in the United States.  He believed in the Constitution.  He also loved his state of Virginia and the people who made up his neighbors and his kinsmen.  He had a choice to make and it is important for history to be able to tell us what the choice was and why he made it.
Heritage is important.  I have read many writings as of late indicating that the Confederate Jack does not represent heritage, but only hate and bigotry.  I don't buy that.  I believe that there is a heritage in the Confederate states.  I believe that everyone has a heritage that they believe in and are proud of.  These citizens who look upon the Confederate Jack as a symbol of heritage should be allowed to do so.  It shows a heritage of ancestors who truly believed in something, who believed in it so strongly that they risked their lives and fought for what they thought was right.  It is a heritage of pride and they should be able to use that flag to represent their heritage.  It does not mean hate to them.  It does not mean supremacy to them.  To them it means that my ancestors were proud and fought for what they believed in.
The Star Spangled banner was a flag of treason.  It was, indeed, a flag of hate.  It was flag that represented a heritage that included men who believed in something.  It included a heritage of men who risked their very lives for those principles.  It is a symbol of a heritage where ancestors went to war to fight for what they believed in.
Don't re-write history.  Don't control others heritage.  Don't erase things because they make us think of unpleasant parts of our history.  We are who we are because of who they were for better ot worse.  We have progressed and continue to progress.  We take lessons from the past and use them to come up with better ways to accomplish things.

History is too important to be revised or forgotten.  Grasp it.  Claim it.  Teach it.  Learn from it.