The Rev. Al Sharpton is a darling of the national news media, primarily because he has a talent for making outrageous statements and the lack of scruples to go with it.
You should keep this in mind. In today’s media-saturated world, nobody can be a successful demagogue without the cooperation of the national news media. Sharpton has even outdone Jesse Jackson as a demagogue.
The latest example is the attention given to Sharpton’s demand that the vice president apologize for visiting a hunting camp where somebody had hung a Confederate battle flag on a door of one of the buildings. The vice president didn’t go into that building and says he did not see the flag. Sharpton’s logic apparently is that any person who finds himself in the vicinity of a Confederate battle flag has somehow insulted all African-Americans.
By that logic, then, Sharpton should apologize every time he visits the state of South Carolina, which still flies the Stars and Bars on the Capitol grounds — or Florida or almost any other state in the South where the flag is flown.
Flags are symbols, and I recognize that the meaning of a symbol is subjective. I also recognize that some — though far fewer than Sharpton would have you believe — African-Americans see the Confederate flag as a symbol of racism. Yahoos like the Ku Klux Klan used to wave it about — along with the American flag. If I were an African-American, I might not like it. If I were an American Indian, I might not like the Stars and Stripes. Some Jews don’t like the Christian cross. Some Christians don’t like the Star of David. Et cetera and so forth.
There is neither legal nor constitutional protection for one’s feelings. If something offends us, tough beans. In a sane and tolerant society, we would recognize that different symbols mean different things to different folks and not raise a stink about someone else’s symbol.
To most Southerners, the Confederate battle flag symbolizes the bravery and devotion to Southern independence shown by our ancestors, who, unlike most demagogues, put their bodies where their mouths were and died and bled for their cause. While slavery was one of the factors in the war, it was not the only one or the main one. Only 6 percent of white Southerners owned even one slave. The Confederate army was not an army of slave owners. In fact, the 1860 census shows about 3,500 free blacks who owned slaves in the South.
Slavery is not the issue. The Confederate battle flag has become a universal symbol of rebellion and independence. It showed up on the battlefields of World War II and on the Berlin Wall as it was being torn down. I frankly don’t give a darn whether Sharpton likes it or not. There is no law that says he has to like it. There is no law that says anyone who does like the flag has to apologize to anybody.
You should also note that this flap about the Confederate flag is a recent happening. Up through the 1950s, Americans of all colors showed respect for both flags. It was common at public concerts for bands to play both "Dixie" and "Battle Hymn of the Republic." The flap over the flag originated with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Like the old March of Dimes after the polio vaccine had solved the problem of polio, the NAACP had succeeded on every legal front and frankly no longer had a purpose.
The NAACP was hard up for a reason to stay in existence. It was having a hard time raising money. It had internal scandals. That’s when the NAACP decided to wage war on all things Confederate, and on the Confederate flag in particular. It is frankly stupid for any people to waste time arguing over a historic symbol. As for the veep, his hunting companions should thank God that it was only a flag he failed to see.
Charley Reese [send him mail] has been a journalist for 49 years.