Printed in the San Angelo Standard Times, February 27, 2003

Confederate flag distorted as symbol

February 27, 2003


I think Bill Maxwell's Feb. 19 column, ''Keep fighting Confederate flag,'' was unfair. Using the standard of judgment that he applies to the Confederate flag, one would also have to call for the removal of the Stars and Stripes from all official buildings and property.

When judged fairly and in the context of the 19th century, the Confederate battle flag is no more a symbol of hate or racism than is the Stars and Stripes. Slavery existed for much longer under the Stars and Stripes than under the Confederate battle flag, and our original Constitution permitted slavery, mandated the return of fugitive slaves, protected the slave trade for 20 years and only recognized African-Americans as counting for three-fifths of white men for the purpose of determining congressional representation.

It was precisely because of these things that some early anti-slavery leaders spurned the American flag and even burned it in public. Thankfully, we've come a long way since then. What do we say to militant American Indians who don't want to see the American flag flown because to them it's a symbol of racism, broken promises and outright genocide? Certainly one can understand their feelings, but one would also hope they would be able to see the good our flag represents as well.

Or how about the atrocious wage slavery that existed in the Northern states, before, during and long after the Civil War?

People forget that four of the states that fought for the Union were slave states. They also forget that four of the states that joined the Confederacy did not take part in the first wave of secession and did not secede over slavery. Those states -- Tennessee, Virginia, Arkansas and North Carolina -- did not secede with the Deep South states. They were willing to remain in the Union as long as Lincoln didn't use force against the seceded states.

Additionally, I would point out that as early as 1862 the Confederate secretary of state, Judah Benjamin, proposed abolishing slavery in exchange for European diplomatic recognition. And, two years later, in 1864, Jefferson Davis and other Confederate leaders were prepared to abolish slavery to gain European diplomatic recognition, and they made this offer to England and France.

I think this is important because it shows that independence was more important to the Confederacy's leaders than the continuation of slavery.

As Americans we rightly repudiate the bad things that have been done under our flag, and instead we emphasize the good that it represents. Similarly, those who support the official display of the Confederate battle flag, either on its own or as part of another flag, should be allowed to repudiate the bad things that were done under that symbol and to emphasize the good things that it represents, such as limited government, free trade and the rule of law.

I say these things as someone who strongly supports affirmative action and minority set-asides and who maintains a Web page devoted to educating the public about the terrible wrongs that African-Americans have suffered during much of our history.

Mike Griffith


Confederate flag distorted as symbol

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