NAACP opposition indicates sensitivity of Southern symbols as country continues to mark 150th anniversary of Civil War
William Faulkner once noted that in regards to the American South’s awareness of its troubled history, “the past is never dead. It’s not even past”.
That sentiment – coming from one of the great chroniclers of life below the Mason-Dixon line – seems to apply doubly to the regular and ongoing controversies that break out about the use, or misuse, of the Confederate flag, the latest of which has just the hit the state of North Carolina.
Late on Friday, state officials said they were taking down a Confederate battle flag that had been hung in the old North Carolina state capitol as part of a historical exhibition to mark 150 years since the Civil War was fought.
The flag, which is offensive to many black Americans as a reminder of slavery, had been put up, state officials said, as a way of showing what building would have looked like during the war. It was intended to come down in 2015 – to mark the anniversary of the war’s end and the arrival of federal troops in Raleigh.
But hours after an Associated Press story appeared that reported on civil rights’ leaders concerns about the flag being on display, it was decided to bring it down. “This is a temporary exhibit in an historic site, but I’ve learned the governor’s administration is going to use the old House chamber as working space,” cultural resources secretary Susan Kluttz said on Friday night, according to the AP. “Given that information, this display will end this weekend rather than April of 2015.”
The exhibit, including the flag, may now be moved across the street from the Capitol and housed in the North Carolina Museum of History.
Civil rights groups had said that they were offended by the flag’s use when it was brought to their attention by the AP. “It has a historical context. But what is that history? The history of racism. The history of lynchings. The history of death. The history of slavery. If you say that shouldn’t be offensive, then either you don’t know the history, or you are denying the history,” Reverend William Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP, told the AP when a reporter showed him a photo of the flag hanging in place.
Disputes about the confederate flag frequently break out in the South. Some cultural groups, such as the Sons of Confederate Veterans, maintain that it is an important historical and cultural artefact for many Southerners, who see it is part of their distinctive heritage, rather than a hate symbol.
In South Carolina last week a federal court upheld a school district’s decision to bar a student from wearing shirts featuring the Confederate battle flag on campus, ruling that school officials need to keep order and promote education. In the same state, the NAACP has urged its members to boycott South Carolina because it displays a confederate flag on the State House grounds.
Nor is it just confederate flags that can cause problems. Last week a South Carolina teacher agreed to resign amid outrage over a lesson in which talked about the importance of embracing freedom while stomping on an American flag in his classroom. Scott Compton was apparently trying to illustrate how the idea of what America stands for is greater than material objects like the flag that represent it.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2013
[Confederate flag overlaid with grunge texture via Shutterstock.com.]