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Funerals begin Thursday for the nine parishioners shot to death in an historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina last week. Reaction to the alleged shooter’s racially-motivated crime has set off a nationwide movement to strip the confederate flag from our public spaces and stores. Lawmakers from both parties have shown support for action in South Carolina, Virginia, Mississippi and beyond. Major retailers like Wal-Mart and Amazon have also jumped aboard, halting the sale of confederate flag-related merchandise. But what the flag represents remains a highly divisive issue among many Americans, some of whom say it’s a symbol of heritage, not hate. We look at the history and modern-day role of the Confederate flag.
- Adam Goodheart Director of Washington College’s C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience and author of "1861: The Civil War Awakening."
- Isabel Wilkerson Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author of "The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration."
- Yoni Applebaum Senior editor at The Atlantic.
- Robert Hicks Community preservationist and author of "The Widow of the South" and "A Separate Country."
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Calls to remove symbols of the Confederacy have swept across the nation this week, from state houses to the aisles of Wal-mart. The wave came after nine people were shot to death in an historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina. But for many, action against public displays of the Confederate flag is long overdue.
MS. DIANE REHMHere to discuss the past, present and future of the Confederate flag, Adam Goodheart of Washington College and Yoni Applebaum of The Atlantic. From the studios of WABE in Atlanta, Georgia, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author, Isabel Wilkerson and on the line from Franklin, Tennessee, community preservationist and author, Robert Hicks.
MS. DIANE REHMAnd throughout the hour, we'll take your calls, 800-433-8850. Send an email to email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. I realize how sensitive a subject this is for many, but I welcome you all here today. Thank you.
MR. YONI APPLEBAUMGood to be here.
MR. ADAM GOODHEARTIt's nice to be with you.
MS. ISABEL WILKERSONThank you.
MR. ROBERT HICKSGood to be here with you.
REHMAnd Adam Goodheart, I'll start with you. Give us a brief history of this Confederate flag.
GOODHEARTWell, I think, first of all, whatever side you're on, you have to admit it's one of the most brilliant and recognizable pieces of graphic design every created in America. I mean, it's sort of up there with the Nike swoosh and the McDonald's golden arches. But, of course, it has a much more complicated and difficult history than those symbols. The way it came into being, I think, a lot of people don't know. It's actually the second Confederate flag.
GOODHEARTThe first flag was a banner with broad red and white stripes and a circle of stars on a blue field that looked a lot like the American flag, 'cause these seceding confederates weren't quite ready to give up that legacy of the American revolution that their parents and grandparents had fought in. But very quickly, once they started fighting the major battles, they realized there was a problem with that and the problem was that in the roiling smoke of the Civil War battlefield, commanders sometimes couldn't tell what regiment was coming, marching up towards their right flank.
GOODHEARTSo pretty quickly, they went back to the drawing board and tried to come up with something that was very distinctive and that's really how you get that iconic blue cross, blue diagonal cross on a red field with white stars.
REHMWasn't there, at one time, a cross that looked like a Christian cross?
GOODHEARTThere was and actually, amazingly, that was really the first debate over sensitivity and inclusivity with the Confederate flag because when that preliminary design was rolled out, a Jewish confederate wrote to the designer and said, well, I and my fellow southern Jews who are fighting for the confederacy won't really want to go into battle under a Christian flag and the designer actually said, well, that's a good point, and he redesigned it and made it that St. Andrew's X flag that we know.
REHMInteresting. Adam Goodheart is director of Washington College's Center for the Study of the American Experience. Yoni Applebaum, give us a roundup of who has acted this week to remove the flag from public space and retail stores.
APPLEBAUMWell, it's been a remarkable week. Like a lot of social change, it's unfolded over decades of activism and then, suddenly, all at once, we've seen governors of five of the eight states that feature the Confederate battle flag on their license plates move or come out with public declarations in support of taking it off of their state's license plates. In Alabama, Governor Robert Bentley woke up yesterday morning and quietly ordered the flag taken down, all four Confederate flags surrounding the war memorial on the grounds of the capital.
APPLEBAUMMississippi, which is the last state to incorporate the battle flag directly into its own state flag, has seen a wave of support for taking it out, both the leader of the House and the Senate in Mississippi, the governor, the state senators have all called to remove it from the state flag. And, of course, in South Carolina, kicking us off on Monday, we saw Governor Nikki Haley stand there with the state's two senators and call for the legislature to act this summer to take the flag down off of the capital grounds.
REHMSo what about stores like Wal-mart?
APPLEBAUMWell, that, in some ways, has been the swiftest and most remarkable change. This was ubiquitously available emblazoned on merchandise of all kinds, from cigarette lighters to string bikinis just a week ago. Now, Amazon, EBay, Sears and Wal-Mart have all pulled all merchandise emblazoned with the Confederate flag from their shelves and out of their warehouses.
REHMYoni Applebaum is senior editor at The Atlantic. Turning to you, Isabel Wilkerson, why do you think it took the Charleston tragedy to set off this wave of action?
WILKERSONWell, this really feels like a karmic moment in our country. You know, we have spent the last four years commemorating the sesquicentennial of the Civil War so throughout the South, in many circles, there's been a marking of various moments in the Civil War history, from the secession of South Carolina, which was the first state to secede from the Union, on through just in April, the commemoration of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.
WILKERSONSo we have actually been steeped in reminders of our history. And then, you think about this massacre that occurred also on the eve of Juneteenth, which is a sacred and important date for many African Americans and in the history of this war and of our country. It was when the last enslaved people were set free, notably two and a half years after the emancipation proclamation and months after the end of the war.
WILKERSONSo this history has been all around us. In addition, in the last 18 months, we have been subjected to or have been witnessing the month after month of major examples, often recorded, of African Americans being beaten and shot and killed by -- at the hands of police officers. We have seen protests around the country raising the attention on these issues. And so, at this moment, coming together, it seems as if we are witnessing history ourselves and this history is inescapable.
REHMAnd I do want to take a moment to announce Supreme Court in a 6 to 3 decision affirms the constitutionality of state-based healthcare exchanges' subsidies. Chief Justice Roberts affirms. And I thought you would all like to know that. We will be talking about that decision in our next hour. And that was the voice Isabel Wilkerson, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author of "The Warmth of Other Suns," the epic story of America's great migration.
REHMRobert Hicks, to what extent does the Confederate symbolism figure into the southern landscape?
HICKSWell, it's very much part of it. I mean, it's been here. It shows back up very quickly after the war and it has been here for many years. And you have these different levels. You have the basically those people who were true soldier veterans and sons who wanted to remember and then you have something happen in the 1950s, as the world started changing for the South. You have this flag's popping up in all sorts of places as really a statement of, no, we won't ever accept integration. No, we won't ever accept this changing world.
HICKSAnd so I always see it as two very different things. The flag that flew atop the capital building in Columbia, the flag that shows up originally in Georgia's state flag or in Mississippi's is clearly about something that had very, very little to do with those people who fought and died in the South. It had something to do with a very present world that they wanted to hold onto. And so I always differentiate between those.
HICKSWhen you have a public space like the capital grounds or like a state flag and you're asking all the citizens to live under this, it's -- there is something very, to me, wrong with that.
REHMRobert Hicks, he is -- pardon me -- community preservationist and author of "The Window of the South and a Separate Country." You're invited to join us in this discussion. I'm interested, Adam Goodheart, in what you make of Robert Hicks comments.
GOODHEARTWell, I agree with much of what Robert has to say. I think the Confederate flag was really a battle flag in two wars, the 19th century war between the Union and Confederacy and 20th century war over integration and civil rights. But I also think that these wars are very deeply connected to each other and in many ways, they were wars that were upholding the same cause, that Confederate flag stands for, in the 19th century, slavery and white supremacy, and in the 20th century, perhaps not slavery, but certainly white supremacy.
REHMAdam Goodheart of Washington College. Short break here and we'll try to take as many of your calls as we can. Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back. We're talking about the Confederate flag and the speed at which people seem to be moving not only to take it down from some public places but also to withdraw its sale from places like Amazon, Wal-Mart, eBay. And Yoni Applebaum, I'm wondering about the speed of which all this has happened. What do you make of it?
APPLEBAUMWell, I don't think anyone would have predicted it, even a short time ago. But part of what we're seeing here is a generational shift. There were decades of activism that chipped away at the foundations here. And so when the final blow came, it's topped relatively quickly. This was a symbol revived in 1948 by the Dixiecrats and their revolt against Harry Truman's efforts to integrate the armed forces and pushing anti-lynching legislation and then spread throughout the South as the South swung away from the Democratic Party toward the Republican Party. And so it became a political symbol -- a symbol of support, first, for segregation and then of opposition to Civil Rights legislation.
APPLEBAUMAnd what we see now is an effort, led by Southerners, led by leaders of the Republican Party in the South and state Houses throughout the South, to disassociate the modern-day Republican Party from this particular emblem. And that's a generational change that's enabled by the fact that the leaders in those state Houses are not the generation that revived it and brought it back.
REHMInteresting. Adam Goodheart.
GOODHEARTWell, I think that it does stand for segregation. It does stand, as I said a moment ago, for white supremacy. But I think that, over the past couple of decades, it's come to stand for a big mass of other things too. It stands for rural identity. It stands for a sort of a reaction to all kinds of things like multi-culturalism, secularism, gay marriage -- all this stuff that sort of feels like it's threatening a way -- a certain way of life in America, almost like a symbol of a pre-modern America. And I think many of the people who identify with these causes feel like they're under attack on many fronts. And so this flag that was a symbol of being under attack in the 19th century becomes a symbol of being under attack today.
GOODHEARTAnd this onslaught from a lot of other Americans who feel differently almost makes them cling to it more.
REHMRobert Hicks, do you want to comment?
HICKSSure. I think we also just have to add regionalism. I mean, as I've talked to people over the last few days, a lot of people have been very unhappy with some posts I've made about the -- my belief that it needs to be furled and put away. But as I have talked to people, I've been reminded that there are a lot of people out there who are not racists, who are not -- who are well integrated in their life and their -- and who they date and marry and everything else, and yet they have a strong regional view. And so -- but I agree with everything else.
HICKSI mean, of course, there is -- the flag became, as Shelby Foote, himself, told me personally, it was lost. You know, he said we should have snatched it out of their hands when people of ill-will started waving it to say this is what they want. Now Adam would disagree with this. But the truth is, is that that, as Southerners, is how we felt. We did feel that the flag at some point represented something more, for some of us, than -- and I would go back generations on this -- then for some of us more than just, you know, hatred of African-Americans and it represented, you know, some kind of history.
HICKSNow, I do not use the word heritage because I think it's become so watered down it means nothing. But I think that all of a sudden this other group, which was always there, Adam's right, from the very beginning all the way through the war, from the first speech of Jefferson Davis on, this group that was about slavery grabbed the flag and we let them have it. And so, you know, we've really lost any kind of right to say, "Yes, we should have this flag in a public place" or something like that.
REHMSo, Robert Hicks, how do you believe that those people who had felt -- as Jefferson Davis did -- that the flag represents a separateness are going to feel about losing that demonstration -- that public demonstration of the flag of the Confederacy?
HICKSI think they're -- they're going to be angry. And I -- and that's probably the process that we have been going through for the last 40 or 50 years. They have seen their concept of the world slipping away -- their idea of what the South should be, their idea of how the world should operate slipping away. And now this -- over the last week, we've had this giant step forward, where people who were defending the flat -- what, two weeks ago -- are now saying, "No, it needs to be removed from public places." So I don't think these people are going to -- are happy or are going to be happy. I was basically told on Facebook this morning, you know, I should stop talking about this. So maybe, like, if we all stop talking about it, the whole thing will go away and we can go back to the old days.
REHMIsabel Wilkerson, is it time to stop talking about it? Or how important do you think it is to take it down?
WILKERSONNo. This is a central part of our country's history. And it belongs in -- it belongs in a museum. It belongs in our consciousness, because we need to know our country's history and how we came to be. It's important to note, though, that it would have greater meaning if the people who raised this flag are the ones who take it down. I think it's so important to recognize that that South Carolina Senate that had, you know, long resisted removing this flag voted overwhelmingly to take up this issue in a procedural vote earlier this week. But in doing so, they were, in some ways, honoring a fallen member. When we think about this massacre, it was a massacre of staggering proportions. But it was also an assassination of a state official.
WILKERSONAnd this South Carolina Senate was, in some ways, responding to what had happened to a fallen member. And in this -- in that moment, we can learn so much about what it takes to bridge these divides and to recognize what it takes for harmony and a potential unity to come forward. And that is that these people were touched, I would have to believe, personally by this loss. And this means that healing and reconciliation really is partly dependent upon people in the majority feeling some direct connection, some of this pain that African-Americans and people of minority have been describing and talking about all along.
REHMAdam, how ubiquitous is Confederate symbolism across the country?
GOODHEARTWell, it's one of those things that, when you start looking for it, you see it everywhere. I live just about an hour from Washington, out in Maryland, which of course was both a slave state and a Union state during the Civil War. And many Saturday mornings in my small town I'm woken up by the sound of a pick-up truck driving past and playing Dixie on the horn with a big Confederate flag flying from it. Not too long ago, I went to the Acme Supermarket up the street and the young man who was a cashier was wearing a giant Confederate flag belt buckle. Well, I tried to start a little argument with him over history in the checkout line and I think the people behind me just really wanted me to move on and take my ice cream and go home.
GOODHEARTBut what he started to say was, "This is a symbol of my ancestors who fought in the war. And what I said to him is, "You know, I know a lot of German people who manage to honor their parents and grandparents who fell, fighting in the German Army in World War II, without flying a swastika.
REHMNow, the other point here is that people can personally continue to demonstrate their love of the Confederate flag, can they not? We're talking about only public spaces.
APPLEBAUMWell, that's right. For now, the debate has centered on public displays of this flag on state property, on state grounds. It's shifting already to include, for example, a bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest that is in the Tennessee capitol. The Tennessee officials have now called to its removal. It's shifting to talk about things like Robert E. Lee Park in Baltimore, Md., where both the city and county are moving to change its name. So we'll see this widen out from the flag. And that speaks, I think, to a broader cultural shift. Although the specific targets right now are public displays of flags and statements of the government. There's no question that people are rethinking what their friends and neighbors will make of their display this kind of symbol.
APPLEBAUMThere was a remarkable anecdote in the Times the other day of a gentleman who decided to have his Confederate flat tattoo removed because he was concerned about the pain that it summoned in those who saw it. So we are seeing a broader cultural shift. It's not a coercive shift but it is nevertheless very real.
REHMRobert Hicks, what do you expect in the way of personal showings of some symbol of the Confederate flag?
HICKSWell, for every tattoo that's removed, I think we're going to see, like, 14 show up. I mean, it's -- regretfully, I think we're going to see a lot of knee-jerk reaction. We're going to see -- I'm going to be driving down the road now and having to see huge Confederate flags sitting in, you know, flying in front of houses or people, you know, high school kids having it on the back of their pick-up truck. But that's their right. And that's private property. And I, you know, I'm -- I kind of stand by the Bill of Rights. I don't do it. It's not what I want.
HICKSI don't think it really represents our history. It doesn't represent, to me, when I see some kid waving a giant beach-towel size Confederate flag, it doesn't seem to be the same flag that was flying over those troops. So, you know, but we will see it. I think we're going to see a lot of it.
REHMBut, Robert, how would you feel about the same symbolic demonstration of a swastika?
HICKSWow. I don't care for that. And when I see it and when, you know, when you see some motorcyclist and he has, like, swastikas on him, I look at it and I'm very uncomfortable with that, you know? And I understand -- I genuinely understand what it must be like for African-Americans to see that flag flying. So -- but I think, it's clear, it has to go from these kind of public places. That's -- I think, that's the first step. Whether people decide they want to fly it in front of their trailer, that's another thing.
REHMIsabel Wilkerson, how will it affect you and other African-Americans to see the Confederate flying in front of people's homes or on motorcycles or wherever?
WILKERSONWell, for African-Americans, it is a symbol of terror. And what I would love to see is for people in our country to really know the history beneath that symbol, to recognize that for much of the 20th century, every four days an African-American was lynched for some perceived breach of the caste system that this -- that this flag represented. So this is a matter of deep wounds and fears and sadness and heartbreak for African-Americans. And it is truly a symbol of terror for African-Americans.
REHMIsabel Wilkerson. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." I'm going to open the phones now. We'll hear what listeners have to say. First, let's go to Katie in Miami, Fla. You're on the air.
KATIEI just wanted to say, aren't we kind of -- shouldn't we be talking about gun control as opposed to getting rid of a flag? Would getting rid of the Confederate flag stop future hate crimes?
APPLEBAUMWell, I don't think those two things are necessarily mutually exclusive. I think there's tremendous value to symbols. That's certainly been the case for advocates and defenders of the Confederate flag who have recognized the power of its display in public spaces. I don't think that having this conversation necessarily needs to distract from the other. We can have, I hope, both conversations simultaneously.
REHMAll right. To Bill in Dallas, Texas. You're on the air.
BILLThanks very much, Diane. I think you and one of the panelists touched on one aspect of what I was going to say. There's a difference between remembering our history and honoring it or venerating it. And whether you talk in terms of heritage or history, when it's in a public place, when it's honored, that's a very different issue. And, you know, you mentioned, how would people feel about seeing the swastika in Germany. If -- in Germany, right now, you don't see in public places statues of Hitler or the swastika because it's remembered, it's taught, it's a history. But it's not something that should be honored or venerated. And that's what's being done, in people's minds, with the flag.
BILLAnd then all of the panelists have touched on what the flag has represented, but that is really what it represents in the minds of the public or what it's really -- even what it stood for, in its time. It might have represented soldiers fighting for the South but there was a principle they were fighting for, which is wrong.
REHMAll right. Thanks for your call. And here's an email from Patrick in South Carolina, who says, "I was born and raised in South Carolina. I have ancestors who fought for the Confederacy. I think the proper way to honor their memory is to learn from their mistakes. Taking down the flag is long overdue." Do you agree, Robert Hicks?
HICKSI do. I'm absolutely -- believe that that's the right part of it. We -- the Confederacy is gone. The Confederacy ended in 1865. And for people who often tell me, "Well, that's my nation" or "That's my flag," I'm very curious. I mean, you know, what does that -- how does that reflect on their belief in the American system or the American flag? And so, you know, yes, I absolutely think that there's a lot to learn from our history. I think that the Civil War is really probably the high point of significance in creating the American century. But, you know, it is something we can learn from. It's not something we need to live in.
REHMAll right. And, Isabel, here's a Tweet from Kelly. "Does your panel think this removal of Confederate flags makes African-Americans feel safer?"
WILKERSONI would say that it -- that this is long-overdue, moving into the 20th century. In other words, let's move into the 21st century and put this where it belongs, in a museum. But coming to grips with this challenge means more than just taking down the flag. It means dealing with the underlying assumptions, stereotypes, intolerance, hate and ignorance that made this flag possible. And that means that we -- that this is just the beginning or a continuation of an effort to make this a fair and more equal country.
REHMIsabel Wilkerson, Pulitzer Price-winning journalist. Short break here. We'll be right back.
REHMAnd welcome back. We'll go right back to the phones, to Gene in Syracuse, New York. You're on the air.
GENEThank you for taking my call, Diane.
GENEI do have a suggestion. I'm a military-trained psychiatrist and Navy officer, worked in the VA for decades, and I still work with military families. I have a suggestion for the flag that's flown at Charleston, the Stars and Bars. Take that flag down, bring it down to -- at Columbia, rather, where it's flown, take it down to Charleston, raise it with ritual and ceremony over one of the Confederate cemeteries. They're all soldiers. They died under that banner, and they didn't die for a flag or slavery or anything else. They died for the members of the squad. The Civil War started in Charleston. Let it end in Charleston.
REHMWhat do you think of that, Adam Goodheart?
GOODHEARTWell, I think it's oversimplifying to say that they didn't die for slavery and white supremacy. I mean, we know, and I'm sure our caller as a military psychiatrist knows, that there are as many reasons for going to war almost as there are soldiers, and just because George W. Bush called the invasion of Iraq a war on terror doesn't mean that's the reason every soldier was in Baghdad.
GOODHEARTBut I do think that when you look at the leadership of the Confederacy, time and again they said that this was a war over white supremacy. You know, Jefferson David, these people all made public statements about why they were withdrawing from the Union, and Jefferson Davis stood up in the U.S. Senate, and when he resigned his seat, he said that he was standing up against the idea that Jefferson, his namesake, had written that all men are created equal.
GOODHEARTAnd you simply can't say that this is a symbol of heroism without also recognizing that history.
REHMAll right, to Diane in Hyattsville, Maryland. Hi there.
DIANEHi, Diane. I just want to make a comment to everybody, and this may sound a bit naïve, but, you know, I certainly remember my history, and my understanding of it was just all the flags and all the uniforms and the relics that went with it, all that was just part of your history. You didn't bring it into modern times and try to revive it. I agree with everybody saying that stuff should all stay in the museum, and part of our history books. That's what Hitler did. Hitler went into the past, and he got things from the past and brought it into his regime, and this is kind of like what other people are doing here.
DIANEIf we want our humanity to go forward into modern times, we need to leave things and their history where they belong and not pull them into the future because...
REHMWhat do you think of that, Yoni?
APPLEBAUMWell, I can certainly get onboard of the notion of the importance of history and understanding our past. One of the difficulties in this conversation is that although the Confederate Army surrendered in 1865, that was a struggle which continued on through Reconstruction, through Jim Crow, through the civil rights movement and right down to the present day. And so there's a reason that these symbols continue to be displayed. They mark an ongoing conflict, one which has changed, evolved through time, and I think many people in the South and throughout the country would be only all too happy to have those conflicts become a thing of the past. But perhaps we're not quite there yet.
REHMHere's an email from Alex in Beltsville, Maryland, who says this flag did not cause Dylann to commit the act he did. Sure he used it as a symbol, as so many hate groups have done before, but the real issue is that there remains systemic racism in our country. Isabel Wilkerson?
WILKERSONWell, I would have to agree and say that it's easier to condemn these overt displays of hate. I mean, clearly this was a spectacular of old-school racism. And it is harder to confront the invisible infrastructure of caste and privilege, the hierarchy that we still live with that values some lives over others, the assumptions and stereotypes that continue to dehumanize and marginalize African-Americans in every sphere of everyday life.
WILKERSONSo the disparities that we see today are the residue, the continuing examples of what African-Americans have been dealing with for generations. And so it is very true that we must push past just -- not get distracted by merely the flag and the symbol of subjugation that it represents but to look at the larger society that we live in and to try to become a fairer and more just society.
REHMAll right, to Philip in Virginia Beach, Virginia. You're on the air.
PHILIPHi, Diane, thanks for taking my call.
PHILIPI was wondering if any of your guests could connect this recent abrupt removal of the flag from public space with recent difficulties the Republican Party has had with reaching out to younger voters and also whether or not any of these Republican states people who are leading the efforts to remove the flag risk alienating their traditional base.
APPLEBAUMWell, for a long time that was the bind in which Republican officials in the South found themselves. One way to read the rapidity of the shift is that many of these elected officials had, for a long time, wished to disassociate themselves from the symbol and felt that politically they lacked the freedom to do so and so gained that freedom in the last week, as the public conversation has shifted.
APPLEBAUMBut at the same time, I think that there's clearly an effort here to disassociate the Republican Party from these symbols. I don’t think that either Nikki Haley or Bob Corker are surrendering an inch in their pride as Southerners, nor are they giving on policy grounds. They're simply trying to make a sharp distinction between the things that the Confederate flag has represented historically through time and what they stand for politically today.
REHMAnd Robert Hicks, why do you see the preservation of these Confederate symbols as being so important. And do you think there is a way to preserve them without offending?
HICKSSure, I absolutely do. I have to believe there is. I am not -- I don't support the idea of taking the Confederate monument out of the square in Franklin, Tennessee, where I live. But I think we have to move on. And the flag is just such a clear, problematic thing. It was used, it was waved, it was handled by people who were jeering against what was happening, against fairness toward all people. And so, you know, it is great to have it in museums. It is great to tell the story of the Civil War. This is an incredibly important moment in our history.
HICKSAnd, you know, but to put it in a public place, to put it on the state grounds or in your own state flag, I mean, there -- we have to get beyond that. And so I'm very, very supportive of the idea of removing it from places where it so blatantly was put to speak about segregation.
REHMBut, Isabel Wilkerson, what about the parks? What about the statues? What about the other symbols of the Confederacy that are around the country?
WILKERSONWell, again as it's been mentioned, these are ways of in some ways celebrating the subjugation of African-Americans, of a huge population, a huge segment of the South. I mean, we sometimes forget that African-Americans are Southern, too. The South does not just include white Southerners. It is a very large region, and African-Americans are Southern, too. And, you know, there are many other ways to celebrate and recognize Southern identity than to celebrate a bruising war in this way.
WILKERSONI mean, there's the landscape of the South. There's the literacy of Faulkner and Welty and Richard Wright. There's the oft-touted Southern hospitality. And one would hope, you know, a new legacy that could be created of enlightening the country on issues of race and justice, which this moment gives the South the opportunity to do so.
GOODHEARTWell, can I just make a point? When we're talking about symbolism, I do think it's important to remember that in that picture that's become so famous of Dylann Roof holding the Confederate flag in one hand, he's holding a gun in the other. And I'll make a point that may seem a little bit cynical here, which is that I think a lot of people have maybe chosen to focus on the Confederate flag because that seems like the more winnable battle.
GOODHEARTYou know, we found out after Newtown, which a lot of people who oppose the sort of extremist gun movement in America, thought that was going to be a moment of defeat and turning the tide for the gun battle, and it ultimately wasn't. And so I wonder if people are maybe even focusing a little bit on the flag now because they're reluctant to go charging into the other fight. Again, I think it's very important for us to remember to fight that fight, as well.
APPLEBAUMWell, that may be the case, but this is certainly a battle over the Confederate flag, which has waged in the South for as long as it has been flown there, and that has not been an easy struggle for the activists. There has been a slow accrual of change through the decades, education, spreading knowledge of what the flag had stood for, why it was revived, and we're seeing the culmination of that now. So it seems to have been a relatively easy fight, going for the low-hanging fruit here, may in fact merely be testament to the fact that activists have targeted the Confederate flag and worked successful to build a coalition behind its removal in a way that gun-control advocates have not.
REHMAll right, to Josh in Charlotte, North Carolina. You're on the air.
JOSHYes, hello, thank you for taking my call.
JOSHI love your show. I listen every chance I get.
JOSHI just wanted to make a comment about the correlation between the Confederate flag and the Nazi swastika. My father's whole family is Jewish, and I actually have, you know, family members that were put to death in the Holocaust. And so naturally, a swastika is something that I don't personally want to see. It's something that is upsetting to me. However, being that we live in the United States of America, I do feel we all have a right for free speech. So if you want a tattoo of that or the Confederate flag, you want a T-shirt, you want to fly a flag in your front yard, I believe you should be allowed to do so.
JOSHHowever, the government should not endorse either -- anything that's so divisive and inspires such hatred, and it should not be on any public grounds, any government buildings. You know, we need to not endorse something that's going to really, you know, separate us.
GOODHEARTI think that -- I don't think that very many people who are opposing the Confederate flag right now are calling for its outright ban, as in fact the swastika is banned in Germany. And I think I'm personally glad that the Confederate flag is not banned here because it gives an opportunity for debates, for conversations, for people to engage and hear each other's voices, for African-Americans to hear white Southern conservatives and vice versa.
GOODHEARTI think that as we have these debates, which I hope will happen community by community, wherever the flag is flown, that we'll also be able to listen to each other better. And I hope the debates will continue.
REHMAll right, let's hear another view on that from Cece (PH) in Putnam, Michigan. You're on the air.
CECEHi, so I just want to say, as somebody who's actually African-American and Jewish, that if I see these symbols, that they actually scare me. I moved from Texas up to Michigan, and I see more Confederate flags up here. I live out in the country. And when I see these things over in a business, or if I see somebody have it on their car, if I see somebody with a T-shirt, then I don't want to approach that person. If my car broke down, I wouldn't want it near any of these houses.
CECESo before people rush to get these tattoos or fly these flags in protest, please really think about what you're doing and how it's going to make other people feel. I do agree that people should have that freedom, but try and realize that it hurts people, and especially as a woman, it really scares me to be around this.
REHMAll right, thanks for your comments. And you're listening to the Diane Rehm Show. What do you think about that, Yoni?
APPLEBAUMWell, this is a flag that, when it was raised in South Carolina in 1860, when South Carolina succeeds, 58 percent of the residents of South Carolina are black. So from its inception in South Carolina, this is a flag of a white minority ruling over a black majority. When I hear people make the argument that this is the heritage of South Carolina that requires writing out the majority of South Carolinians in 1860. And I think that it's a natural reaction that African-Americans and others have, throughout the country when they encounter this, they don't know what the motive of the person displaying the flag is, but they do know its history, and since they can't know that motive, the caution is necessary, the fear is almost inevitable, and that among other things is something that has to factor into this debate.
REHMRobert Hicks, what do you think? What's your reaction when you hear a comment like Cece's?
HICKSI had someone say it to me two days ago at lunch. A friend of mine, Robin Davis (PH), who is a mixed-race woman, said, you know, she was walking down the street, and some kid in a big, you know, built-up pickup truck with a giant Confederate flag came by, and she has fear. So, you know, I do believe in people's rights and private property rights, and I really do. I think that they have to be honored.
HICKSBut at the same time, I think we need to learn how to live in a world where what we're doing is not out there to hurt people. And we need to understand that. I think a lot of the people who are flying these flags and who are so much in love with the flag don't understand the pain that it causes African-Americans.
REHMAnd finally a tweet from Todd, who says removing the flag is a symbolic gesture prompted by a degree of political expediency. How do we continue the dialogue once it's gone? Adam?
GOODHEARTWell, I think that everywhere that there is a flag, whether it flies over a monument, a Confederate cemetery or obviously places like the state house, or if it's simply a bumper sticker on someone's pickup truck or a belt buckle that you see on someone, I think that clearly we have to be rational about not putting ourselves in harm's way but confront those people, have those discussions and bring in voices like the ones we've been hearing of African-Americans who can speak eloquently about what it means to them.
REHMAnd finally to you, Isabel Wilkerson, what's your final comment?
WILKERSONWell, I believe sadly we are seeing that the Civil War has had very long arms and now -- may now just be coming to an end. And I would hope that we would recognize that this is not just a problem of the South. We've seen the tensions and the protests all over the country over police brutality, and we recognize -- we should recognize that this is not just about the North and the South. This is basically an American problem, and it takes all of us to recognize it.
REHMIndeed. Isabel Wilkerson, Robert Hicks, Yoni Applebaum and Adam Goodheart, thank you all so much.
REHMGood to join you.
HICKSGood to be here.
REHMAnd thanks, all, for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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