Thoughts on the Confederate Flag

Confed Flag

I was born in Georgia, which, for those born abroad or on Mars, was at one time part of the Confederate States of America. I had relatives on both my father’s and mother’s side of the family who fought for the CSA, and in fact, my mother’s grandmother’s uncle died in the war. But we never owned slaves, and no one in our family ever talked about the war being about anything other than defending our home.

Growing up less than a hundred years after “Reconstruction,” there was still quite a bit of attention given in my home town to this period in our history. In fact, playing in the woods behind our home, we came across wide ditches, which we found out later were entrenchments.

Now, it’s not like my family were living in some Olde South bastion, where we recalled the grand old days. It’s just that this was our heritage, and we thought about it, and talked about it. And some time growing up I acquired a Confederate Battle Flag. It wasn’t any symbol of defiance as I remember, I just got one.

It wasn’t a big deal.

Soon, I was studying chemical engineering at Georgia Tech, and I took the opportunity to join the Co-op Program, which allowed me to essentially work as a full time engineer every other quarter, then come back and study. My engineering job was at an oil refinery in Kentucky, and I spent 6 months a year away from home. Now, despite the southern heritage of our neighbors in Kentucky, there were not many Southerners participating in the Co-op Program, and to show my Southern ass heritage, I took to flying the Battle Flag draped over the curtains in my bedroom in the apartment where I stayed. The Yankees from Purdue and Michigan State and Ohio State all gave me hell for it, and I strutted even more my Southern Pride.

Then, one quarter, a strange thing happened. I had a black roommate, from nearby in West Virginia.

Soon he and I became friends, and we shared our faith, and he shared some really good food that his Mom would send back with him after a weekend at home.

But after a few weeks, he came to me one afternoon, and asked me why I had the flag in my bedroom. I told him, honestly, that I had it for a while, and that I displayed it mostly to confound the Yankees in the other apartments.

Then he, quietly, told me about what it meant to him. Segregation. Hate. Violence. He told me about growing up black, and how he knew what it meant to certain whites, who meant him and his family harm. He told me, too, that he suspected that I had it just because, and not as any symbol of hatred, because I never showed him anything other than respect and friendship. But, he still got those feelings every time he saw it in my room, and he felt he needed to tell me.

To be honest, I had heard that before, but to hear it first hand, from someone I knew, was different.

Jesus taught that we are to love one another as He loved us. And He taught us that, if our hand causes us to stumble, or to be an offense, then we are better off to cut it off, than to risk the offense.

So, I took down the Battle Flag, and I have never flown it again.

Where Were You?

US Army Photograph

When I was a very young boy, we lived a couple of blocks from my grandparents, and my parents would take advantage of that as often as they could. For sure, this meant that I spent Sunday mornings with my Grandmother, while my folks went to church. I liked that a lot, since I was the only grandchild, and I was treated well, as you would expect.

I remember I really enjoyed watching cartoons on Sunday mornings, Popeye in particular, the old Max Fleischer classics, in black and white. At least, I remember them in black and white, probably because the TV was black and white.

One Sunday morning, my routine changed. Instead of my cartoons, there was something else on TV. In fact, it was on all 3 channels.

There was some kind of military parade going on, but there was no music. Everyone was quiet.

I distinctly remember one big black horse with no rider. Boots were in his stirrups, and they were in backward.

I didn’t know why my cartoons weren’t on. My Grandmother came in, and she looked at the TV, and started to cry. This made me cry, too.


This is my earliest memory. It was Sunday, November 24, 1963, and an honor guard was moving the body of President John F. Kennedy from the White House to the US Capitol, to lie in state, following his assassination on November 22. I was 2 years and 8 months old.

For years, I thought this memory was of President Kennedy’s funeral, of the procession from the Capitol to Arlington National Cemetery. Then, in 1983, to mark the 20th anniversary of the events, MSNBC replayed the NBC coverage of the assassination and funeral, exact 20 years from the moment it occurred.

There, on the 24th, as the TV showed the President being moved to the Capitol, I saw the military escort, and the big black horse with the boots backward in the stirrups. I then realized it wasn’t the funeral I remembered, but the moving of the President to the Capitol.

I remember, in 1983, being 22 years and 8 months old, still being moved to tears by the sight of the horse, by the memories.

Every generation shares a “where where you” moment. For this one, it’s the September 11 attacks. For others, it’s the Challenger explosion, or Pearl Harbor. This is one of mine.