I’ve been very clear about my disdain for the flying of the Confederate flag at the South Carolina State House. That’s a place which represents and is paid for by all of us, and that flag is not for all of us.
I’m glad it was taken down after a more than half-century long run - because it never should have been there.
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In other settings, my feelings for the flag are more nuanced. I’m on record as defending the rights of young white teenagers to be able to wear the flag on T-shirts to school - which they were prohibited from doing in some area schools years ago. I’ve written several columns about “my Confederate-loving friend,” Robert Shelley of Myrtle Beach, who has done a lot of good for a lot of people even as he reveres that flag in the way I don’t. And I put that flag on the cover of my first book because, for good or for ill, that flag will forever have a place in the souls of black folk in the South.
I know that not everyone who likes that flag hates black people or try to underplay the role slavery played in the Civil War and the like (though too many do). I also know, though, that not one of them would argue in favor of having such a nuanced view of the Nazi flag, and that has always and continues to grate on me.
Why don’t they show me the same courtesy they freely show to our Jewish friends for a Holocaust that happened an ocean away while downplaying the effects of a Holocaust that occurred on our own soil?
Having said all of that, I’m saddened that some people haven’t been able to appreciate or understand that kind of nuance. The news out of Mississippi, that a black Confederate activist was killed after allegedly being run off the road by a small group of black men who were upset with him, is awful and disgusting.
It was wrong to fly the flag on public property for all those years - but hating people in that way is even worse. It’s disgusting.
Below is a column I wrote 6 years ago about a different black Confederate flag advocate.
By Issac J. Bailey/A Different Perspective
“Pick and choose history and the truth slips away”
The Sun News
April 18, 2009
H.K. Edgerton, a black man wrapped in the Confederate flag, insisted on giving my children T-shirts.
One had an image of black soldiers and said "better Confederates did not live."
The quote came from Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, a man who led a massacre of black Union troops.
Mine were the lone black kids at the Confederate Memorial Day service held by the Sons of Confederate Veterans Litchfield Camp 132. Edgerton felt compelled to give them something.
He had just finished an animated talk about "that scalawag Lincoln" and how the event should have been full of black people celebrating the Confederacy.
Edgerton was nice and passionate, as were the other participants. Ken Thrasher, head of the Litchfield group, told me to come even after I let it be known we have different views about the South.
I went to the service not knowing what to expect, though I knew I wasn't walking into a den of racists.
I've met enough Southerners who honor the Confederate flag - I wrote about them in my book, "Proud. Black. Southern." - to know that some are among the most cordial people around. And I have no problem respecting soldiers killed in our bloodiest war. More than 620,000 Americans died.
It's true, as Edgerton said, that thousands of black men fought for the South. Some were forced into service. Others were willing, akin to hostages sympathizing with captors. Thrasher has been trying to find the grave of one of those soldiers, Elisha Small, to provide a proper marker. He said Small was a slave who stayed with his master, Joshua Ward, through and after the war.
(Many slaves escaped to fight for the North.)
I joined the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance but declined the invitation to sing Dixie and stood silent during the pledge to the Confederacy.
Edgerton's dark skin and white hair contrasted with the Confederate battle flags that flapped around us as he talked about the atrocities committed by Lincoln.
He said the entire world was complicit in slavery - that Africans helped slave traders capture other Africans - but "only the Christian man in the Southland of America has had to take the blame."
He talked about the slaves who called their owner "family and friend," and how "white folks were like parents to black folk."
"Hollywood don't talk about that," he said. "I want to tell you about the love that existed between white people and black people in the Southland of America."
He never got around to talking about the other truths. And that's the flaw with Edgerton and some Southern heritage groups.
They teach a distorted history that creates the impression of a guiltless South and an evil North. They despise how the KKK uses the Confederate flag but don't mention that the KKK was founded by Confederate veterans.
They don't acknowledge that Southern leaders said - in documents, speeches and letters - they fought to preserve slavery because blacks were inferior.
They don't tell you that Confederate soldiers took white Union troops in as prisoners of war while killing black troops, or that they rounded up free blacks during the war and enslaved them.
They treat 1861 to 1865 as the entirety of Southern history even though our heritage stretches over four centuries, not four years.
Not too long from now, this story will be front and center as South Carolina honors the Civil War's 150th anniversary. That's why it's important to set the record straight. It's also important to try to learn from each other, which is why I attended the service, because we all are flawed.
"History does not often proffer us the neat lessons we demand of it," author K. Michael Prince wrote. "Our perspective on the past may be as much clouded by hindsight as those who inhabited that past were hampered by their inability to see clearly what lay ahead of them. It would be wise, then, not to judge them too harshly - lest we be judged ourselves by a similar measure."
We should acknowledge the good in Edgerton's heroes. We shouldn't deny the dastardly cause for which they needlessly died.