In the midst of the tragedy at the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., was that repugnant Confederate flag.
For my first 25 years, through college, I spent my entire life in the Northeast part of this continent, including the maritime provinces of Canada. Until I arrived in Kansas City about 35 years ago I had never seen that flag in real life.
Periodically in this town we still see that representation on a pickup or motorcycle, stitched on a jacket or tattooed on someone’s body. From my perspective, we all know what they are saying and the unstated message spits out racism and bigotry.
In my childhood hometown we never offended a person of color because there weren’t any. Only later in life did I learn about the systemic racism that blacks endured in my part of the world until the dawning of the civil rights era and the dedication of people working with Dr. Martin Luther King.
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Later, in Chicago, I was privileged to work with Jesse Jackson (raised in South Carolina) and Operation Breadbasket, thereby learning firsthand the real meaning of the Confederate flag from black folks who fled the terror of the South. They then settled in the inner city of Chicago, where the living conditions were not very good; they were, however, able to live pretty much without fear of the Ku Klux Klan, and that was good.
I come from a family of undistinguished people and have continued that tradition in my own life. But I try to practice what my immigrant father taught me: try to do and be the best that you can. He made me get a good education and get confirmed and baptized at our little Lutheran church named Emanuel (“God with us”). Currently I am reading the Encyclical of Pope Francis on climate change, my wife Phyllis is writing to our Unbound kids in Costa Rica, and our son Andrew is preparing for his senior year at a Catholic high school, and then college. This is simple living but decent.
In the Carolinas however someone taught that young killer some really nasty stuff, and the results were horrific. Soon pictures emerged of that young man holding a Confederate flag, and the continuous news footage of a Confederate battle flag at the South Carolina state Capitol flying at full staff after the shootings was repulsive.
The Very Rev. Gary Hall of the Episcopal Church USA stated that we are deluded if we believe that this attack on the Emanuel Church was an aberration; too often, he said, “the false idol of racial superiority has been the motivation.”
Thus it’s time in this land to finally bury that flag and forbid its display on any governmental building anywhere. We have much to do in this great land, and this symbol needs to die in our nation. Write to your representatives in Washington as I have done, and tell them to seek legislation nationally on the model of California’s ban of the Confederate flag, which prohibits display or sale of the symbol by state government agencies.
We can do this, and the witness of the survivors at the Emanuel Church in Charleston deserves this recompense.
Dick Phalen of Kansas City, North, is a retired computer programmer.