Andrew Dys

Obituary: Confederate battle flag dead in SC at 152 – and 54

The Confederate battle flag has flown on the grounds of the South Carolina Statehouse since 1961.
The Confederate battle flag has flown on the grounds of the South Carolina Statehouse since 1961. gmelendez@thestate.com

The Confederate battle flag died in South Carolina on Thursday. It was 152 years old. In officially sanctioned flying years, 54.

The state House of Representatives finally pulled the plug on the respirator early Thursday morning, following the lead of the state Senate, and the governor signed its death certificate later in the day.

Few will mourn its death.

A nation will again wonder why the old crone wasn’t killed long ago. A coroner would have ruled justifiable homicide.

The funeral will come Friday morning, in a state museum marked by dusty relics of a shameful past. There will be a casket of streak-free glass. Presiding will be the conscience of a people, needing no preacher to bury the dead. No eulogy could sum up the evil she oversaw as she waved.

A few mourners weeped when the governor signed into law legislation that orders the removal of the banner from the Confederate Soldier Monument that sits right in front of the Statehouse. Flag-wavers surely yelled and screamed, waving signs and claiming heritage has been besmirched.

The rest of the state and nation lined up for a chance to toss a handful of dirt atop the coffin.

Survivors include a bold few who to this day continue to try to rewrite history by claiming that the Civil War was not fought over slavery and segregation. Who say the Confederate battle flag doesn’t represent what the world knows it stands for – the absurd notion that white people are superior to black people. Who deny that it was placed on Statehouse grounds in the midst of the civil rights movement to remind South Carolina blacks that they never would be equal.

Fergit, hell!

The image that has come to be known as the Confederate battle flag – lovingly called “the rebel flag” by those who would fly a symbol of slavery, segregation, lynching and racist mobs – was born in 1863, two years after South Carolina was first to secede from America.

It was born to parents who were rich, white landowners and slaveholders whose ancestors escaped Europe supposedly to form a place where all men would be free. They found freedom in a bountiful land that they filled with as many blacks as the slave ships could carry.

The flag was born from that slavery. South Carolina and the Confederate States of America wanted to keep slavery forever and expand it as the Confederacy moved westward, southward – wherever it needed slave labor performed by black people counted as beasts of burden no different than oxen.

Then the war was lost to the the Union, which had slavery but finally knew right from wrong.

Hundreds of thousands of white southerners – regular people born Southern, proud and rightfully so – were indoctrinated by the ruling white class into the belief that blacks were not human but property. Those regular whites were sent to their deaths by rich, white landowners in a war to keep slavery. Those soldiers were honorable, but they were used as cannon fodder by the rich landowners.

It remains a mystery why the descendants of Confederate soldiers killed in a war over slavery aren’t seething mad at their state for the butchery of their forefathers.

A century of segregation ensued, and the Confederate battle flag was adopted as the banner of the hate groups such as the Ku Klux Klan. They burned and hung blacks for sport. They tried them in kangaroo courts for such crimes as looking at whites or whistling at whites or daring to eat with whites. They sent them to schools unfit for humans. They banished them to separate neighborhoods, separate bathrooms.

Every small town, every city, every courthouse, every toilet, every water fountain, every motel in this state was segregated.

By law.

That was what the Confederate battle flag stood for.

When civil rights came calling in the late 1950s and early 1960s, that flag came back into fashion for the ruling landowner class of South Carolina. In Rock Hill, Confederate battle flag carriers beat civil rights protesters. Then police jailed those who had been beaten.

In 1961, the state’s leaders – all white, all men – decided to post the Confederate battle flag atop our Statehouse, ostensibly to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Civil War.

Its real purpose, though, was to show the federal government – a bunch of Yankees and agitators siding with civil rights protesters – that South Carolina is proud to oppose equality for blacks, that they would fight against that notion forever.

Almost four decades later, state lawmakers voted in 2000 to remove the flag from atop the Statehouse dome and place it at the Confederate Solider Monument in a compromise that made almost nobody happy – nobody except those who wanted to keep that banner of hatred flying.

Then last month, a white racist named Dylann Roof – who embraced the Confederate battle flag as the banner of his effort to start a race war – sauntered into a Charleston church and sat down for Bible study among the black faithful. He was told about God, about mercy, about love. Those black people were “so nice,” he would say later.

Still, that didn’t stop him from shooting and killing those nine black people.

Blacks, apparently, were the reason he dropped out of high school, the reason he was a loser.

Roof’s hate, exposed to the world, meant even many of the flag’s supporters could no longer support flying the flag on Statehouse grounds.

The Confederate battle flag was finally on life support as a world watched in horror that an American state was still officially flying such a flag.

And now, finally – after a political debate that was nothing but words, but eventually led to action – the symbol of the worst of South Carolina’s and America’s racial hatred will die.

Memorials may be made to the Charleston dead, whose lives and deaths it took to spur politicians to do the right thing after so many years and lifetimes of not just inaction, but indifference toward millions of blacks.

Visitation will be held in the hearts and consciences of all who did nothing, who sat idly by without taking a stand concerning the Confederate battle flag. Their empty hearts will ring hollow.

There will not be cake and coffee in any church fellowship hall after the burial. No quiet beers or harder drinks barside afterward. No tears to wipe. No stories told of the dead. Nobody toasts hate.

Except in roadside dives that have every right to fly the Confederate flag – and do.

Those who did participate in the flag’s death by knowing right from wrong will wonder, into old age, why no one had the courage to help put a stake in her mean heart before now.

The funeral will be a chance to wonder how the Confederate battle flag – born of slavery and living since 1962 as a government-sanctioned symbol of hate and white supremacy, of defiance – lived so long in a state and country founded on the principle that all people are equal.

Andrew Dys •  803-329-4065 •  adys@heraldonline.com

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