Historian debunks the Confederate Flag debate: it’s not racism vs. heritage, but racist heritage

The South Carolina and American flags fly at half mast as the Confederate flag unfurls below at the Confederate Monument June 18, 2015 in Columbia, South Carolina (AFP Photo/Sean Rayford)
The South Carolina and American flags fly at half mast as the Confederate flag unfurls below at the Confederate Monument June 18, 2015 in Columbia, South Carolina (AFP Photo/Sean Rayford)

Early Saturday filmmaker and activist Bree Newsome scaled the poll in front of the South Carolina Statehouse and took down the Confederate Flag that continues to fly. But don’t worry guys: within the hour, the Flag had been replaced, just in time for an 11AM White Supremacist rally, and Newsome was arrested.

The flag continues to fly despite the calls for its removal, in light of the Charleston shooting, from Republican Gov. Nikki Haley and a group of the state’s top lawmakers.  But the the move requires approval by two-thirds majorities in both chambers of the South Carolina Legislature.

In a statement Newsome said, “It’s time for a new chapter where we are sincere about dismantling white supremacy and building toward true racial justice and equality.”

And yet, the idea that the Confederate Flag represents anything but racism persists. Historian Claire Potter, a professor at the New School, joined me on my new radio show and she spoke about the false dichotomy, which presents the flag as a symbol of (A) racism or (B) heritage. She referred to a New York Times article which read,

… many say it is a symbol of the South’s heritage, culture and military pride and can be displayed without any sense of racism.

Does displaying the flag show historic appreciation, or is it a symbol of a reviled era, that breeds racism and should not be officially approved?

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Today in History: the KKK murder of three Civil Rights workers and the targeting of Black Churches

image via fbi
image via FBI

Sunday’s anniversary of the disappearance and murder of Michael Schwerner, James Chaney, and Andrew Goodman in Philadelphia, Mississippi, has been made that much more relevant by the murders Wednesday of  Cynthia Hurd, Suzy Jackson, Ethel Lance, Rev. Depayne Middleton-Doctor, Hon. Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Tywanza Sanders, Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr., Rev. Sharonda Singleton, and Myra Thompson in Charleston, South Carolina.

I learned about Schwerner, 24,  Chaney, 21, and Goodman, 20, when I was eleven and attended Camp Kinderland for the first time. Not only is there a bunk named after the three slain Civil Rights workers, but the late Carolyn Goodman, Andrew Goodman’s mother, visited the camp and spoke to campers and counselors. I remember her explaining that the two young Jewish men from New York City, Goodman and Schwerner, and the young Black man from Meridian, Mississippi, Chaney, had been beaten and killed by the KKK for participating in Freedom Summer, the 1964 campaign that engaged 700 young people from around the nation to join with local students and organizers to register Black voters.

It wasn’t until this week, though, when a white supremacist fatally shot nine Black members of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, that I realized that Goodman, Schwerner and Chaney were killed while trying to investigate an attack on another Black church. On June 16, approximately 30 KKK members waited until all but ten people had left the Mt. Zion Methodist Church in Neshoba County, Mississippi, beat them, and doused the church with ten gallons of gasoline, burning it to the ground.

At the time of the attack, Schwerner and Chaney, both organizers for CORE (Council on Racial Equality), were attending a training in Ohio, which was preparing volunteers for Freedom Summer.  One of the people being trained there was Andrew Goodman.  Learning of the attack, the three returned to Mississippi and, on June 21, inspected the charred remains of the church and spoke to the witnesses.

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