I generally try to be empathetic about Confederate heritage issues, but a lot of times, hardcore neo-Confederates make it hard for me. For every reasonable voice I hear, I run into a guy like this one: a lone flag bearer standing vigil at the very point of Charleston’s Battery on Independence Day weekend, with Fort Sumter in the background. Along with the single standard in his hand that shows off the national flags of the Confederate government, in the back of his Chevy pickup, a Confederate battle flag roughly the size of an area rug flies on a fifteen-foot tall pole mounted in the bed. Playing to stereotype, the pickup has a big NASCAR #3 in the back window.
I saw the flag from farther down Murray Blvd. while I was walking the dog. The size of the flag alone caught my attention, but considering the problems in Charleston last summer, my curiosity was naturally piqued. The dog and I walked down for a better look. The dog isn’t too friendly, too, so I didn’t want to get close enough to the flag bearer to talk with him, and the stiff wind that kept his flags stretched out also made it impossible for me to even yell across the street to him. I snapped a couple pictures and decided to take the dog home and come back to ask him a few questions: Namely, what are you doing out here?
By the time I got back, though, he’d packed up his flags and gone.
So, I can only speculate why he was out there, and I might be totally off-base in my suppositions. But assuming he was out there to make a statement, what statement might he have been making? Here, I don’t want to assume. All I can speak about is the message received, not any message he might have been trying to send. There’s a distinct difference, one that a lot of heritage folks seem to miss the point about when it comes to the Confederate flag.
Here’s the message I received: On the weekend most of America is celebrating the Fourth of July, this guy is giving America a big middle finger.
Let me break that down a little more: It’s independence Day weekend. We’re in the city where the first Secession vote took place. The site of the first battle for Confederate independence hunkers in the background. This guy is flying his Confederate national flags big and bold and proud.
Maybe he had an ancestor killed in the war on July 3. Maybe he’s commemorating Pickett’s Charge. Maybe he’s bitter about Independence Day because Confederate independence failed. Who knows? It’s on me that I wasn’t able to ask him myself. All I can do is sit with the troubling mix of images and context and try to make what sense of them I can. (A little subsequent internet research shows that the South Carolina Secessionist Party has been doing weekly flag displays at the Battery.)
I would ask him to consider the statue that sits across the way from him in White Point Garden—not the “Defenders of Charleston” Civil War memorial but one tucked away along the park’s central pathway: a monument to the Revolution-Era defenders of Fort Moultrie. While he’s dissing Independence, those Charlestonians thought once upon a time that it was worth fighting and dying for. Ironically, an inscription on the back of the monument says, “Don’t let us fight without our flag.”
If this guy wants to give a big “F-You” to America, he has the right. Ironically, he has that right because the Constitution protects his right to free speech, even though his Confederacy turned its back on that Constitution.
However, there’s a time and place to exercise that free speech. If you’re bitter and pissed off, then perhaps Independence Day is the right time to show your defiance—but it’s hardly the way to win friends and influence people.If you want respect, you have to show respect, too. At a time when heritage groups should be engaging people in conversation, displays like this serve only to set their overall cause back, making it look more Lost than ever.