Last week at their annual meeting, the SBC did something fairly amazing. They passed a resolution against the confederate battle flag. This is a big deal, as Russel Moore points out that the Southern in SBC isn’t about just geography, or its history. The SBC started due to slavery and whether or not slave owners could be missionaries. Especially as we just passed the one year anniversary of the horrific shooting in the Emanuel AME church in Charleston, you’ll hear a lot of ‘heritage not hate’ arguments and wonder, “who are these people?”
Well, I used to be one. When I was in high school, there was movement to change the Georgia flag. The reasoning being, of course, to remove the symbol of hate. I don’t know if the ‘heritage not hate’ argument came about then, or if it had been in use for a while, but it was the first I had heard it. The thing is, I really believed it. Whether this was mostly due to marketing from companies that sold shirts and other items with the flag on it or the PR campaign certain groups pursued, I’m not sure. It was probably both, plus a big dose of ignorance.
Now, I never owned a shirt or anything with the flag, though I’m sure I have worn one. I wasn’t opposed, though, it just wasn’t my style. When they wanted to change the flag, it bugged me. That had been Georgia’s flag for almost 150 years, or so I thought. I was wildly ignorant about the flag and its history. I guess we felt connected to it the way other people do to the Irish or Italian flags or heritage. Like most adolescents, we dealt with the existential crisis of “who am I?” Part of the answer we found was that flag.
So many people like to claim whatever heritage they have, Mexican, Japanese, various European, etc., but I and many other long-term Southerners didn’t have that. I have church records going back to at least the 1820s. My great-great granddad is literally buried at the airport. But, at the same time, you can’t claim ‘American’ heritage because, we were told, there is no such thing. I was ‘heritage-less’ so to speak. This made the flag something easy to hold on to. For us, it really was a symbol of heritage. We were Southern, and this is our flag.
First things first, the flag most commonly referred to as the Confederate Flag isn’t even the actual flag of the Confederacy; that would be this. So, not learning that until probably 5-10 years ago, I now try to do my best to always say Confederate Battle Flag (or rebel flag), not Confederate flag. The more famous flag is actually Confederate Navel Jack and also served as the Tennessee Battle Flag. Additionally, part of it was a ‘secondary’ flag.
Second, and much more importantly, the flag didn’t appear as part of the Georgia flag until 1956. Why? The Civil Rights movement. This was the era of Southern states fighting against de-segregation. It was in popular use in the 40s by the Dixiecrats as well. Wikipedia has some great information, so I won’t go into more detail.
It all comes down to this – it obviously isn’t that much of a heritage to me (my dad, his dad, granddad, etc. were born under a Georgia flag without this symbol on it and, thankfully, so was my daughter). However, I certainly didn’t hate. I had a few black friends in my social group and generally disliked everyone, regardless of race. So, I think you have to go back to when the flag was inserted to history and look at the intent of those guys. Were they trying to promote heritage? No. If that flag really meant something of heritage, then Grady would have revived or taken over its use in his New South push. However, he actually did the opposite, saying we needed to get away from all signs of the confederacy and move forward.
If not heritage, then what? Well, as the slogan goes, hate. It was put in to remind black people of their place. It was for intimidation. It was used as a “screw you” to the federal government for coming down to meddle in our schools (not called Rebel Flag for nothing). It was not done out of pride, but out of hate. I was embarrassingly old, especially for a self-proclaimed history buff, before I knew the true history of the flag.
That’s why this is such a big deal, y’all. In Moore’s announcement, instead of tip-toeing around the history, he not only jumped right in to the reason for the founding of the SBC, but he, along with the resolution, fully acknowledging that the flag is not a symbol of history or heritage, but of hate and prejudice.
I truly believe that only the church will be effective in removing this as a symbol. Lord knows that our yankee teachers would always be quick to tell us, but that only made things worse. However, coming from the Southern Baptist Church, effectively saying, “Hey, this isn’t right” – it will carry a lot of weight. We will have less naïve teenagers and young men running around with the symbol, ignorantly claiming some history that isn’t. It is a good start.