Popeye has right approach to flag issue

Published 2:28 am Wednesday, November 14, 2001

Reading Tuesday's headlines from around the state, one very dear to my own heart stood out. It was the story about the Veteran's Day Parade in Mobile that was crashed by defenders of the Confederate battle flag.
Eight people pushed their way into the parade waving the flag, hailed by most who held it high as the pride of the south.
Others, sitting by watching the ruckus, including many black residents, viewed it as a symbol of racial intolerance and hatred.
I don't subscribe to either theory.
The Civil War was about a lot of things, and, yes, slavery was one of them. More accurately, westward expansion of slavery was one of the key issues. Another was independence. Another was freedom. Another was the preservation of the union. It all depends on how you look at it. Each and every person who fought in the Civil War had their own reasons for fighting and not all of them shared the same reasons. The same is true for the folks who staged the war.
And assuming that the war was about slavery, which is about as strong a reason for its outbreak as any of the others, let's consider what slavery is.
Hatred? No. It's about economics. It's about the forced subjugation of a group of people based on race. Perhaps it shows contempt. Certainly it shows arrogance. Some say cowardice. I think they are all applicable.
The first misconception is the premise that the war was about slavery. The second misconception is that slavery directly equals hatred of black people.
To many white folks raised in the South, the flag was a symbol of a lost cause which claimed lives when a relatively sparsely-populated section of the country decided that independence was more important to them than life itself. That is, to them, a heritage worth being proud of.
But take it forward a generation or two when Southerners were rounding up black citizens, beating them, killing them, destroying their homes and their churches and denying them the right to vote under a flag that brandished the letter X lined with 13 stars.
That's when the flag began being associated with hatred. When a bunch of rednecks decided to wave it on bourbon-soaked trips through the countryside while they rounded up their neighbors of another skin color for abuse, the flag became a symbol of hatred and evil to black Americans.
And who can blame them for hating it?
So Southerners live with their own set of misconceptions as well. They look at the flag in terms of the 19th Century, claiming it is an historic emblem while black America views it as a symbol of hatred and contempt.
So what's the truth about the flag? Both sides claim it stands for their narrow definition of what it means to them, and it simply cannot be viewed that way.
The flag is a symbol of heritage. It is a symbol of bravery in the face of insurmountable odds and of ultimate death that comes as the cost of fighting the good fight. But at the same time, it is a relic that was waved in halls throughout the South as KKK soldiers persecuted black Americans. It was waved in discriminatory circles when civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. fell dead from a bullet wound. It's a symbol of a lot of very conflicting things.
I am proud of my Southern heritage. I am proud of what we, as Southerners, have carved out of the soil and of the lives we have created for ourselves. I am proud of any man who held dear a belief and who fought for it and died.
But I am sympathetic to those who saw loved ones killed, tortured and denied treatment as Americans in our states underneath a symbol once used to evoke images of the Great South, lined with magnolias and antebellum mansions.
And because of this sympathy, I choose to wave the flag. In fact, I don't own one, which is something I don't want my colleagues who attended classes at Ole Miss with me to find out.
My only comment is that I will defend anyone's right to wave any flag they want to wave as members of a free and democratic society.
But ultimately, when I look at the flag, I think about all the fuss it has created. And it's nothing more than a brightly colored piece of cloth. In these moments, I am called back to the words of the immortal cartoon sailorman Popeye, "I yam what I yam and that's all that I yam."
Cloth. Red, white and blue cloth. Some lines. Some stars. And ultimately that's all it is.
That little cartoon guy has the right idea. Maybe we should look to him for more simple solutions to this world's complex problems. Word is, he even eats his green vegetables.
Brian Blackley is publisher of The Atmore Advance. He may be reached at 368-2123 or via e-mail at brian.blackley@atmoreadvance.com.
Brian Blackley is publisher of The Atmore Advance. Contact him via e-mail at brian.blackley@atmoreadvance.com or call him at 368-2123.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox