“Perception is almost always greater than reality,” Donald Lynn Frost.
No matter what you think of the Confederate Flag and any messages it may carry – heritage not hate, or blatant racism – no one can deny that the symbol of the Old South is coming down all across Dixie. It has come down from the South Carolina State Capitol Building. Virginia’s Governor has removed it from license plates. Several major retailers are doing away with the “stars and bars.”
Some say it is a kneejerk reaction to the tragedy in Charleston, S.C. in which a white man gunned down and killed nine African-American churchgoers. Others say the tragedy is simply just the impetus for a change that has been long overdue. Regardless, the conversation is starting to heat up in Carroll County of what should be done about the Confederate Flag.
The debate actually circles back to 10 years ago when the Carroll County Board of Supervisors voted to allow the Confederate Flag and other American War-era flags to be flown on 15-20 different dates throughout the year at the Historic Carroll County Courthouse. Local historian Gary Marshall vehemently opposed the decision at that time. Now he contends is the time Carroll County needs to join others across the south in taking down a symbol he says is blatantly racist.
As he did then, Andy Jackson, Commander of the Jubal Early Sons of the Confederate Veterans Camp 1691, claims people need to take a history lesson. The Confederate flags flown at the courthouse in Hillsville are not the Battle Flag of Northern Virginia that everyone is so upset about now. Plus, he said because of dwindling numbers, the group hasn’t flown any flags in about two years at the old courthouse.
Nevertheless, the issue will be discussed by the Carroll County Board of Supervisors at its July 13 meeting.
“The board doesn’t meet again until July 13, but I am sure that we will be discussing this. How it may or may not end up, I don’t know,” Carroll County Board of Supervisors’ Chairman Phil McCraw said. “Anything that is done requires a 4-2 majority. Will it change? I don’t know. I have my own personal feelings, but I won’t discuss them until the board meets in a public forum.”
A Symbol of Hate?
A local historian, Gary Marshall vividly remembers the debate 10 years ago about flying the state flag, but also the National Flag of the Confederacy on public grounds in Carroll County. While he opposed the notion then, he says now is the time for Carroll County to take action like so many others in the South are doing.
“Today is a new era. Today I think the South is finally understanding that language is fluid. It changes meaning and significance, and the symbols that convey language change and are fluid as well,” Marshall said. “What was once maybe a statement of heritage, not hate for the previous generation, that symbolism has undergone dramatic change and is no longer an applicable symbol.”
Marshall gave the rainbow as an illustration of his point. For 2,000 years, the rainbow was a sign of promise and hope. It was a Biblical symbol, he said, where God said no more blood.
“Judgment by flood was once and done, and the rainbow was placed in the sky as a sign and promise, but you understand how nobody can fly a rainbow flag today and have the same meaning,” Marshall said, referencing how the rainbow is the now a symbol of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender movement. “Language changes. You have to recognize that like the rainbow in the present generation, the Confederate Flag no longer conveys heritage. It conveys racism, bigotry and prejudice. No matter how hard the Sons of Confederate Veterans try to defend their ideology, that ideology no longer holds.”
It’s important to note that Marshall has plenty of Confederate heritage in his blood. His great-grandfather was a Major in the Civil War, and he has two other relatives that were veterans of the War Between the States. And while he takes pride in the service rendered by his ancestors, he does not agree with the ideology.
“I don’t agree with the confederacy’s vote to secede or their defense of the right to hold slaves – that was the states’ rights at the center of the issue,” Marshall said. “Everybody can say slavery was not the issue, but (noted Civil War scholar) Bud Robertson at Virginia Tech will defend that slavery was at the core, and if you want to argue states’ rights, it was the states’ rights to defend the right of other human beings. I am passionate about this message being heard. Wal-Mart is no longer carrying the Confederate Flag. Neither is ebay or Sears. The message is finally being heard.”
Marshall said he defends each person’s individual right to private speech. If somebody wants to fly the flag on their pickup truck, at their home or on their t-shirt, Marshall said that is their personal business.
“People can communicate whatever it is they want to communicate. I don’t agree with it, but that is their right,” Marshall said. “But don’t have the government of the people, by the people, for the people say it by flying it on government property.”
As far as the Confederate Monument on the Historic Carroll County Courthouse grounds, Marshall said it is a part of history that should be there. But nobody looks at the monument and can say it conveys a racist message.
“The monument perfectly conveys our history, our heritage, our ancestors’ service for a cause they thought was right. They fought and many of them died in the service of their ideology. There is no racism in the preservation of the monument,” Marshall said. “But the flags on the flagpoles those 20-some days a year, that is a public statement on public ground that dictates for now, not always, but today conveys the bigotry, prejudice and discrimination and affront to a significant portion of our state’s population.”
Today, the only signs of the Confederacy on the grounds of the Historical Carroll County Courthouse are the monument and a couple of small versions of the First National Flag of the Confederacy (with seven stars in a blue circle with two red stripes and one white stripe) at the base of the monument. Marshall still feels as if the monument should stand alone without any flags, no matter the size.
“I don’t oppose the size of the flag, it is the message of the flag,” he said. “A lot of people will say this is a kneejerk reaction because of the terrible tragedy in Charleston, and yes, absolutely, but it is a not a kneejerk reaction. This is the breaking of the womb that has festered for all these years. And now the poison is just being exposed.”
Marshall made one final point to demonstrate his case. He said he has a collection of five or six photographs of Carroll County Civil War veterans gathered collectively from the early 1900s to about 1920. None of those photographs have any Confederate Flags in them. In fact, the only flags present are the American Flag, Marshall said.
“And this was in keeping with the tenor of General (Robert E.) Lee himself. He told the veterans to be good American citizens – ‘We tried for our independence, we fought for our independence, we did not claim a victory for our independence.’ The response by General Lee to his veterans was to be good American citizens and the symbol of their allegiance was not the Confederacy, their lost cause, it was to the United States of America, the U.S. Flag,” Marshall said. “And it (the American Flag) does now and did then contain a star and stripe for every Confederate State.”
History Lesson Needed?
Just like he was 10 years ago when this debate was last heard in Carroll County, Andy Jackson still serves as the Commander of the Jubal Early Sons of the Confederate Veterans. Jackson does not see what the issue is for Carroll County. There is no problem in Carroll County, he said.
“We get to fly a national flag (of the Confederacy), not the flag (often called the Confederate Battle Flag or the Confederate Naval Jack) they are fussing about today,” Jackson said. “There are three different flags – the First National, Second National, and Third National – those are the ones we have flown at certain times. We very seldom ever fly a flag. In fact, we haven’t flown one in almost two years due to our dwindling numbers.”
Jackson pointed to an old quote from German dictator Adolf Hitler to demonstrate what is happening with the heritage of the Confederacy and the symbols that come along with it.
“He said when you take people’s heritage away from them and they deny it to you, they succumb to you and you own them. And we have a group here that is following his philosophy. That is all this is. There is no way to get these people through history and to read their history,” Jackson said. “The U.S. Stars and Stripes is the flag slavery was established under and flourished under for 64 years. There was slavery under the Confederate Flag for four years. How is one worse than the other? And when did a flag ever hurt anybody.”
Jackson said the Sons of the Confederate Veterans don’t fly the Confederate Flag 15 to 20 times a year. The main flag flown on the flagpole at the historic courthouse has been the U.S. Flag and other versions of it, such as the old Betsy Ross Flag, on certain war holidays. The Christian Flag has been flown on the courthouse pole during Easter and Christmas, he said. The only time the Confederate Flag has ever been flown there, he said, was on Confederate Memorial Day (observed the fourth Saturday in April).
“We bought a $1,500 metal pole and put up for the county to use once a year. We went through all those other days to honor all our other ancestors from wars from the 1600s to today,” Jackson said. “We haven’t flown any flag the past two years due to fact we haven’t had enough people to do it. You would think Carroll County would be the last place in the world with this kind of controversy.”
The Civil War is a huge part of Carroll County’s heritage, Jackson said, noting that per capita, Carroll County sent the most men and lost the most men in the war than any county in the state of Virginia.
“And we weren’t slave-owners. We were just fighting to save the homeland. You had to be a rich man to have slaves,” Jackson said. “They were fighting over taxes, not slavery. That is what the whole war was over. Robert E. Lee himself didn’t own a slave. His wife inherited four. And she kept them as house slaves and freed them.”
Allen Worrell can be reached by calling (276) 779-4062 or on Twitter@AWorrellTCN