Striking the colours

Deadly recent racially-charged tragedies in America have been seen to be in the shadow of a both despised — and revered — symbol. Flags of the Confederacy — relics of a bygone, shameful but not forgotten era from American history — have been flying in the winds of controversy, reviled as the colours of hatred and bigotry.

Deadly recent racially-charged tragedies in America have been seen to be in the shadow of a both despised — and revered — symbol.

Flags of the Confederacy — relics of a bygone, shameful but not forgotten era from American history — have been flying in the winds of controversy, reviled as the colours of hatred and bigotry.

We are not without flag flaps in Canada. Fifty years ago, our Maple Leaf flag was raised for the first time, but only after an outcry from those who supported the Canadian Red Ensign flag.

Actually we have two national flags in Canada. Each province has its own flag — one being Quebec’s fleur-de-lis, which some Quebecers think of as their national symbol.

We sometimes see Quebec’s flag in the breeze in Alberta but with the usual Canadian politeness, no one seems to mind.

Controversy over the Confederate flag flared in June after the slayings of nine black worshippers at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C.

The Confederate flag is no longer flying over Fort Sumter, S.C., where Southerners fired the first shots of the Civil War.

Every day the flag continues to fly, emotions on both sides of the issue run higher.

The Confederate flag was first raised in the South Carolina House of Representatives chambers in 1938, but it was not raised over the Statehouse until 1962. It was meant to commemorate the Civil War centennial but some also saw it as a show of defiance as the civil rights movement demanded an end to racial segregation.

Opponents of the flag have called for years for its removal from Statehouse grounds and South Carolina lawmakers have finally moved toward taking it down.

Alabama’s governor, meanwhile, has issued an executive order removing four Confederate banners from a monument to secessionist soldiers outside that state’s capitol. Both of Mississippi’s Republican U.S. senators say the state should remove the Confederate battle emblem from its flag.

The anti-flag flap has sparked a backlash with which flag suppliers are familiar: It has re-energized a business that had flat lined.

Similar to other valley toy and hobby stores, Toy Shack in Las Vegas offers few products related to the Southern battle flag that was flown during the Civil War.

But what’s left of these trinkets have suddenly become hot sellers. A symbol of America’s past is trivialized, at the cost of nine innocent lives.

The Canadian Red Ensign is not a big seller in Canada.

Supporters of the Confederate flag had two options: either be chased from the annals of history in defeat, or lower the colours on their own … stand down with their own historical recognition.

They could have lowered the flag, presented it to the authorities, and then marched away into history.

But authorities, not wanting to allow them to have the final hurrah, retired the Confederate flag with an official ceremony.

With thousands of South Carolinans in attendance and an honour guard of Highway Patrolmen acting as bearers, the symbol of the state’s Confederate past was officially removed from the legislative grounds. Even the flagpole from which it flew was taken down.

Perhaps as an acknowledgement of the South’s repressive past, the folded flag was presented to a state representative by a black patrol officer. The price of freedom was handed over by a descendent of the bigotry for which a Civil War was fought. There was no mob burning of that flag.

Instead South Carolina legislators, including the governor, who herself is a descendant of the Civil War president of the Confederate States and a longtime supporter of the flag, paid respects to the state’s past with dignity.

And it is dignity which South Carolinans and Americans must confront their past and move into their future.

David Nagy is a retired Advocate editor.

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