By Brenda Zelaya
The recent shooting that took place at a church in Charleston, South Carolina has reopened the debate regarding the future of the Confederate battle flag. Photos of the suspect posing with the Confederate flag have ignited recent controversy on what the flag symbolizes.
“It’s not the flag. Every Confederate battle flag in the U.S. can be removed but it will not stop the violence,” said Calvin Hart, commander of the Kirby-Smith Camp #1209 Sons of Confederate Veterans. “It’s not the flag; it’s the evil man’s heart.”
As a Commander of the Kirby-Smith Camp #1209 and member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, Hart and the organization defends Confederate heritage and their ancestors who fought during the Civil War. This camp–located in Jacksonville–states that it wants to portray the positive patriotism its ancestors showed.
“Some disreputable groups have misused the Confederate flag, but we should not be responsible for their totally misguided activities,” said Hart. “The Sons of Confederate Veterans has repeatedly, and consistently, condemned the use of our flag to threaten or intimidate our fellow Americans.”
In Jacksonville, this camp works to restore the grave-sites of Confederate soldiers, replacing and renovating over 150 headstones to this end. Also, every month, the members receive speakers who give an educational speech that connects with their ancestors’ history.
“Our deepest sympathies and our most heartfelt prayers are with the victims and loved ones of these heinous acts of a deluded racist,” said Hart. “We at the S.C.V. have long detested the use of our forefathers’ symbols by racist groups and individuals. We consider it to be a cowardly desecration of our inheritance. Our ancestors fought for the South and of that we are not ashamed,” he said.
Florida State College at Jacksonville history professor Dr. Andrew Holt believes the Confederate flag should not be flying over government buildings–such as the one outside the Courthouse of South Carolina–and it should not be utilized as a public symbol. Holt believes the flag is linked to a history of support of slavery by the Confederate States of America, who seceded from the Union during the Civil War over economic and racial disputes.
Holt cited a speech named “Corner Stone” made by Alexander Stephens, the Vice-President of the Confederacy, to illustrate the intentions of the South at the time: “Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner-stone rests upon the great truth, that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery–subordination to the superior race–is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.”
After teaching and learning about the Confederate flag and its history for many years, Holt is very clear on his position. However, he doesn’t agree with the manner in which the supporters of this flag are being treated. According to Holt, many 21st century supporters of the Confederate flag experience a disconnect between the actual convictions of the Confederacy, and the image of Southern heritage that has grown over the last 150 years.
For 24-year-old FSCJ student Lauren Winters, the debate on whether the flag should be flying in courthouses arrived too late for the innocent lives lost in Charleston. “I think it would be ridiculous to take it away completely. I don’t believe it should be flown in courthouses. But it does have a place–it has a place in museums, it has a place in reenactments where the flag was used.” said Winters.
The tragedy in South Carolina has opened up renewed controversy concerning the Confederate flag and its suggested ties with racism. Some individuals and organizations, such as the Sons of the Confederate Veterans, defend the legacy and bravery of their ancestors, while others follow the historical evidence and words of those who gave birth to the Confederacy.
Feature image by Larry Darling