Don’t throw out the baby

Published 12:15 pm Saturday, June 27, 2015

Although I regularly title this column “Just My Impression,” today I might as well take intern Walter Francis’ label as “Devil’s Advocate.” I say that because my topic about what to do with the Confederate flag flies contrary to a seemingly growing sentiment to more or less eradicate the symbol in the wake of last week’s tragedy.

In short: Don’t do it.

So, if you want to take a moment now and get out a red pen to draw horns and fangs on my picture in the paper, please feel free. Who knows, it might even improve my appearance.

For the record, I am not now nor have I ever been a member of the noble Sons of Confederate Veterans or any related organizations. My parental units have told me, on request, that to the best of their knowledge, no one in our family tree fought in the American Civil War — North or South.

Full disclosure is now required: The only time I ever remember sporting the Confederate flag in any way is on a sticker given out freely at the Shad Plank Fest back in 2013. The symbol is used with the words, “I support Confederate History Month.” Impulsively, I first wore it on my shirt, and then later slapped the sticker onto the notebook used to write about the fish feast. Thereafter, I gave it little thought. That pad of paper, incidentally, is now somewhere in a desk drawer filed out of sight and usually out of mind with other mostly forgotten journals of many stories.

Not incidentally, I support Confederate History Month the same way I uphold most other official recognitions. I spare a thought for all, which is “Good for them,” and leave it at that. Heck, I can barely get excited about the Gay Pride shindig in Norfolk this weekend. Maybe I’m just jaded.

All that’s said to assure you that I’m not under the sway of loyalty to the SCV or even familial ties in this defense of a controversial piece of cloth.

Like many of you, I just shook my head on hearing the news of Dylann Roof being accused of shooting dead nine people at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal in Charleston, South Carolina. I kept shaking on learning that the suspect’s hate included burning an American flag, but upholding a Confederate flag.

The reports and images of Roof — don’t get me started on his sullen looks — prove once again that there’s little to nothing in this world which cannot be corrupted or perverted.

In refreshing contrast, though, the families of the shooting victims have countered with prayers and calls for forgiveness. You know they are Christians by their love. Would that it could touch whatever remains of the suspect’s heart and mind.

But my concern here is that the knee-jerk calls for banning the Confederate flag in just about any shape, form, fashion or location are just that: reactions, not solutions to healing racial divide in these United States. Even if every state in the South voluntarily agreed to no longer fly that flag over capitols, there will still be racism. As long as there are people, there will be racists, and they’re not all white.

In spite of Roof, I do not see the Confederate flag today as only a symbol of oppression and hatred. No, it’s as many say today: “Heritage, not hate.” The SCV and Daughters of the Confederacy, etc., are not longing for the Antebellum, i.e., a return to slavery. Why would they?

When such groups have ceremonies to honor the Confederate dead, for example, they’re in keeping with that Biblical commandment to “honor thy father and mother,” which extends beyond one’s immediate parents to their parents and their parents and their parents … They’re remembering those ancestors who, for right or wrong, sincerely believed in defending against perceived Northern aggression. Based on my understanding that wasn’t just limited to abolishing slavery — which was the correct motive — but also the covetousness for the riches of the South, which was not a good reason.

Finally, we live in a country that allows, or should allow, for expression of one’s religious beliefs and political philosophies. If the Confederate flag were allowed to be eradicated, what other symbols of America’s history could be brought down because they supposedly give offense (whatever that really means)? The Alamo? Mt. Rushmore? The monument to Crazy Horse? The Statue of Liberty? The American flag? By extension, if anybody’s noble heritage or culture is marginalized, where it would stop? We are a poorer nation when revisionists get their way.

Don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater. Leave the flag alone.

STEPHEN H. COWLES is a staff writer for The Tidewater News. He can be contacted at 562-3187 or