Across the Wide Missouri: Southerners Silenced too Long by Symbolism of Confederate Flag: "When I was growing up in Georgia in the 1970s and 80s...:
...the Confederate battle flag was part of the visual and cultural landscape... emblazoned on everything from bumper stickers to shot glasses and beach towels.... In Tallapoosa... the flag was painted on the wall of the high school gym. Our football team was called The Rebels.... Our ‘fight song’... was ‘Dixie’. And added to all this Confederate imagery was our school mascot, a mustachioed southern gentleman dressed in the same shade of grey that famed general Robert E Lee wore to the civil war battle of Appomattox....
In my youth I went along with the idea that flying the Confederate battle flag was harmless, a tribute to our history as Southerners.... I don’t know what my black friends at school thought of all this Confederate imagery surrounding them: I suspect if I had asked them, they might have kept their opinions to themselves. Such is the power of symbolism.
It was not until 1992, when I worked as a young reporter in the state capitol of Atlanta, that I gave the matter serious thought. Our governor at the time, Zell Miller, wanted to remove Confederate symbols from the Georgia state flag--a brave proposal that caused much controversy.... I learned the real history of how the Confederate battle flag had been incorporated into the state flag. The change came in 1956 as Georgia and the other states of the old Confederacy were fighting an ugly, hateful battle to preserve the vestiges of the ‘Jim Crow’ laws that legitimised racial segregation.... Although many deny it to this day, the Georgia flag was changed in 1956 as a sign of resistance to change. Those who were fighting for their rights back then knew this well. For them, and their descendants today, the Confederate flag was a symbol not of an honourable heritage but of something else: the noose, injustice, never having a fair chance.
Mr Miller’s effort to change the flag failed in 1992 but it was eventually changed.... It was heartening to hear Nikki Haley, South Carolina’s Indian-American governor, call the flag a ‘deeply offensive symbol of a brutally oppressive past’. At her side were a black senator and a black congressman, as well as members of her own Republican party. She spoke on Monday after words of support from fellow Republicans, including Mitt Romney. On Saturday, a racially mixed crowd gathered at the capitol and chanted: ‘Take it down!’ To my shame, it never occurred to me to utter these words as a teenager. Belatedly, I add my Southern voice to theirs.