I’m a Southerner. Hopefully the wording on my great-grandfather’s tombstone picture is legible, because that’s part of my proof. It reads “Robert Lee McLeod,” and he was born in 1872 in a Southern mill town along the North Carolina-South Carolina border down east. When my father knew he didn’t have long, he asked my brothers and me to take him to visit this cemetery. His parents and grandparents were buried there, and I was somewhat startled when I saw the tombstone.
Born just seven years after the Civil War ended, that name was no coincidence. Since my mother’s and father’s families came across from Europe, everyone on both sides was born in the South. As a teen I took great pride in those roots, and some of my favorite childhood memories revolve around visiting my country relatives in the area around that cemetery. We would hunt, fish, eat huge early afternoon meals that always included wild game and some kind of ham product from the pigs in the backyard sty, fish in the Pee Dee River or its tributaries, and run around the woods that surrounded the homes we visited.
For most of my life, though, I’ve never understood the Southern heritage/Civil War thing. One’s family is who they are — something you understand more as those relatives start passing away — but there was never any link to the Civil War and the dead in my vision of “Southern-ness.” Despite that name on the tombstone, I embraced the heritage as an independent streak, homage to the land and an attitude that no one could make me do anything I didn’t want to.
Because of that, while growing up I didn’t understand how my Southern pride could be interpreted by anyone as racist, as a hateful reminder to African-Americans whose ancestors had been slaves for all those generations before the Civil War and whose grandparents and parents were denied basic human rights for all those generations after. I was blind to that side of the issue — or perhaps I just turned a blind eye to it.
What is most surprising — shocking, really — is that we are still fighting this war, or at least this flag battle. Courts, apparently, have given conflicting rulings on the flag issue that is now vexing Haywood commissioners, but for the most part I believe they have come down on the side of allowing it.
I consider myself progressive, which to me means adapting to new realities. If someone gets pissed off because a flag used by a country — the Confederacy — that wanted to keep people in slavery on public property offends them, then take it down and celebrate your heritage elsewhere. In this country no one can take away your heritage, and losing this battle is not the start down a slippery slope that will lead to that happening.
On the other hand, those who support displaying this flag at the courthouse are just regular people who have a connection with their past and a love of history that has nothing to do advocating racism. We’re talking law-abiding, good citizens, not white hoods and burning crosses.
Commissioners will follow the advice of their lawyers, which is all they can do. And another battle will be decided in the war that just won’t end in this part of the USA I call home.