A symbol of racist heritage: the Confederate flag

There are among those of us that reside in the United States those who consciously avoid expanding their knowledge base with information and lessons provided by history. They live their lives via bullet points and sound bites, both of which rarely flesh out any provided subject matter in a way that would aid those individuals that have read or heard the bullet points and sound bites. Many of these citizens, when confronted with facts, retreat into their comfortable corner of denial.

On Wednesday evening, June 17, 2015, in Charleston, South Carolina, a 21-year-old white man, self identified as Dylann ‘Storm’ Roof, joined the Bible study group at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church and was invited to sit beside the pastor and South Carolina State Senator, Clementa Pinckney. After about an hour spent with those gathered, he reached into his fanny pack and began firing at those in attendance. Witnesses say he reloaded at least five times. He succeeded in killing nine people, including the pastor.

Dylann ‘Storm’ Roof faced 26- year- old Tywanza Saunders as he selflessly tried to shield his great aunt, Susie Jackson, the oldest member of the congregants, from the gunman’s bullets. Tywanza told Dylann ‘Storm’ Roof he didn’t have to do what he was doing. Dylan ‘Storm’ Roof is reported to have said “you people rape our women … you are taking over the country … You have to go …” Tywanza Saunders and his great aunt were both killed.

Mother Emanuel, as the church has come to be known, has a rich history of service to citizens of African descent in the United States. It is one of the oldest churches in the South, founded in 1816, during a time when those of African descent were still enslaved throughout the South and when they were not allowed to worship with white congregants in white churches.

The church was burned to the ground in 1822 because white Charleston, South Carolina residents believed it was used by one of the church’s founders, the courageous Denmark Vesey, during the formation of his plan for insurrection, meant to free enslaved Black people. After rebuilding, for years, members of the congregation were forced to hold services in secret because of laws that banned all Black service gatherings.

Emanuel AME Church served as a "station" on the Underground Railroad, a system of safe houses, manned by Black and white individuals that provided comfort and provisions for those escaping to destinations north in the United States and hopefully to freedom.    

During the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, it was one of many churches that opened its doors, providing a haven and place for developing strategies for structural reform in the United States during that era. In a manifesto attributed to the gunman, Dylann ‘Storm’ Roof writes he chose Charleston, South Carolina “ … because it is most historic city in my state, and at one time had the highest ratio of blacks to Whites in the country. We have no skinheads, no real KKK, no one doing anything but talking on the internet. Well someone has to have the bravery to take it to the real world, and I guess that has to be me.”

On December 20, 1860, South Carolina was the first state to secede from the United States of America. A convention was convened by the governor, Francis Pickens, and the legislature of South Carolina, declaring its plans after the election of Abraham Lincoln.

In all, eleven Southern states seceded from the United States, South Carolina being the first, followed by Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina, and Tennessee, which seceded June 8, 1861. In February 1861, the Confederate States of America (CSA) was formed. Stated among its goals were determination to insure the continuance of the enslavement of people of African descent, assumed states’ rights and the perceived liberties of white people.

Click here to read text from a copy of a news article from The Charleston Mercury newspaper, written by a reporter in attendance at the convention in South Carolina in 1860.

The most well known Confederate flag seen displayed by private citizens and on various state government grounds and properties throughout the southern states in the United States is a Confederate battle flag, first issued to the state of Virginia’s Confederate army units in November 1861. However, this flag was not adopted as the official flag of the CSA.

The Constitution of the Confederate States of America was signed on March 11, 1861. In Article I, Section 9, Clause 4 of the constitution, it states:

No bill of attainder, ex post facto law, or law denying or impairing the right of property in negro slaves shall be passed.

Article IV, Section 2 of the Constitution of the Confederate States of America states:

“The citizens of each State shall be entitled to all the privileges and immunities of citizens in the several States; and shall have the right of transit and sojourn in any State of this Confederacy, with their slaves and other property; and the right of property in said slaves shall not be thereby impaired.”

The president of the Confederate States of America, Jefferson Davis has offered his opinions and beliefs regarding Black people's lot in the newly formed Confederacy:

“My own convictions as to negro slavery are strong. It has its evils and abuses...We recognise the negro as God and God's Book and God's Laws, in nature, tell us to recognise him - our inferior, fitted expressly for servitude...You cannot transform the negro into anything one-tenth as useful or as good as what slavery enables them to be.”

Alexander Stephens, vice president of the CSA, in a speech that has come to be known as the Cornerstone speech, delivered on March 21, 1861, over 154 years ago, addresses the American southern states secession from the United States of America, the impending war that has come to be known as the American Civil War and the status to be endowed upon the enslaved of African descent living in America:

“Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner- stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.”

The vice president of the Confederacy further states:

“The new constitution has put at rest, forever, all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institution African slavery as it exists amongst us the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution. Jefferson in his forecast, had anticipated this, as the “rock upon which the old Union would split.” He was right. What was conjecture with him, is now a realised fact. But whether he fully comprehended the great truth upon which that rock stood and stands, may be doubted. The prevailing ideas entertained by him and most of the leading statesmen at the time of the formation of the old constitution, were that the enslavement of the African was in violation of the laws of nature; that it was wrong in principle, socially, morally, and politically. It was an evil they knew not well how to deal with, but the general opinion of the men of that day was that, somehow or other in the order of Providence, the institution would be evanescent and pass away. This idea, though not incorporated in the constitution, was the prevailing idea at that time. The constitution, it is true, secured every essential guarantee to the institution while it should last, and hence no argument can be justly urged against the constitutional guarantees thus secured, because of the common sentiment of the day. Those ideas, however, were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. This was an error. It was a sandy foundation, and the government built upon it fell when the “storm came and the wind blew.”

On January 13, 1863, twelve days after President Abraham Lincoln’s presidential decree, the Emancipation Proclamation, Jefferson Davis responded in a speech to the Confederate Congress, stating:

"We may well leave it to the instincts of that common humanity which a beneficent Creator has implanted in the breasts of our fellow-men of all countries to pass judgment on a measure by which several millions of human beings of an inferior race, peaceful and contented labourers in their sphere, are doomed to extermination, while at the same time they are encouraged to a general assassination of their masters by the insidious recommendation ‘to abstain from violence unless in necessary self-defence.’ Our own detestation of those who have attempted by the most execrable measure recorded in the history of guilty man is tempered by a profound contempt for the impotent rage which it discloses.”

Dylann ‘Storm’ Roof, as he has signed his name on documents made public, is exercising a tradition adopted by members and persons affiliated with and those in agreement with the ideologies and opinions offered by the white nationalist and white supremacist movement by assuming the middle name ‘Storm’.

Learn more about the Council of Conservative Citizens at this link, the group, named by Dylann 'Storm' Roof that has aided in shaping his world view.  

The Confederate battle flag is a symbol proudly embraced by white nationalists and white supremacists. The history of the flag reveals it is a flag that represents the subjugation and brutalisation of Black people. The thoughts alleged to have been expressed by Dylan ‘Storm’ Roof can be read and heard being espoused all over white nationalist and white supremacist websites, cable access television and radio airwaves. 

It is time to discontinue the accommodating excuses and bizarre contortions from reality that are offered by those who say affinity with the Confederate flag has nothing to do with race. We know it does, racists know it does and for those individuals stating they revere the flag as a means of embracing the past and the history of their family and ancestors, an estimated 70 million descendants of the American Confederacy, it’s time to own up to embracing the American Confederate flag for what it truly is, a symbol of racial and racist heritage.

I also would like to offer these words lest this article's intent be misunderstood. The legacy of the racist heritage of the United States is not confined in the South nor will removing the American Confederate flag from view represent any significant change.

Only a renewed, concerted effort for structural change that challenges systemic racism and the laws that uphold the system or impede the ability for dismantling systemic racism will address the issues that currently render American society impotent. Legislation cannot change minds but it can harshly penalise those that seek to act upon their perverted desires.

Another excerpt from the previously referenced manifesto of Dylann 'Storm' Roof:

“I wish with a passion that n****rs were treated terribly throughout history by Whites, that every White person had an ancestor who owned slaves, that segregation was an evil an oppressive institution, and so on. Because if it was all true, it would make it so much easier for me to accept our current situation. But it isnt true. None of it is. We are told to accept what is happening to us because of ancestors wrong doing, but it is all based on historical lies, exaggerations and myths.”

Please click here to read a screen shot cached by Google of the entire manifesto attributed to Dylann ‘Storm’ Roof, found at his alleged website, The Last Rhodesian, which has since been removed.

Click here to read the full report published by the Department of Homeland Security entitled Right Wing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fuelling Resurgence in Radicalisation and Recruitment, after the study was commissioned by the George W. Bush administration. The report was not released until 2009, after Barack Hussein Obama was elected to the office of President of the United States of America.

Among the discussions regarding home-grown terrorists is the discussion regarding the evolution of the "lone wolf". If ongoing investigation reveals Dylann 'Storm' Roof acted alone, he is representative of the profile: an individual that has come to embrace right wing and white supremacist beliefs, seeking to take action based upon those beliefs. 

An excerpt from the DHS report:  

“(U//FOUO) DHS/I&A assesses that a number of economic and political factors are driving a resurgence in rightwing extremist recruitment and radicalisation activity. Despite similarities to the climate of the 1990s, the threat posed by lone wolves and small terrorist cells is more pronounced than in past years. In addition, the historical election of an African American president and the prospect of policy changes are proving to be a driving force for rightwing extremist recruitment and radicalisation. —

(U) A recent example of the potential violence associated with a rise in rightwing extremism may be found in the shooting deaths of three police officers in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on 4 April 2009. The alleged gunman’s reaction reportedly was influenced by his racist ideology and belief in antigovernment conspiracy theories related to gun confiscations, citizen detention camps, and a Jewish-controlled “one world government.”