The other week Donald Trump, our President, conducted a grotesque and brutish press conference in his Trump tower New York home. He made overtures to the South, taking on the role of protector of heritage. He defended the iconography of Southern heritage through the use of monuments dedicated to Confederate generals. In the aftermath many said this was the speech he had been wanting to give. This was his statement to the liberal elite and the political correctness police to go shove it and let those Southerners determine how they remember their past and how they chart our future.
And so I'll write the post I've been wanting to write for some time.
Before I do though let me lay some groundwork. As Southerners go I'm about as Southern as you can get. I have to be careful now so I don't "out" myself but who cares, this is my Trump moment. My parents are from, my extended family is from, and I was born into what many have called the most Southern place in America. No, not Key West, we are talking philosophically! One of the great southern college sports fields is even named after a distant relative. I didn't grow up in that most southern place, my parents moved to another state also in the south. If my birth state is the most southern place in American, the state I grew up in was the epicenter of the Civil War and birthplace of so many of those Confederate icons.
So let's just say I have a lot more reason to be desirous of expressing my southern heritage. And for many years I would have said the playing of "Dixie" at Ole Miss football games, Colonel Rebel as the Ole Miss mascot, waving the Confederate flag were all expressions of love of home and heritage and had nothing to do with hate.
But time passes and we reflect and we take stock in our heritage and the icons that represent that heritage and perhaps more importantly how my icons affect others and finally if the positives I get from my icons are worth the mental costs borne by others as I express my heritage. Wow, long sentence to say is it really necessary to fly the Confederate flag when we know it's offensive to others!
So here are my few thoughts on the subject and be wary, sometimes I am contrarian in expressing a point.
First, if you are a fan of the Confederacy I would say that you are probably a fan of "state rights." After all, all those neo-rebels love to say the Civil War was not about slavery it was about states rights. Not sure if I agree but for the moment I'll give you that. So if you are for states rights why are you marching in protest of a freely elected town council voting to preserve self-determination and taking down a Confederate statue. I mean that is kind of flawed logic isn't it? If you want to keep the statue of Robert E. Lee in Charlottsville then move to Charlottsville, run and get elected to town council, and make a motion to put the statue back up. Otherwise are you not like one of those dastardly Yankee carpet-baggers Southerners so despise?!
Second, what is up with all these Confederate generals? I have to admit I'm a bit luke-warm about uniformly taking down monuments to Robert E. Lee. He had a very successful pre-Civl War career as an army officer and Commandant of West Point. His post-bellum career was also of merit as he was the President of the prestigious Washington College, later becoming Washington and Lee University; a very fine institution in the Old Dominion. I also always find myself admiring Stonewall Jackson and other Confederate officers for their military acumen. That being said I find to hard to figure out why there would be riots when New Orleans determines to take down a statue of Confederate General PGT Beauregard, a rather mediocre general who gained fame with rather hallow military victories at Ft. Sumpter and First Manassas but had rather large losses at Shiloh and Corinth. I mean I love his name Pierre Gustave Toutant-Beauregard and he had two hot wives Marie Antoinette Laure Villere and Marguerite Carolin Deslonde but I think having Beignets at Toutants is a more reasonable preservation of his memory than a statue. You say you would like to have a statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis? You do realize he was a miserable failure as a President and one of the key reasons the South lost the war. His inability to control his government and his incessant poorly executed micro-managment of the war have always been identified as key reasons for Southern failure. Nathan Beford Forrest? I love his most famous quote "get there fustest with the mostest" but other than that he founded the KKK and allowed the massacre of Union troops at Ft. Pillow. Hardly someone to admire.
Bottom line, statues to Confederate generals really does not pass the historical smell test.
But we all still need a symbol of our heritage right? And lacking other things isn't that old Southern flag the reasonable icon of our love of the south?
Well thirdly, not really. See the "rebel flag" if you will was never the flag of the Confederacy. That stars and bars confederate flag was actually the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia and used throughout much of the war. Elements of that flag were picked up on later flags of the Confederacy (after 1863). Btw, the Confederacy lasted four years and had three official flags; I mean can you make up your mind? The flag was also sometimes used by the Confederate navy.
Bottom line, that "rebel flag" that people proclaim to be heritage really only represented a portion of the South and was only in use for four years of the south.
You know now that I think of it I have Spanish and Scottish Southern heritage. Spanish exploration of the south began in the 16th century making our collective (in addition to Native American) Southern heritage about 500 years old. But let's factor that down to the American South which of course starts around 1776. That means that "rebel flag" people want to use as our "icon" represents about 2.9% of the American South experience.
OK, here is my contrarian viewpoint. Here are some very Southern things that in official public use have lasted longer than the Confederate flag:
* Biscuits are probably the most southern food in the world. They evolved from Scottish scones. The biscuit (or quick bread) as we know it today was formulated into it's identifiable form in the mid-19th century. This makes the biscuit about 150 years old and occupying 62.5% of Southern American history.
* Pecan pie has origins going back to Native American history in the south. After European settlement pecan pie were made with eggs, butter, honey, molasses, and other natural sweeteners. The pecan pie we know of today is from a recipe developed by the Karo Syrup company as a way to sell more syrup. That recipe was developed in the 1930's making pecan pie 87 year old and representing 36% of Southern American history.
* Nothing is more Southern than Southeastern Conference football! The SEC was formed in 1933 making it 84 years old and representing 35% of Southern American history. If you want to support the South say "roll tide," "hold that tiger," or "rim ram, flim flam, Ole Miss by Dam."
* Finally, Elvis Presley lived to the age of 42 representing 17.5% of Southern history. Who is more revered in the South than Elvis? Who made the South more cool than Elvis? The answer is nobody, nobody in the South was ever more cool than Elvis.
So by my calculations any of these Southern icons are much better representation of my Southern heritage than the "rebel flag." My reverence for Southern heritage is based on the great Southern work ethic. My pride is in the great cuisine based on the fusion of French, Spanish, African, and Native American foods that formulate Cajun, Creole, Carolina Low Country foods. I love that the South (with Memphis as the epicenter) gave birth to rock and roll when the blues fused with Southern gospel and folk music. These are things I can revere that don't hurt others and make them feel excluded.
Like Waylon's song, I'm not sure all those great Southerners ever really thought we should use "rebel flags" in the way so many people are doing now days. I'm quite sure George and Thomas and even Robert "never done it that way!"
So many things to love about the South that have nothing to do with slavery, with oppression, and about someone preserving their heritage at the detriment to others.
I say give it up and move forward. We as Southerners have a lot to be prideful of, we don't need to attach hate to that pride and we certainly can include everyone in our love of the south.
And with that in mind here is my icon of heritage and flag of the South! And Donald you can keep your Yankee opinions about my South locked up in your tower in New York!
Here is another great interpretation of Southern heritage by another Southern populist like me.