The Morning They Drove Old Dixie Down

On the morning of July 10, 2015, by newly enacted law, the Confederate Flag will be permanently deleted as an active symbol upon the South Carolina State House grounds.

This 52-inch piece of fabric—the thing itself—will be retired to a cozy museum existence at the South Carolina Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum. If you had just spent five decades baking in the Palmetto State sun, you might yourself look forward to centuries of climate-controlled comfort. Trust me, Flag Lovers, your artefact won’t be complaining. Nor is it “obliterated,” as one social media commenter expressed to me. Seriously, its preservation is in good hands.

When the Confederate Flag and even the flagpole are symbolically execrated by the democratic will of all South Carolinians, a bloom will be plucked from the Flower of Hate.

Yet let there be no delusion: the full plant remains, with many sickly blossoms and rancorous roots that drive deep.

In short, our work has only yet begun.

And that’s the thing about Civilization. If there is an art to building humanity, it is more gardening than painting or sculpting or writing. And “building” isn’t quite the right word, either. More, “maintaining.”

Civilization doesn’t hold still. Civilization isn’t static, it’s organic. Civilization requires daily watering and the right bit of shade, a proper spreading of compost. Sometimes things pop up overnight that require back-bending weeding. At other times, we overlook a creeper that surreptitiously loops itself around some vital stalk and then requires delicate extraction.

One philosophically skewed lament I have heard from Confederate Flag advocates is that the elimination of the Confederate Flag as an active symbol will not altogether eradicate racism and hate from society—so why bother? Well, I hate to break it to these individuals, but no one expected the removal of the Confederate Flag to wipe out racism and bigotry.

It was just wholly incongruous to fly the flag of a failed slave republic in hood ornament fashion upon the grounds of a state government that, whether it likes it or not, bends its knee fully to Uncle Sam and gladly takes U.S. federal handouts whenever the need arises—except, of course, when it comes to expanded Medicaid ( #deathbygovernorstubbornness ).

Of course, it took this particular community 150 years and thousands of slaughtered minorities to figure that out. But South Carolina got there eventually.

At any rate, I think it’s a fairly safe bet to suggest that there will be more Confederate Flags on display in Columbia, South Carolina, on July 10 than have been since the day General Sherman came to town. And you know what? People throughout this fair capital city will have every right to fly their flags and show their asses. Just don’t expect your average progressive to tow you when Karma curses your fuel pump. And please at least have the integrity to admit thereafter that your precious symbol that you wore all over your body hasn’t been “obliterated.”

I wasn’t sure what words would throw themselves onto my screen tonight. Certainly no one is going to confuse this essay for the somber tone of my Fourth of July address that I presented on the South Carolina State House steps. If anything, they are the words of a spent human being.

I’m tired. I’ve been gardening all day, as it were, and I’m wiped. So are many of my neighbors. We just spent a full month wrestling a mega-weed. Then: Pop! “Heritage” to history. baby.

Again, you’ll forgive me for not offering the Confederate Flag a 21-gun salute.

The Confederate Flag was an offense to Civilization the day it first flew in the 19th century. It remains an offense to Civilization in the 21st century.

And I have no intention of being present to offer its removal any kind of dignified ceremony. I would sooner watch accountants bowl.

So there you go, Dixie. It’s been quite the ride. Just one more postscript for posterity’s sake.

I spent the night of July 8—the night the South Carolina House of Representatives debated the Take it Down Bill in marathon-like fashion into the wee small hours of July 9—just a few seats away from civil rights leader Jesse Jackson.

He and I and several others sat in the House gallery and watched history unfold—watched South Carolina State Representative Gilda Cobb-Hunter lift the chamber onto her shoulders in the darkest moments of that infinity debate and declare to her colleagues:

This is a seminal moment in our history. This is not a joke … Who on earth would want to come to a state with us in charge?

You may not be aware of this, but Jackson was born and reared in the South Carolina Upstate, from where, by the way, nearly all of the Pro-Flag Legislators hail.

Jackson was born in 1941. He was 21 when, in 1962, the Confederate Flag was raised atop the South Carolina State House grounds. By then, of course, Jackson was well aware of the “black man’s place” in South Carolina and nearly everywhere else across the Fruited Plain.

Six years later, Jackson stood on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel. You know the rest of that story.

I have a feeling that Jesse Jackson and Gilda Cobb-Hunter and James Clyburn and John Lewis and Clementa Pinckney (God rest his soul) and so many other great African-American leaders understand my Civilization is a Garden metaphor a hell of a lot more than I do.

I’m sure they also understand much better than I do that the permanent retirement of the Confederate Flag is just a beginning—or perhaps a continuation.

That night, Jesse Jackson, a native South Carolinian, sat in the balcony and watched the only African-American female member of the South Carolina House of Representatives castigate that body for its white-privilege childlike temper tantrum.

Personally, I can’t think of any better way for that despicable symbol to finally meet its formal active end.

Dixie: good riddance.

All right, time for bed. Tomorrow we awaken and weed some more.

Arik Bjorn

Arik Bjorn lives in Columbia, South Carolina. He was the Democratic Party / Green Party fusion candidate for U.S. Congress in the 2nd Congressional District of South Carolina. Visit the archive for Arik’s campaign website, and check out his latest book, So I Ran for Congress. You can also follow his political activities on Twitter @Bjorn2RunSC and on Facebook. And be sure to check out more from Arik in his archives!


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