Shortly before one this morning, the Second American Civil War came to an end.
As wars go, this one was a bit unusual. Civil War 2: The Redneckening largely went unnoticed for vast swaths of its 150-year running time, with many declaring that armistice had long since been reached. Some of those were political pundits who knew better while others were sadly our very own legislators who were still actively waging a passive-aggressive war on their fellow South Carolinians, whether through gerrymandering, actively opposing Martin Luther King Jr. Day, or making sure that rural black schools remained separate and unequal.
But today, it seems as if the final battle has been fought and the Neo-Confederate forces of revisionist history and thick-skullduggery have lost.
Of course, they didn’t go down without a fight.
Take Laurens’ Rep. Mike Pitts. The former cop introduced a daisy chain of amendments, each one desperately trying to coax the Lost Cause of the South to rise once again. In the course of his final stand, Pitts offered up the kind of myopic mythologizing that was once popular not just in the great state of South Carolina, but across the entire United States. Lest we not forget that our liberal overlords in Hollywood once released Birth of Nation, a film that celebrates the rise of the Ku Klux Klan, or that today talk radio and cable news welcome race-baiters like Ann Coulter, Pat Buchanan, and Rush Limbaugh.
But while racism is still with us, and will forever be — white supremacy is, after all, America’s original sin — today is a day of celebration. For the first time in history, Union and Confederate Civil War reenactors can join hands and lock lips and form a more perfect, albeit sweaty, union. Huzzah!
Then again, perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself. Some things will still turn heads.
Take the actions of state Rep. Jim Merrill of Daniel Island. During the most heated moments of last night’s Confederate flag debate, the rep took to the well to Tinder swipe right an amendment to take down the battle flag for the Army of Northern Virginia from its position of Confederate memorial prominence in front of the S.C. Statehouse and replace it with the South Carolina state flag
Now I don’t know if Merrill was aware that that our cherished Palmetto flag flies atop the Statehouse or not, but make no mistake, his last-ditch effort to block a clean bill will likely not be forgotten by his constituents on Daniel Island. Stepfordian wives and husbands they may be, but I somehow doubt they will want to be represented by a man whose defining political act may have been an attempt to tarnish the tragic deaths of the Emanuel Nine. That shit only flies in the Upstate. Which is why, in an alternate universe, Imperator Haire has blockaded the entire piedmont. Except for Main Street Greenville. That lovely stretch of good time is being treated like Berlin during the Cold War. We’ll airlift folks in and out if we have too.
Predictably, the losing side isn’t taking this well. They fear a future where all Confederate monuments have been knocked down and all the streets named after Confederate generals have been changed. They fear a world in which Southern history — i.e. only the history that paints slaveowners, their Confederate spawn, and subsequent generations of white bigots in a favorable light — has been erased and replaced with one in which we acknowledge, with shame and woe, the very foundation on which great cities like Charleston were built and celebrate the men and women who sought to end slavery.
Of course, these folks would also be the ones to remind us that the flags of either the British Empire or the United States proudly flew over the colonies and slave-holding states for some 200 years before the start of the Civil War — and they are right. Slavery is America’s burden, and it belongs to all of us.
However, the South’s true sin was, and will always be, what happened once the slaves were free. Ben Tillman and the murderous Redshirts, the Klan and their lynchings, Jim Crow, whites-only lunch counters, church burnings, false accusations and kangaroo courts, the Dixiecrats, George Wallace, Strom Thurmond, segregated schools, pools, and theaters — these are the self-inflicted wounds of the white men and women of the American South. The Confederate battle flag was the symbol of all of this, and now our state has finally exorcised itself of this divisive anachronistic demon.
This is not a purge, Stalinistic, politically correct, or otherwise. You can still buy Confederate flag apparel from Dixie Outfitters. You can still watch Gone With the Wind. And you can still purchase any number of Confederate-friendly revisionist history books on the internet and elsewhere. There are no thought crimes here in the United States. The First Amendment still rules our nation. But from this day forth, you’ll probably want to think twice about waving that flag in public — not out of fear of violence, but out of a greater fear, one of being ostracized.
Because that is what has just happened. The Confederate battle flag is now merely a historic relic, an artifact of a darker time, one in which the only people worth honoring are those who fought to strike it — and what it represents — down. Love Best of Charleston? Help the Charleston City Paper keep Best of Charleston going every year with a donation. Or sign up to become a member of the Charleston City Paper club.
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