November 13, 2013

The Confederate flag blues


---- — The sun was low in the sky. It was a typical August morning in the Adirondacks.

My sister, Susan, was visiting from Poughkeepsie, hanging out with her older brother for a few days.

Suddenly, a pickup truck drove into my front yard, a large Confederate flag waving from the rear of the truck bed. My sister was frightened and shouted something.

I looked up, saw the flag and searched for my telephone to call the police. Frankly, I was scared, and I am too old to fight and too slow to run.

The young driver got out, walked to my porch and collected my garbage bags. It turned out that he worked for the person who picks up my trash.

The excitement was all over in a matter of seconds, but the fast heartbeats lingered on.

Needless to say, I don’t like Confederate flags. They carry the stink of slavery, that most inhuman of human achievement. It was the battle flag of the defeated enemies of our cherished Union. “It’s the flag of the traitors,” says my friend Mitch.

And displaying one anywhere on my property is like flying a swastika flag near the home of a Jewish American.

More importantly, I was scared. I felt invaded in those few seconds that it took to be over.

I wasn’t until much later, when I had time to think about it, that I realized that Confederate flags probably don’t mean diddly-squat to the youth of today. They haven’t seen them on television displayed by an angry mob of Ku Klux Klanners bent on the destruction of anybody with brown skin. Nor have they likely seen photos of a Southern lynching party, a black body swinging from a rope not far from that battle flag.

Those and similar images are indelibly burned into my consciousness. Get over them? Perhaps. Forget them? Never.

But this is America, and people have a right to fly any flag they want to. I fought for those rights during my stint in the Army, and I’ll still defend them if I am asked.

But people who fly controversial emblems do so with the knowledge that they are offensive to some people.

Unfortunately, many people around the nation are aware of the symbolism of the Confederate Flag and utilize it as a weapon against African Americans. On Oct. 16, a man particpating in a veterans rally outside the White House, carried a large Confederate flag with him. This brought immediate response from both blacks and whites.

“I was especially disturbed by the waving of the Confederate flag, a symbol of racial oppression being waved at our first African-American president,” said Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-NJ) on the House floor.

“I call on my colleagues to condemn this hateful rhetoric, renounce these fringe voices within their coalition,” he said. “This is a shameful display of members on the other side of the aisle.” (Pete Kasperowicz, writing in The Hill, a Washington, D.C., publication).

The Rev. Al Sharpton, writing in the Huffington Post, had stronger words: “Often times, people like to falsely believe that the Confederate flag is somehow not offensive. ... The Confederate flag symbolizes dehumanization, injustice and pain. It is a stark reminder of an era in our history that was defined by the abhorrent practice of slavery. ... For a person to boastfully wave that flag in front of the White House is beyond reprehensible.”

Even though the passing of many years has dimmed the memory of that battle flag in the minds of many — especially those who are young — it is a part of our history that some of their friends and neighbors will never forget.

People who choose it as their symbol should do so with care and be aware of what it might mean to others.

More than a century later, the sight of that emblem was, sadly, able to frighten both me and my sister on an otherwise beautiful summer day.

Ken Wibecan is a retired journalist. Once an op-ed and jazz columnist, later an editor of Modern Maturity magazine, these days he and his two dogs enjoy the country life in Peru. He can be reached at