Dylann Roof did not kill nine people with a flag.
He used a .45-caliber Glock pistol.
But nobody is talking about keeping weapons out of the hands of murderous madmen. That’simpossible. We can’t eventry. We can’t eventalkabout trying.
We can, however, go after the Confederate flag.
Maybe that’s the best we can do.
Only we can’t do that either.
“Winds shifting on rebel flag” the Tribune headlined Tuesday.
Pretty to think so. They’re reacting to news that South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley called for the flag to be removed from its prominent place across from the State House in Columbia. Apparently the photos of Roof preening by Confederate flags prior to his alleged crime was too much in the wake of the slaughter at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston.
But anyone who thinks the matter is settled hasn’t been paying attention.
Winds of change? Winds certainly. Southern windbags have been blowing hot over this topic for decades.
Change is slow everywhere.
But particularly slow down there.
It’s a tradition. Another Southern tradition.
Does the governor getting involved mean anything? Happened before.In 1996, when the flag was still flying from the state capitol dome, then-Gov. David Beasley called the rebel flag “a racist tool” and pushed a bill removing it. He asked South Carolinians if they wanted their children to be debating this issue in 10 years.
The answer was “yes.” Beasley’s bill found no sponsors, and he was booted from office.
Only after the NAACPboycotted the state in 2000 — it set up checkpoints along roads leading into the state and urged motorists not to spend money there — did officials take the flag off its capitol dome and plant it in an even more prominent spot where it is today.
“Off the dome andin your face!” flag supporters chanted.
Notice that dynamic.Banished here, reappearing there. You almost have to admire the resourcefulness. Bigots lie, even to themselves. They don’t say, “We hate black people, and the Confederate flag is the embodiment of that hate.” No they invoke history, tradition.
But what is that history? The flag began representing disunity and treason, the war to dismantle the United States of America in 1861 by 11 Southern states who couldn’t see their way clear to participating in a democracy where blacks were not held in perpetual chattel slavery.
After the war — which I should point out, the Confederacy lost, another fact that seems to elude them — the flags were furled, only to be brought out as symbols of the Ku Klux Klan, waving the Confederate flag for 100 years. Then a raised middle finger to the federal government. The flying of the Confederate flag at government buildings is a fine old Southern tradition that goes back to … 1956, in Georgia, when the faint echoes of Brown v. the Board of Education started to be heard. The Alabama official who ordered it raised in 1963, to coincide with a visit of attorney general Robert Kennedy, called it “an act of defiance.”
All this is laid out in a riveting 2005 volume, The Confederate Battle Flag by John M. Coski. To give you an idea of how the flag’s post-Appomattox life dwarfs its wartime duty, in Coski’s book, the Civil War is over by page 44. The next 330 pages riffle with the gusty debate we’re having now.
Who wants to bet we won’t still be breezing about this in 2030?
Sure, the rebel flag has been put to innocent uses, splashed across the General Lee, waved by unthinking, proud-of-my-grandpappy Southerners who can’t or won’t wrap their heads around what the flag represents. And when I was 7, I made myself a Nazi armband with crayons because I thought the uniforms were cool. But my parents educated me. That a hateful symbol can be wielded by the disingenuous and the naive does not negate its hate.
The Germans put away their swastika. The Japanese never learned that lesson, preferring to deny their history, and we see the rising militarism there.Racism fought for its life in the Civil War under the Confederate flag. Defeated, it did not die, and that flag remains a symbol for bigotry.
Sure, the rebel flag might flutter from its spot across from the State House in Columbia, South Carolina. But keep an eye peeled. It’ll be found flapping somewhere else. Because the bigotry it symbolizes is still at gale force.
Follow Neil Steinberg on Twitter: @NeilSteinberg