Saturday, July 18, 2015

The Confederate Flag Came down in South Carolina

The day SC took the flag down. photo by Elvert Barnes / flickr

It was a big day in our State when the Confederate flag came down. Not without controversy. Some folk said we were turning our backs on our ancestors. Some said this political correctness has got to go. Some said it was an important part of our history and ought to stay.

Yet it was a powerful day when the conservative Governor of our state, surrounded by legislators elected by South Carolina citizens,  had voted to remove this flag. It was another chapter in putting to rest part of our tortured history. This flag has been waving on Statehouse grounds since 1961.

photo by Jim Surkamp /flickr
Kathleen Parker, South Carolina and writer for The Washington Post wrote a splendid column on this segment of our history. In her article she said that Robert E. Lee would have raised a toast to this historic occasion when the flag in South Carolina finally came down.

She writes that Lee opposed the building of memorials to Confederate soldiers, fearing they would stir more resentment and division. It was time for the healing to begin. Lee left orders that he did not want this flag displayed at his funeral.

Robert E. Lee was a great man. On that day at the Appomattox Court House  on April 9, 1865  Lee surrendered and the war was over . The two Generals, Lee and Grant sat across the table from each other. It must have been a hard day for Lee. He had said "I would rather die a thousand deaths than do what I have to do in this surrender". He and Grant both had lost so many lives. 5Over 620,000 men. But that day after they signed the surrender papers General Grant told Lee that his officers could keep their weapons and the horses they owned. No Confederates would be marched to prison camps but would be  allowed to go home. Lee said he had one request to add to Grant's generosity. He asked that not only his officers keep their own horses but all his soldiers who owned horses. He told Grant that it was time for Spring planting in the South and that without those horses plowing would be well-nigh impossible. Grant honored that request. Lee's men could keep their horses.

photo by Jim Surkamp / flickr
Charles Bracelen Flood* reports that as the signing was over and Lee had thanked Grant for his generosity--he mounted his horse, Traveler. Grant came on the porch and took his hat off and the Union officials who were there took off their hats as Lee rode by. Flood writes that one of the officers was heard to say, "This day will be remembered forever." Never again would Robert E. Lee allow an unkind word to be spoken of Grant until the day he died.

Last Saturday at the mall I saw a young man in a pick-up truck kept riding around and around in a circle with two Confederate flags flapping in the breeze. He even stopped once and made sure both flags were unfurled so everyone could see.

I wish he had known this wonderful story the writer, Flood gives us. On General Lee's first Sunday back home after the war he went to his Episcopal Church. At Communion time an unheard of event happened that day. A well-dressed black man got up out of his seat and went to kneel at the altar to receive the Communion elements. The attendees in Richmond that morning were in shock. The Rector was appalled. Black folk were consigned to the balcony could never take Communion until all the whites were served and returned to their seats. The tension must have been enormous. Robert Lee left his seat, moved down the aisle, knelt next to the black man and received the Bread and the common Cup. Only then did others make their way to the front.

Black folk in Charleston taught us much about forgiveness after their church was invaded and their members murdered by a white man weeks ago. A white man in Richmond acted out forgiveness as he walked down the church's aisle and knelt at the altar beside a man who had just been freed from slavery.

The flag has been a symbol of racism and hatred to our black brothers and sisters. Thank God South Carolina has done a fine thing. The American flag still waves over our capitol in Columbia symbol of more than our founders ever really dreamed: "liberty and justice for all." We still have a long way to go--but thank God for this event in our state's recent history.

*You might want to read a great book about Lee, Charles Bracelen Flood, Lee The Last Years ( Boston Houghton Mifflin Company, 1981)

photo by Tony Cyphert / flickr

--Roger Lovette /

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