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Take down the flag, South Carolina

June 19, 2015

On June 19th, 1865 — one-hundred and fifty years ago today — Union General Gordon Granger landed in Galveston and announced the emancipation of slaves in Texas. He proclaimed in General Order #3:

The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor.

The southern states had seceded and founded the Confederacy in order to preserve and extend the reach of slavery, on which their economy relied. The newest slave state, Texas, had not yet established as much reliance on it as the older Confederate states, and Sam Houston struggled against Texas seceding. He failed. From the time of its defeat, many in the south have engaged in the careful construction of a myth that the Confederacy had some nobler purpose. At least the original Confederates were open and honest about their aim, and understood accurately their economy’s dependency on slavery. The various generations of their descendants who have crafted false defenses of that past have only the excuse of ideology and ancestor worship. That rhetoric, once called Lost Cause, has been a major toxin poisoning racial politics in the US to this day.

In response to yesterday’s deadly terrorist attack on The Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, Ta Nehisi Coates demands the removal of South Carolina’s Confederate battle flag from its capitol. That will require the state’s General Assembly to act. Let’s see if any of the state’s law makers dare step forward. Coates is right. But there is no tougher opponent than an ideology that propagates itself from parents to children.

Robin Diangelo writes on white fragility.

Update: This article on the history of Juneteenth explains that it took years of military occupation to effectively end slavery in Texas.

Update: Kevin Gannon, a history professor who has studied the Civil War and reconstruction, pens a letter to those who want to argue that the Confederate battle flag is about heritage, not hate. Anyone who still is under the misapprehension that the Confederate cause was anything other than slavery first, second, and far beyond all other causes combined should click through on some of the original documents he references. I understand how people come to that misapprehension, having first learned American history when growing up in Texas in the 1960s. It doesn’t take much reading as an adult to disperse it.

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