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17.7.12

Rebel flag leaves courthouse area with deserved whimper

The last significant forces of the Confederate States of America surrendered last month in history, who had been stationed around the last capital of the Confederacy, Shreveport. But another significant surrender happened quietly months ago in Caddo Parish.

Without warning, late last year, with a vote one short of unanimity, the Caddo Parish Commission ordered the (Third) Confederate (Battle) flag from its perch on a monument honoring Confederate forces very near the Courthouse. Hours later it had been removed. Thus quietly ended a long-running, sometimes heated, controversy, and rightfully so.

Six decades ago the United Daughters of the Confederacy placed the flag in an apparent response to the burgeoning civil rights movement, on the monument that now has sat for over a century in the square block encompassing the Courthouse. Both objects remained as society drastically changed around them, spawning several relatively recent attempts to have the flag taken down, but never legally so because of the presumed ownership of the small plot around the northwest corner of the lot by the UDC …

… that in fact was fictitious. It turns out that while the parish over a century ago had tried to convey the small plot to the UDC, the latter never formally went through the process to make the transfer legally binding. Apparently this oversight was known to a few around the courthouse for the past 15 or so years, but seemingly not by anybody whose agenda included ridding the area of the flag. Only with the publicity surrounding a recent appeal attempt against a capital conviction on the basis of the flag’s presence, where some interested in assisting the defense discovered that fact, did this become widely known.

With legal title to its ground now established, in public the Commission had little desire to retain the flag. Whether the belief that it had not rested on public land served as a fig leaf covering wanting to keep it flying for other reasons, the overwhelming vote accompanied by unsubstantial remarks showed the Commission wished to wash its hands of it with the knowledge now public and widespread of the actual tract ownership.

As noted in this space before, flying the flag never made much sense because of the mixed content of it as a symbol. Perhaps it signified a willingness to resist overbearing government by free peoples, but it also reminded the main reason such sentiment existed was because those free peoples allowed their governments to enslave others. Maybe those who fought under it demonstrated valor and courage, but they also displayed a moral myopia in countenancing a regime primarily in place to continue an immoral practice (after all, vice president of the Confederacy Alexander Stephens, prior to taking that position proclaimed that the new nation recognized "the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man.")

If we want governments today to extol the virtues said contained in that flag, we can do that and avoid its vices with a symbol much purer, such as our American flag, in its place. A juxtaposition of that nature would inform powerfully that liberty applies to all and can be expensive in terms of lives. Many fought for the Union with vague or no intention at all to rid the country of an evil practice but to keep it from being weakened through an unconstitutional division, while many fought for the Confederacy with vague or no intention of upholding slavery but to expand sovereignty of their states even as that brought them no additional individual autonomy and was accomplished illegitimately through violence. Such juxtaposition captures neatly the muddled motives of the masses of both sides, if a flag must fly with the monument.

(And the monument deserves to stay, even if not adorned with an American flag. It may memorialize suffering of those on behalf of a regime that wished to impart suffering on beings that should have been free naturally, but it also prods us to realize the cost of lack of reflection, of the waste of lives whose need not have been lost had their leaders not been so bound on preserving an immoral state of affairs as to foment violence, and instead allowed their grievances to have been addressed peacefully.)

Shreveport, of course, served as the rump capital of the Confederacy at the war’s end and significant war events occurred there and nearby. No serious understanding of Caddo Parish’s history can occur without appreciation of the Confederate period in rebellion, as Shreveport mayors regardless of party and race regularly acknowledge through their proclamations of April as Confederate History Month. The Confederate flag should fly in places and at times where around here that education takes place, along with most of the state’s other nine flags (Caddo was never part of the West Florida experiment) that form a part of that history when their presence contributes. But not as a standalone prop, out of context, by government.

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