The Confederate Flag and Florida – My internal conflict

I must admit the recent controversy about the Confederate “battle” flag caught me slightly off-guard. As someone who has lived in Florida since 1979, and have been active in Democratic politics since the mid 1990’s, I simply accepted the flag as a symbol of southern regional pride and expression. Did the flag make me uncomfortable as a person of color? Yes, but my view was always that the right of free expression and regional pride were sacrosanct. Did I wince when passing the huge Confederate Flag at I-75 and I-4 outside Tampa regularly? Yes, I did but again didn’t feel it was my place to do anything about it.

From my vantage point, flying the Confederate flag wasn’t much different for some people than someone of my ethnicity flying an Indian flag, Cuban exiles flying the Cuban flag or someone in Catalonia flying a Catalan flag. For others, it did symbolize hatred but not for everyone. While politically I veer to the left on most issues, and had I been alive in the Civil War and Reconstruction era, I would have been a Radical Republican, I never objected to the right of free expression that the Confederate flag provides. I would not support the flying of the Nazi flag as I believe that has a specific and singular purpose – antisemitism and the forced eradication of a race of people. But the Confederate flag I had long felt was used partly by racists but also by white southerners who wanted to connect with their family heritages and not feel ashamed that their forefathers and mothers had supported the Confederacy.

Part of the reason I felt the way I did was because I am a Democrat. This is two fold – firstly, our party was the political beneficiary of the solid south and I felt so much of the legacy of us controlling the state and creating progressive change beginning with Leroy Collins was because of the support of rural southern voters, many of whom still displayed the flag proudly as I traveled the state. Secondly, I felt as a liberal it was not my place to judge or condemn people for the right to free expression.  Besides many southerners I spoke to saw the flag as a symbol of a distinct region, the one part of the country whose unique flavor seemed charming in a modern, corporate-driven world. Those people never harbored a single outward racist view toward me though I look distinctly different and foreign. At the same time, I would admit sadly that I was almost consistently throughout my childhood the subject of racism in school while growing up in Coral Springs. The racism I was subjected to was almost entirely from children whose parents were from the north. Many of those children’s parents were liberal Democrats.

Unfortunately, the late 1990’s and early 2000’s brought neoconfederate thought to the forefront politically as the nation became more and more polarized politically. Cable news particularly FOX News incited fear and coded racism. By the time President Obama took office, the Confederate battle flag no longer had mixed meanings – its display was a clear sign of racism and defiance toward the election of an African-American President.

But still I hedged. I have long felt it is unfair for people from outside the south to stereotype and judge the region. I have long believed it is wrong of politicians to ignore the sacrifices of southern soldiers during the Civil War – while the plantation aristocracy and Democratic Party were racists who conceived secession and war to maintain slavery, the vast majority of southern soldiers were poor whites with no connection to slavery and who fought because it was their localities and their region they wanted to protect. Postwar, the Republican Party and later the populists tried to put together a coalition of recently freed African-Americans and poor whites. But the racist instrument of the southern aristocracy was the Democratic Party, and they used political means to spread fear among poor whites and maintain one-party and racist control of the region including the state of Florida.

Today I join with those who want to see the flag removed from public life. Now that I see southerners call for its removal and eradication, I am on board. However, I still believe that desire of some to eliminate any symbol of the Confederacy and marginalize/ridicule the south is simply wrong. In our rush to react to Charleston, we must evaluate every historical figure individually and not view every man or woman that fought or supported the Confederacy as a racist or traitor. Similarly, we should not view everyone man or woman that fought or supported the Union as a hero.

The lens of history gives us perspective on past events that can both be helpful and damaging. It is important as we move forward to be considerate of those in the south who are not racists but whose parents, grandparents and other ancestors might have been. It is also critical though that we work toward true racial reconciliation not just in the south but around the country.

22 comments

  1. steve ellman · · Reply

    The cornerstone of the Confederacy, which that flag has come to symbolize, was slavery, nothing less, and it is the South’s shame, not its pride..

    “Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner- stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.”

    http://teachingamericanhistory.org/library/document/cornerstone-speech/

  2. Blue Dog Dem · · Reply

    This is the single most logical article written on this issue out there. Thanks Kartik!

  3. Good thoughtful piece.

  4. I’m sorry but you are either a racist like most Indians or simply misreading history.

    I find it hard to believe you’d have been a republican radical in those days with these views. More like a pro slavery southern democrat.

  5. Millie Herrera · · Reply

    I stopped reading after your comment about the Nazi flag. This article is a piece of thoughtless dribble, ignorance, misinformed self-importance, and a feeble attempt at sounding “intellectual” and oh soo freedom of speech loving that you would deny as many do, that the Confederate flag represents support for slavery, white supremacy, and the systematic oppression, debasing, and slaughter of people of African descent.

    There is no “Southern pride” behind this flag, just as there is no “German pride” behind the Nazi flag. They’re both horrific symbols of humanity’s darkest moments.

    Stop making light of the fact that bigotry and racism are alive and well. Stop defending a symbol that represents that ugly inhumane bigotry and institutionalized oppression of people because of the color of their skin. Flying the Confederate flag is NOT the same thing as flying your Indian flag or my Cuban flag. Neither of our flags were created to defend slavery nor the feeling that the color of the skin we were born with made us superior to others.

    Flying the Confederate flag in public places is not freedom of speech, just as flying the Nazi flag is not. Both are equally abhorrent symbols of hatred, torture, abuse, cruelty and the worst evils that human beings have come up with. Both should be equally banned and not glorified as “pride” of any kind.

  6. Wendy Sejour · · Reply

    I cannot believe you wrote this. I agree with Millie Herrera. The confederate battle flag has bee a symbol of hatred.

  7. You sir are a racist

    If you got picked on in school you probably deserved it acting superior and all like most Indians.

    1. Millie Herrera · · Reply

      Tony, your comment on Indians IS bigoted. How can we combat bigotry with more bigotry??? Not nice.

  8. Tampa Bay Demo · · Reply

    Being tolerant and progressive means allowing for different points of view. I totally get Kartik’s past internal conflict and have to say this lynch mob mentality of the last week. I understand this. Part of it was our party. We always were controlled by north florida Whites and KK probably didn’t want to offend or create commotion as a person of color.

  9. Well he’s obviously a racist. I’m not Kartik is.

  10. Patti Lynn · · Reply

    Had you been in Florida in the early 60s, when civil rights legislation, beach integration,school integration, and voting rights were being fought, you would have known that THAT was when the confederate battle flag began a resurgence in Florida. It was very clearly a race issue back then….as others came to Florida in the 70s and 80s, it just appeared to be part of the “culture.” It needs to GO!!!

  11. let’s cut out the verbal garbage – the Confederate flag-regardless of whatever it was designed for-today is a symbol of hatred and racism and has gotta go! we Americans know better about the irresponsible adoration by a group of citizens, who -in violation of our Constitution – took up arms against the lawfully constituted US government 1 they weren’t “…rebels…” just traitors. let’s say it like it is –

  12. D. Gently · · Reply

    Very nice, thoughtful piece. Sad to see some of the the nastiness in response. Anyone screaming that this flag we are speaking of is “the Nazi flag” is being willfully ridiculous. And it is, and will remain “free speech” for people to own and display that flag, or to carry it in public or wear it on their shirts or stuck to the back of their trucks if they wish. That is the price we pay to live in a country where it’s legal to believe and speak as you please, even if the majority disagrees.

    The truth as always is not just one thing. Slavery and white supremacy were in fact centerpieces of the Civil War. There was more going on of course — the agricultural power of the South was giving way to the industrial power of the North, and the growing country was struggling to determine whether our government would be centralized or “confederated” into a collection of autonomous states.

    While it’s true that the “states’ rights” / “Federalism” argument has always glossed over the fact that the primary motivator behind that philosophy was always — going back to the Constitutional Convention and before — slavery, but there were other facets to that thinking as well. Southerners saw their cultural dominance waning overall and feared quite rightfully that not only the abomination of slavery, but the rest of their influence on the country was being marginalized as the centers of population and industrial, scientific, and educational advancement moved north.

    So we had the war, which still stands as the conflict with the greatest loss of American lives in our history. As with most wars, the people that died believed they were defending their homes and families; not for an ideology. Certainly the poor Southerners who died on the front lines weren’t fighting for the right to enslave people.

    But in the years and decades since, a particular version of their flag — this minor but iconic-looking Virginia battle flag everyone is talking about — has been waved whenever the worst elements of the South wanted to fight for the worst things for which the South ever stood. They waved it for Jim Crow. They waved it to fight the Civil Rights Amendment. Racist groups in Europe have even taken it up where their precious Nazi emblems are banned.

    And now we’ve had this had this horrific mass murder of people meeting peacefully in a church, done in the name of the worst of the history of the South, by this dead-eyed child gorged apparently on the filth from the darkest corners of the Internet, posing with his gun and that flag and (reportedly) trying to start a “race war.”

    So now it ends. People can have their points of view, as they always can in this country, and they can imbue this symbol with whatever meaning they want. But we will not, if things go the way they are going, fly it over our country’s capitols or print it on government-issued license plates ever again. It won’t bring back the dead, but it’s a fitting response to a grotesque crime committed to advance a grotesque ideology. This murderer wanted to bring attention to an old flag; to force us all to pay attention to what it meant to him.

    We have done that. And our response is to take it down, this time, with luck, forever.

    Good.

    1. Millie Herrera · · Reply

      A lot of words to circumvent the truth that the Confederate flag symbolizes support of slavery, murder, beatings, hangings, oppression, and exploitation of a people because of the color of their skin. The rest is simple cow manure.

      1. D. Gently · ·

        Did you have a response to the substance of the post, Millie? Or to the substance of Kartik’s piece?

        Also, it’s mindless “drivel,” not mindless “dribble.” I get the feeling it’s something you type into Internet forums a lot.

        Just trying to help.

    2. c’mon, horse shit remains horse shit no matter what you color or cover it with or whatever verbiage you choose – the so-called Confederate Flag (is really the battle flag of General Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia) and for whatever purpose it was designed it has been used for many, many years as a symbol of the false bravado exhibited by the so-called “…outlaw…” culture to hide their bigotry as they try to just look like bad guys – Let’s just say what it is “,,, HORSE-SHIT bigotry…” – General Robert. himself in a presentation to his troops suggested that they furl their battle flags and put them away – for good –

  13. When a war is lost, the loser’s flag is not hoisted, the winner’s is. That is the essence here. It symbolizes the losers’ (Confederacy) refusal to acknowledge that the cause they fought and died for, the economic system based on slavery (free labor to produce their commercial products) was defeated. General Lee met with Grant at Appomattox Courthouse and the war was conceded by the Confederacy to the Union (the North). President Lincoln formalized the end of slavery in the U. S. with his Emancipation Proclamation. For 150 years, Southerners have committed countless unspeakable crimes aimed at undermining the end of slavery and more importantly, the assumption of their rightful place in U. S. society as free and equal citizens and their ability to pursue life, liberty and happiness and economic prosperity has been sabotaged at every turn by ill-willed scofflaws who made the evil decision to continue the division of our Union by violating the law of the land. They were and are traitors. They hanged human beings. They beat them, some to death. They are responsible for indescribable suffering deliberately imposed on millions of their fellow Americans.

    It is still going on. Nothing romantic or respectful about what has become the one symbol of their rebellion, the “confederate” flag. It spits in the face of our Founding Fathers’ great and lofty ideas that created this country. It is not “okay” to fly or display. No more sour grapes. The ungodly number of northern and southern men who perished in this abominable war are remembered,and will be remembered, without that flag being displayed. The cause of the Union was honorable; the cause of the Confederacy was not, and will not for eternity, be considered honorable.

    The flag must go.

    1. A. Dent · · Reply

      Well said, though there is still more to history than you and some of the less thoughtful replies here imply. The Founding Fathers, for example, carefully protected slavery, which they expressly declined to abolish in the Constitution, going so far as to count slaves as “3/5 of a person” for purposes of representation. Washington and Jefferson among others held slaves throughout their lives.

      It is indeed time for the flag to go. But it remains untrue to argue that it stood only for one terrible thing. If that were the case; if we weren’t conflicted about our own past and the meaning of that war, the flag would have gone long ago.

  14. look yall, i am VERY southern, my family was one of the first five pioneering families into florida my great grandad was in that war 🙂 …….but ya know what, yall need to understand its fear mongers and haters that are doing this……..because you see that flag no matter WHAT people try to make it stand for or not stand for does not change WHO I AM, nor WHERE I AM FROM i have VERY VERY deep roots as an american, especially since i am part native american (now those poor people should REALLY be the ones to be ticked off) and definitely from florida…..i have a son that is part asian, and daughter that is part french……i have no reason to hate nor detest or be rascist……most southerns dont really at all IFFFFF they are a true southerner…….you have alot of these here yankee transplants that claim to be floridian and southern but if you look in their background they are yankees none the less…..so in the end people…..that flag did not make who and what you are you were born by the grace of god to the right of being southern ……..hold your head high………let THEM be the haters,,,,,,,,,,because that flag will NEVER take away my southern pride !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! my heritage as to whom i am 🙂 ……..take care now

    1. Hey! love you’re message – wow! one of the original five families in our state! You might be interested to know that what you’ve written is just what I’ve been saying – Of the millions of Floridians in our state now,there aren’t a heck of a lot of them whose family were here in the 1860’s
      so damned few Floridians can claim a REAL “…southern…” heritage, at least as far as the Confederacy goes – my family has lived – and loved – in Florida since the 1960’s and all of us (including nieces born in Florida, still sound like Yankees from New York City – thanks for your comments – does anyone really know how many Floridians actually served in the Army of the CSA????

  15. […] Southern history has long been a passion of mine – for better and for worse. My interest in the south has led me at times despite my progressive beliefs to defend the shameful side of the region’s history, including my long internal battle about the Confederate battle flag.  […]

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