Federal judge allows Virginia to stop issuing Confederate license plates

31 Jul 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Confederate flag controversy puts UNC Charlotte professor in limelight.

DANVILLE, Va. It took two days after the Charleston shootings for David Goldfield’s office phone to begin ringing nonstop, but he knew the media eventually would come calling.An existing state law on the books says specialty license plates issued for members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans may not include an emblem, like the Confederate battle flag. On July 30, 1864, 151 years ago today, a clever plan by northern (or Union) forces to defeat southern rebels (or Confederates) in the American Civil War had a sickening result. An injunction on First Amendment grounds prevented the Commonwealth from enforcing that law, but a Supreme Court ruling in June prompted Attorney General Mark Herring (D) to file a motion to vacate the previous order.

At the town of Petersburg, Virginia, Union engineers dug under the Confederate lines and set off an explosive charge powerful enough to leave a mammoth crater. On June 17, 21-year-old Dylann Roof opened fire inside Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, killing nine parishioners in the historic African-American church.

In a press release, the attorney general’s office says that Judge Jackson Kiser will next file an order that will specify whether nearly 1,700 previously-issued Confederate plates may be recalled. Those who say the flag is a symbol of hate link its origins to the Civil War, in which 11 southern states engaged in an armed rebellion against the United States. However, the infantry assault meant to exploit the blast was botched, with many troops becoming trapped in the crater, and the Union suffered about 3,800 casualties for no gain.

Based on an enormous amount of historical evidence, southern leaders urged secession and rebellion in response to what they believed to be a threat to the institution of slavery. Her 18-year-old grandson, Jordan Hutchinson, wears a necklace embossed with images of the flag, and said his bedroom is full of Confederate memorabilia. Worse, according to Civil War historian Noah Andre Trudeau, up to a hundred of those losses involved black soldiers who fell into Confederate hands and were then murdered. Journalists began calling Goldfield to inquire about the flag’s history and to try to understand the emotions the images evoked among flag opponents and supporters. That is a direct historical connection: slavery based on the color of a person’s skin and people fighting to uphold that institution while flying this particular flag.

McPherson, blacks “raised food, and built fortifications, and hauled supplies for rebel armies.” He adds that the southern regime “impressed slaves into service before it began drafting white men as soldiers.” Slavery compromised everyone, including the legendary General Robert E. Jones is quick to point out that he’s no racist — he grew up in a poorer, predominately black neighborhood in southern Virginia and took part in the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. Reporters either from or based in the North or Midwest seem baffled by the flag’s physical presence in contemporary times, he said, and usually start their line of questioning there.

Goldfield recalled his recent interview with ESPN broadcaster Mitch Albom “Albom, of course, is a good northern Jewish boy, and he was just totally mystified, as many reporters have been,” Goldfield said. “He said, ‘What’s going on here? Two years later, Kiser — the same judge who presided over Friday’s hearing — enjoined the state from enforcing the ban, concluding that it restricted free speech. The Dixiecrats, a faction of Southern Democrats that fervently advocated segregation and the preservation of the Southern “way of life,” or as many call it, “heritage,” embraced it as their symbol. Coincidently, as efforts to desegregate the South moved forward, many southern states adopted the Confederate flag to represent, in various ways, their polity. For decades in the South, it has flown alongside the American flag on front porches, been marched down the streets during hometown parades and, until recently, flown on the South Carolina Capitol grounds.

In the aftermath of the June shooting deaths of nine people at an African American church in Charleston, S.C., the license plates have stirred fresh controversy in Virginia. Other reporters, like CNN anchor Fredericka Whitfield, skipped the “why?” angle, instead diving right into other facets of the controversy that questioned “what” and “how.” Goldfield has tried to do all of the interviews, barring a few where time zones would have required him to be coherent at 3 a.m. Another interview, with MSNBC, was bumped for breaking news out of Baltimore. “I’m committed with getting the story out there,” Goldfield said. “There’s so much myth surrounding Southern history and the flag. In November of that year, a Confederate raid against a Union-held island off the coast of South Carolina yielded four black prisoners, who were executed with the approval of Confederate President Jefferson Davis.

Lee Bright, claim the flag ought to fly because a majority of South Carolinians “hold their Southern heritage high.” The “heritage” stance is vague, and those who make this argument fail to explain what that means. Trudeau uncovered a record of the event by a southern officer, William Penniman, who recalled being puzzled by the persistence of gunfire long after the battle. Other states who display it should follow suit, and perhaps the majority of Americans in subsequent generations — future visitors to history museums — will see what the flag truly represents: treason, racial subjugation and white power.

I have tried to make the boys desist, but I can’t control them.” Olustee was not even the worst of 1864, as shown by the Petersburg butchery mentioned at the start of this article. Matthew Thick, adjunct history professor at Delta College, wrote this guest view on behalf of the Bridge Center for Racial Harmony to clarify the history behind the controversial Confederate flag. Part military genius and part fiend, Forrest plagued the North for years but truly became infamous when he overran Fort Pillow, Tennessee, in April, 1864. Also that year, says McPherson, other prisoners were forced to build fortifications under fire at Richmond, Virginia, and Charleston, South Carolina. (Union forces were so appalled by this tactic that they ordered Confederate prisoners to do the same for them, causing the South to desist.) The fate of black prisoners even inspired a dispute that crossed racial lines and caused thousands of additional cruel deaths. Lee himself stating that “negroes belonging to our citizens are not considered subjects of exchange” — which prompted the North to suspend all exchanges. (There were questionable exceptions: Military historian Herman Hattaway has noted that one of Lee’s own sons was captured in the war but managed to be returned home while so many others languished in confinement.) The lack of prisoner exchanges caused prison camps on both sides to balloon beyond manageable limits, leading to fatal levels of neglect.

Lee’s own nephew, Fitzhugh Lee, revealed that Lee thought that Wirz “had done all that was possible with the resources at his disposal.” Two trenchant observers of the South, B.C. Wood, have pointed out that notions along those lines created the southern myth of a glorious lost cause. “Here at Andersonville,” they contend, “was the stark reality of the South’s holy war. McPherson says Quantrill was officially an officer in the Confederate military. (Boatner III adds that he died at war’s end, plotting to kill President Lincoln.) Participating in the Kansas mayhem were two brothers named Younger and a certain Frank James — in other words, the future gang of Jesse James, one of the worst outlaws in U.S. history.

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