On Oct. 29, a conversation titled “The Confederate Flag: Forgiveness and Reconciliation” was held as part of the Andrew Young Leadership Forum Series. This conversation was comprised of Morehouse faculty, religious leaders, writers, congressmen and a former Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee member.
The Confederate flag and its placement on college campuses, on cars and on government buildings is a topic invoking tension in the past and present. Its removal from public display is a conversation ignited and reignited by the likes of Bree Newsome, a filmmaker and activist in her own right, who climbed a flagpole at South Carolina’ state capitol and removed the flag commonly associated with the confederacy and efforts made to remove the state flag of Mississippi from the campus due to its confederacy emblem.
Furthermore, the flag has been re-appropriated from a symbol of Southern pride to becoming associated with anti-black, anti-Semitic and white supremacist meanings.
From the conversation held, the speakers make clear that under researched media coverage and simplified understanding of the confederate flag contributes to making truth and reconciliation more difficult to attain. Some of the under researched media coverage stems from a generational shift.
“As we bring [in] newer and newer generations of journalists, [they] have no personal familiarity with some of the things that are being talked about here,” said Ron Thomas, Director of the Journalism and Sports Program at Morehouse and Adjunct Professor of English.
The flag we have come to know as the Confederate flag was not the flag of the Confederate states. Rather, it was the flag used by the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia in battle. The flags that represented the whole Confederacy are featured below.
Even so, the flag as we know it today is interpreted differently from person to person depending on your geographical location, upbringing, and race. While some argue that the flag symbolizes southern pride, many Black people experience the flag as a warning sign of danger and become hyper aware of the positionality of their Black bodies in a white southern spaces.
“I’m from Chicago. I didn’t’ see my first confederate flag until I took a trip to Southern Illinois,” said Darrius Atkins, senior Political Science major at Morehouse and introducer to moderator Andrea Young. “When I saw the flag in person, I had this eerie feeling that I should not be here,”
In addition, the flag is a reminder that enslaved peoples were considered less than human and were fought over during the Civil War.
“If you are going to get upset, it will probably be with me and my viewpoint,” former Congressman Ben Jones said
For him, the Confederate flag is a symbol of honor to ancestors who fought in the Civil War.
“Everybody in my family fought for the South,” Jones said.
He goes on to explain that the removal of the flag from public view is a “cultural cleansing of any vestige of the confederacy”.
“He viewed the flag as something special and symbolic to his family and I think that was a very important perspective to hear in person rather than hearing about it or thinking about it in some abstract theory,” Atkins said.
In response to Jones, Michael Thurmond, the first African-American since Reconstruction to be elected to the Georgia General Assembly in Clarke County, explains that the southern pride interpretation has been clouded by the white supremacy anti-black interpretation.
“Unless you stand up to those who appropriated your symbol the flag will continue to be used for the purposes of hate groups.” Thurmond said.
Associate Professor and Chair of the Psychology Department at Morehouse David Rice said, “That symbol has represented hatred and defilement of black people for decades.”
Furthermore, Thurmond argued for a more expansive recollection of Civil War to incorporate enslaved people and free blacks who fought for the Confederacy.
“Historically, [free blacks and enslaved peoples] were part of the Confederacy,” Thurmond said. “There were black confederates who took up arms for the Union.”
Although the conversation title was “The Confederate Flag: Forgiveness and Reconciliation”, much is yet to be resolved. When we talk about reclaiming the flag, we must first admit or at least accept the fact that it hurts a countless number of people.
“It reminds them of a place not too far off where we were treated not as citizens at all,” Atkins said.
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