The debate concerning the Confederate Battle Flag caused me to think about the founding of the United States vs the founding of the Confederate States. As the Smithsonian article, “Founding Fathers and Slaveholders” points out; while arguing for freedom and liberty, many of the principal founding fathers; George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, Patrick Henry, John Hancock, and others were slave-owners. A total of twelve American Presidents were slave owners.
I have often quoted expressions of freedom and liberty from the founding fathers, some even appearing on this site; I guess when you routinely deny freedom to others, you realized how valuable freedom truely is. The founding fathers expressed a variety of reasons including taxation, being forced to provide shelter to British Troops and other intolerable acts were among the reasons the Colonies declared their independence. As Tim Wise points out in his White Privilege Lecture; the Confederacy only had one principle issue, the right to continue slavery and expand it into the western territories.
The Confederate Battle Flag had always seemed to me a symbol of the lost cause of slavery. It’s as if the person displaying the flag is saying, I wish we had won so slavery could have continued. In Germany, I’m sure that there are some relatives of German soldiers that believe their ancestors served bravely and with honor, but I doubt that many would argue that flying the Nazi flag at government buildings would be a good way to honor their valor. Most of the Northern United States eventually ended slavery, but the Southern States that made up the Confederacy wanted to continue the institution of slavery so badly that they went to war and more than 600,000 men died. Had Jim Crow not replaced slavery as the new official system of oppression, I would have considered all that blood shed during the Civil War a sort of lopsided reparation.
The Confederate Battle Flag represents the men who fought against the United States of America in a state of war and should have no official role in any government within the U.S. I can not think of any similar situation where the symbol or standard of a defeated nation is officially honored as an official symbol by the victor. Had the Confederacy won the war, I am certain that no American Flag would fly at any capital within the Confederate States of America. President Obama was correct when he stated, “Removing the flag from this state’s capital would not be an act of political correctness. It would not be an insult to the valor of Confederate soldiers. It would simply be acknowledgement that the cause for which they fought, the cause of slavery, was wrong.”
A recent song about the Confederate Battle Flag, “Still a Southern Man”, by Will Hoge, surprising seems to agree with the sentiment expressed above.
However, the Confederate Battle Flag is not the only flag used by men with racist intent as shown below.
Six of uncles, my father’s brothers, served this country during World War II. My father served during the Korean War, three of my mother’s brothers served in the military and I have scores of other relatives and friends who have served or are currently serving in the military. I respect and honor their service to our country and I love my country and would not choose to live anywhere else. However, July 4, 1776 (Independence Day) does not represent freedom and liberty for black men. Ironically, Crispus Attucks, a run-a-way fugitive slave was the first casualty of the Boston Massacre, and is widely considered to be the first American casualty in the American Revolutionary War. But when the founding fathers, wrote the Declaration of Independence, and pronounced that all men are created equal; black men, were excluded. After the British offered freedom for any black men who fought; Colonel Henry Lee stated, “Success will depend on which side can arm the Negroes faster.” George Washington reversed his opinion that black men should not fight in the war. Black men played a pivotal role in winning the Revolutionary War, but freedom and equality was still denied them and their contributions were mostly excluded from history books. To add insult to injury, Article 1, Section 2, Paragraph 3 of the United States Constitution defined slaves as being 3/5 a person.
Supreme Court Declared in it’s Dred Scott decision, “In the opinion of the court, the legislation and histories of the times, and the language used in the Declaration of Independence, show that neither the class of persons who had been imported as slaves nor their descendants, whether they had become free or not, were then acknowledged as a part of the people, nor intended to be included in the general words used in that memorable instrument. ……They [black people] had for more than a century before been regarded as beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race either in social or political relations, and so far inferior that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect, and that the negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit. He was bought and sold, and treated as an ordinary article of merchandise and traffic whenever a profit could be made by it. This opinion was at that time fixed and universal in the civilized portion of the white race. It was regarded as an axiom in morals as well as in politics which no one thought of disputing or supposed to be open to dispute, and men in every grade and position in society daily and habitually acted upon it in their private pursuits, as well as in matters of public concern, without doubting for a moment the correctness of this opinion”.
Propaganda is a powerful brainwashing tool and to some degree we are all victims of unconscious conditioning. Byron Thomas, a black student at the University of South Carolina fought for the right the hang the confederate flag in the window of his dorm room. Years ago, I remember seeing a history book from a public school in the deep south that presented slavery and the civil war very differently than the history books I was issued. If you read a history book from a school in Great Britain about the Revolutionary War, George Washington and other founding fathers are referred to as traitors instead of patriots and heroes. I personally think Mr. Thomas’ view is skewed, but consider some people outside the United States do not understand the patriotism of black Americans who have endured centuries of racial discrimination.
Just as black soldiers fought for the newly declared United States of America, which was against their best interest, since they were later denied the rights, privileges and freedoms bestowed upon white soldiers; blacks served in the Confederate Army.
The 1st Louisiana Native Guard (CSA) was a Confederate Louisiana militia group that consisted of free persons of color, formed during May 1861; the militia unit was the first of any in North America to have African-American officers. The Louisiana State Legislature passed a law in January 1862 that reorganized the militia into only “…free white males capable of bearing arms… ”
The Native Guards regiment was forced to disband on February 15, 1862, when the new law took effect. Governor Moore reinstated the Native Guards on March 24 after the U.S. Navy under Admiral David G. Farragut entered the Mississippi River.” As the regular Confederate forces under Major General Mansfield Lovell abandoned New Orleans, the militia units were left to fend for themselves.
The Native Guards were ordered to disband again, permanently, by General John L. Lewis, of the Louisiana Militia, on April 25, 1862, as Federal ships arrived opposite the city. General Lewis cautioned them to hide their arms and uniforms before returning home. Ten per cent of its members would later join the Union Army’s 1st Louisiana Native Guard, which was a separate military unit.
Today, I celebrate with the rest of the Nation the founding of our Great Nation, not for the Freedom Granted to White Men only in 1776 but for what this country has become and the potential for which it still has. Unfortunately, the freedom and liberty of black men did not come legally until 1865 and Jim Crow restricted that freedom.
The sentiment about the 4th of July was best express by Fredrick Douglass. On July 5, 1852, Douglass gave a speech at an event commemorating the signing of the Declaration of Independence, held at Rochester’s Corinthian Hall. It was biting oratory, in which the speaker told his audience, “This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn.” And he asked them, “Do you mean, citizens, to mock me, by asking me to speak to-day?”