Cultural Revolutions

A Continued Source of Conflict

The Confederate battle flag continues to be a source of conflict and controversy. One year ago, Michael Westerman of Elkton, Kentucky, a 19- year-old father of twins, was murdered by black teens who took offense to the Confederate flag hung in the back of Westerman's truck. When one of the black teens, Freddie Morrow, was sentenced to life in prison for the murder, he and his relatives blamed everything on the flag. As the Lexington Herald-Leader reported in January, though "last week's trial was conflicting over the symbolism of the flag, Morrow's grieving relatives have no doubts: the Rebel flag is a provocative symbol of hatred and oppression. [They] blame it for his life sentence in prison."

John Shelton Reed argued a few years ago that the country needed some other symbol for the South than the Confederate battle flag, which so many people, particularly black Southerners, found offensive. I replied that we had little choice in the matter. History gives you your symbols—you cannot make them up. The battle flag has entered into the folk consciousness of the country—indeed of the world—as the symbol of the South.

Had I been quick enough I would have added: Because skinheads wear crosses, do we have to take down all the crosses from the churches? The American Nazis in the 1930's (and American communists, too) met under the Stars and Stripes and huge portraits of Abraham...

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