It’s happened here and in other Southern states before, and now it’s come back to my neck of the woods. The debate over whether the Confederate flag (aka the “Rebel flag”) is an appropriate symbol for official state use has returned to Florida.
A group called Sons of Confederate Veterans wants to put the Confederate flag on a state license plate, adding to the already growing field of Florida plates honoring hunters, manatees, sea turtles, panthers, pro-lifers, pro and college football teams, the arts, people with autism, breast cancer research, or one of the space shuttle disasters.
The group recently convinced the local county commission here to declare 2007 the “Year of (Civil War General Robert E.) Lee,” much to the chagrin of most of the country’s residents. The impetus behind both the proclamation and the license plate is the 200th anniversary of Lee’s birth.
Many are opposed to any official use of the Confederate flag, due to its connection to the pre-Civil War slave-owning South. Proponents say they’re just trying to keep their Confederate heritage, of which they are proud, alive.
Personally, I think the War Between the States is one of the most shameful periods of our history, and can’t fathom the notion of keeping it alive through flags, reenactments and the like. Don’t bury it, but don’t celebrate it, either.
The war was not just about slavery, but about states’ rights to determine their own course – even when it involved owning other human beings. That is, states’ rights, even when those states were very wrong.
Driving to work each morning, I see bumper stickers decrying the “Northern War of Aggression” and claiming that the Civil War was the “other Holocaust” (for the South). This is the market for this Confederate plate, folks. Owners will proudly place their “3” (late racecar driver Dale Earnhardt) bumper stickers right next to it, I am sure.
There’s certainly still animosity about the North v. South thing alive in Dixie, even in 2007, and I’m not just basing this on a few bumper stickers. I’ve spent enough time in the South, and have heard the words of relatives and strangers alike. After all this time, it’s pathetic to be fondly clinging to a time of a racist, provincialist war. And I’m speaking as a man who was born in Georgia, though raised in New York and Florida.
Let your heroes be your heroes; no one can take that from you. You might think Adolf Hitler was “the shit,” where most of us just think he was shit. Let your revered symbols – which, in this case, symbolize shameful national and racial divisions of long ago – be your revered symbols, as well. Hang your Rebel flag in the back window of your pickup truck. Put one up on your porch. But don’t involve the rest of us through an official state recognition of it.