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Rebel flag thing of the past

WHAT ARE we to make of history? Is it something to hold on to, to anchor us to the ideals upon which this country was founded? Or is it more fluid, something that should remind us of our heritage, but still allow us to move forward?

On Monday, thousands of people gathered in Columbia, S.C., to lobby for the removal of the Confederate flag from the top of the Statehouse. It has become a troubling issue not only for the state of South Carolina, but also for the upcoming presidential campaign. Texas Gov. George W. Bush, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and businessman Steve Forbes, all vying for the Republican presidential nomination, have dodged the question in numerous debates and interviews, claiming that it is an issue to be decided only by the voters of South Carolina.

It is unclear whether these presidential hopefuls fear that condoning the flag will anger the black community or that condemning it will distance them from more conservative voters. For three years, members of the South Carolina legislature, too, have dodged the issue. But it is time to confront it - and remove the flag from the Statehouse.

The Confederate flag recalls a time in our history when an entire race of people was considered vastly inferior to another, and also, in the South, given a subservient role. The problem of race in America 150 years ago was more than just inequality and injustice. It was a time of unparalleled cruelty to one group of people for no reason other than that they looked different. It was not the proudest time in America's history. In fact, they were arguably our darkest days.

Supporters of the flag argue that it represents not slavery, but instead the bravery of those who fought in the Civil War, presumably the ancestors of many of the residents of South Carolina today. They claim it is a memorial to those who fought for a cause they believed in.

While there is nothing wrong with honoring the courage of soldiers who fought for their country - the United States has build a number of memorials for that purpose - using the battle flag as a symbol of that courage makes it impossible to separate them from their cause - slavery. Most Americans today would agree that slavery was a cruel and unjust institution. Given that, why is the memory of those who believed so strongly in that institution valued more than the feelings of those its residue has continued to victimize for over a century?

The black community in South Carolina - and nationally, as well - has made it clear to the legislature that the flag is a painful reminder of slavery and racism, and a time when they were unwelcome in the place they now call home. By ignoring their concerns, the legislature is sending a message to this community: that the memories of a war that the South fought - and lost - over 100 years ago in support of slavery are more important than the feelings of and relations between South Carolina's current citizens.

It is true that the Confederate flag represents history and heritage, and both are especially important to the culture of the South. There is a place for the flag in Columbia, but that place is not the top of the legislative building. The flag is part of the past, and it belongs in a place where the past is honored, yes, but also where it is recognized as something long gone. Placing the flag atop the state Capitol implies that it represents something that the government is founded upon. And yet, we no longer believe in the cause that the Confederate flag once stood for. We should accept it as part of our history, but not a symbol of the present.

History is important: It reminds us not only where we've come from, but what we've learned in the process. Slavery is perhaps this country's greatest mistake. We can take pride in the fact that we have learned from that mistake, and that we are better for it. We cannot continue to pretend there is any honor in the fact that part of the country fought against correcting that mistake.

History is also about more than just names, dates and times. It's about emotions and relationships, values and tough choices, right and wrong. It's about the past and the future. South Carolina is not wrong to preserve the flag as part of its history, however imperfect that history may be. But it should not do so at the expense of a more perfect future.

(Katie Dodd is a Cavalier Daily Opinion editor.)


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