– By Brian McCracken –
I am a white, middle-class South Carolinian male raised and instilled with Republican values, and I support taking down the Confederate flag flying in front of the South Carolina State House. I am a former Civil War reenactor, an avid lover of history who can name each successive battle, each casualty statistic, as well as each political theory underlying both sides’ contentions, and I support taking the flag down. I am an American living in the Twenty-First Century who wants to see his country become great again, and I support taking the flag down.
I can still remember the first Civil War reenactment I attended as a child. I remember the smell of the gunpowder, the yells of the men charging on the field in front of me, the feel of the sun beating down on my neck. And oh yes, there was the sight of the red, blue, and white Rebel flag leading half of the forces before me. It was easy as a child to get caught up in it all, to believe that those men were firing walnut-sized bullets at each other and screaming in actual pain. My childlike fears would only be assuaged at the end of the reenactment, when everyone would rise and remove their hats to honor the dead who actually fell a century-and-a-half before.
Needless to say, I was hooked from the start. I loved the idea of replaying history for crowds of people to watch and learn from. I loved knowing at least some of what it must have felt like to actually be there, to stand in front of half of your countrymen and wait for a wall of smoke to erupt from their rifles, all aimed in your direction. One thing that was missing from all those reenactments, however, was the distinct whizzing sound of bullets barely missing your body, the very ground beneath you exploding with each cannon shell. While I never experienced those sensations, I’m sure anyone can understand how terrible it must have actually been for those brave souls who gave the Last Full Measure of Devotion so long ago.
It is now 2015. This year marks the 150th Anniversary of the end of the bloodiest conflict in American history, one that no one should ever forget. In the years since, America has inarguably made progress. However, less than one month ago a white man by the name of Dylann Roof walked into a prominent, historically black church in Charleston, South Carolina, and murdered in cold blood nine innocent human beings. This man was certainly deranged. No one can deny that. Yet no one can also deny that Dylann seemed to be driven by something, a worldview deriving from a belief in one group of people being superior to another. It is this kind of belief that accounts for the worst atrocities ever committed in the history of mankind. It is the kind of belief that has sadly been paired with the symbol of the Rebel battle flag I once saw leading a group of history lovers.
I know what it is to have your family’s own history tied to that flag. I have seen the name McCracken on both Union and Confederate lists of casualties. While I like to think, perhaps to a fault, that all of my ancestors who wore grey uniforms were fighting not for the sustainment of slavery, but for states’ rights in relation to a bloated national government, it can’t be denied that slavery was still officially sanctioned by every single Confederate state throughout the war. Indeed, if the South had uniformly freed the slaves, and then fired on Fort Sumter, then its cause would be viewed much differently today. But when you pair the fact that they never did free the slaves with the terrible history that has occurred since, with the fact that there are still misguided men like Dylann Roof effectively saying, and not in a comedic way, that the South shall rise again, the Confederate flag can unquestionably be seen to represent much more than states’ rights.
We live in a world where authoritarian and totalitarian forces are once again stirring, where an effective dictator can annex an entire peninsula under the guise of democracy, and an ever more influential government across the Pacific can still crush the human rights of the people it governs. Now, more than ever, America needs to stand united against these evil forces of history. Now, South Carolina needs to at last be done with its past and become a shining social beacon for every other state in the country, not forgetting the invaluable historical lessons we’ve learned, but rather utilizing them as we move forward. Let us remember those who died last month along with those who died 150 years ago. Let us honor their contributions to the Unfinished Work that still remains before us. We can start by taking that flag off of our State House grounds, and placing it behind glass in a museum dedicated to teaching people about a time we have long since left behind us. May we approach all remaining symbols and vestiges of racism with such process and resolve.
I am a Twenty-First Century South Carolinian, and I support taking that flag down.
Brian McCracken is a South Carolina native and graduate of Wofford College with a BA in Government and Economics and a minor in Religion. He was also a Rhodes Scholar and a Fulbright finalist. He is currently pursing a dual degree in International and Comparative Law at Duke University. Proverb: A Story of the Second Civil War is his debut novel. For more information visit: www.brianmccracken.net.