Waving the banner: NAACP criticism of Confederate flag unwarranted

Wednesday, July 6, 2005

Being a Southern heritage activist, I have been closely following the news stories about the return of the Confederate flag in Missouri.

Notice that I choose my words carefully and deliberately. I refuse to refer to the subject of the Confederate flag as an "issue," and for good reason.

The Confederate battle flag flew at Higginsville Confederate Cemetery and the second national Confederate flag flew at the Fort Davidson State Historic Site for decades without incident or controversy. They were a non-issue until former U.S. representative Dick Gephardt decided to make them an issue.

He did this while unofficially launching his presidential campaign in South Carolina. While doing so, he stated that the Confederate flag should not be displayed anywhere, anytime and called the Confederate flag "hurtful" and "divisive," not realizing that Missouri flew two Confederate flags. This presented a problem for the Democratic presidential candidate hopeful.

Former governor Bob Holden came up with a quick solution. He ordered the flags removed, thus creating an even bigger issue.

Perhaps the governor didn't realize by doing so that he was dishonoring two of Missouri's most famous black Confederate veterans, John Nolan, a free black man who rode as scout and spy for William Quantrill, and "Uncle Charlie" Baker, who road with Capt. Bill Anderson. At any rate the governor chose to dishonor many of Missouri's veterans in his pursuit of his political ambitions.

Gov. Matt Blunt's recent decision to order the Confederate battle flag raised at the Higginsville Confederate Cemetery for one day was the first time in over two years that a Confederate flag has flown on state property. This decision has brought much criticism directed towards Blunt by the NAACP.

The NAACP has been very vocal in its criticism regarding Blunt's decision to fly the flag at Higginsville during the Confederate Memorial Day service on June 5. Here are just a few of the statements of criticism offered by NAACP:

In an article, "Confederate flag to fly Sunday in Missouri" (Kansas City Star, June 3) Mary Ratliff, president of the Missouri conference of the NAACP, was quoted as saying, "It is just appalling to me that the governor would again raise a flag that is so humiliating and reminds us of the vestige of slavery that has divided our nation for all these years."

In a recent story that appeared in the Marshall (Mo.) Democrat, "Confederate flag in Higginsville sparks controversy" (June 9), the NAACP offers yet more criticism in the form of a press release:

"For anyone to imply or even suggest that a symbol that was used to terrorize, threaten, intimidate, bully and frighten individuals can somehow retain any value in our society is absurd."

Are these statements examples of legitimate criticism? A review of the facts might prove otherwise.

On the subject of racism and slavery, why isn't this same criticism directed toward the U.S. flag? After all, slavery was considered legal and protected by the U.S. Constitution for decades prior to the formation of the Confederate States of America. Northeastern shipping merchants became wealthy by participating in the slave trade. And it should also be noted that no slave ship ever flew the Confederate flag.

Two of Missouri's most noted slaveholders were staunch supporters of the Union. One was Sylvester Baker, a pro-Union legislator who did not believe in state's rights but saw nothing wrong with slavery. It was after a raid on Baker's home that "Uncle Charlie" Baker (Sylvester Baker's slave) decided to ride with Confederate Capt. Bill Anderson.

The other was Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, who once stated, "If I thought this war was about slavery, I would offer my sword to the other side."

As to the accusation that the Confederate flag is a symbol of terrorism and that any attempt to legitimize it is absurd, I must ask: Is it absurd to suggest that the U.S. flag can somehow retain any value in our society? It was under the U.S. flag that General Ewing's Order No. 11 was issued. This issue displaced thousands of Missourians, both Union and Confederate. It has been described by historian Albert Castel as "the most drastic and repressive military measures directed against civilians by the Union Army during the Civil War. In fact ... it stands as the harshest treatment ever imposed on United States citizens under the plea of military necessity in our nation's history."

Most people would find it absurd to suggest that the flag of our country is a symbol of terrorism. Like most Southerners who fly the Confederate flag, many people fly the U.S. flag to honor good men who died for their country. It is this writer's opinion that good men who died for their country should be honored by flying the flag of the country for which they fought at their grave sites.

The NAACP has hinted that a boycott of Missouri might be in the works. Ratliff, of the Missouri conference of the NAACP, has been quoted as saying, she would be "asking for drastic measures from our national office."

It should also be noted that Missouri's Southerners do not criticize Missouri's black citizens for celebrating Black History Month or Martin Luther King Jr. Day. As a proud Missouri Southerner, it would be nice to receive the same respect from the NAACP when it comes to my heritage.

Clint E. Lacy of Marble Hill, Mo., is chairman of the Missouri League of Southern Voters.

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