Flags of Our Fathers (and Mothers)

My family fought in the Civil War under the Confederate flag and we lost, if that’s how you want to look at it.  Personally, I don’t see it that way.  My family comes from the south – from South Carolina, Alabama, Georgia and eventually landed here in Texas.  Our family stories from that time mostly focus around the aftermath of that war.  They tell of hidden blood-caked swords, of Andrew Johnson’s “Reconstruction Plan”, of Carpetbaggers and Scalawags, of former Union soldiers being run out of town by an angry great-great grandfather.  A lot of the ire that continues to persist through the generations can be tracked back to the years that followed the Civil War.  It’s why the South continues to stay mad.  We lost, you didn’t and we’re still sore about what happened afterwards.  That ire is perpetuated by stereotypes – the ones that we Southerners and those of Southern decent encounter every time we run into Northerners, flip on the TV or go to any movie that depicts one of us.  The one that bugs me personally is the perception that the clip of a person’s speech is some how directly related to intelligence.  We have a drawl, our speech is a little slower, therefore it follows that we must be a bit simple. Bless our hearts. I remember a co-worker from Ohio once told me he came to Texas to sell some product here versus some place up north, because he knew that we were less intelligent and therefore more likely to buy.  When I balked, he claimed I was the smartest Texan he’d met in a failed attempt to appease me.  (It’s a sad day when I rate as “the smartest Texan”, trust me.)  Mocking us in the media, is like pouring salt into an open and festering wound.  We’re not actually all dimwitted toothless cousin-marrying yokels wandering around barefoot while clad in overalls   Not that we don’t have our share, but I suspect you can find that kind of person in any rural area of any state.  Plus, never forget that we have our own ideas about Northerners that are a tad unkind, but I digress.

Before my family fought in the Civil War, we fought for Texas Independence and before that we fought in the Revolutionary War.  We were the first pilgrims who arrived on ships long before there ever was an Ellis Island or a Lady Liberty to welcome us to these shores.  We were Huguenots escaping France.  We were French, Prussian, Scots, Irish, Swedes, Welsh and English long before we were Americans.  A melting pot of nationalities who lived, fought and died under many different flags.

Of all the flags we’ve lived and served under, the one that bothers me the most is the Confederate flag. This controversy recently flared up in our media thanks to a group who want to honor Confederate Soldiers from Texas by displaying it on a license plate.  An argument that has been used is that the Buffalo Soldiers are also applying for a license plate and certain regiments of theirs were responsible for the genocide of the American Plains Indians.  “Why is that less controversial?” I do get this argument, but it’s still not the same in my mind. The confederate flag is no longer the symbol of a fight for states right, if it ever truly was to begin with. It’s a symbol of something completely different now and to put it quite simply, the places that would fly that flag are not places I want to be near.  If you came for a visit, I wouldn’t take you anywhere near those places either.  By that same token, I don’t think that the people who would buy that plate would be doing it solely to honor those who fought in the Civil War.  For many, it’s a very clear statement about race and when it flies in the South (or near South as we are), you’re making a very clear and deliberate statement about your beliefs.

I can honor my ancestors without a license plate and without that flag.  I can believe that what they fought for, they believed was right. I can imagine that part of why they fought had more to do with where they lived and being swept up in the emotions of the time.  And I can appreciate why they held such anger in the aftermath of Reconstruction. I can truly think of them as fallen heroes who died on the wrong side of a cause.  And if you could transport me back in time, I would go out of my way to find and spit on Sherman, out of respect to all of my relatives who wrongly suffered in Atlanta.  Hell, I’d shoot that man if I could get close enough and you can thank my family’s legacy for that thought, but I will never fly that flag.

However, that being said, I am French and German and Scottish and Irish and Swedish and Welsh and English and Southern.  My family lived and served and died under many flags – no one flag more important than the other.  No one flag that I feel more compelled  than the other to represent me or my family’s odyssey through time on a license plate.  I am proud of the entirety of my heritage (even you French genes, get over here so I can ruffle your hair) and there’s only one flag that really represents who I am today.

(Unless a certain someone becomes President and then I may have to don a tuque and embrace a more maple leafy flag.)