When my husband and I were considering marriage, he dropped a major surprise on me. No, he hadn’t slept with another woman, but the sense of shock and betrayal that came from his confession hit me with the same impact.
His confession? When he was a teenager growing up in Texas he displayed the battle flag of the Confederacy on his bedroom wall. No one in his whole white world ever questioned it. He grew up in a culture in which that flag only said, “I am proud to be from the South.” He was taught to love his neighbors and be kind. His family would not have tolerated overt racism. In fact they had been criticized in multiple situations by co-workers and friends for treating black people as human beings. Yet, he was raised in a world steeped in silence about the honest truth of our racist history.
When he moved to Philadelphia for art school he brought that flag and culture with him. It did not take long for a kind brother in Christ to sit with him and explain the history of racial violence and policy associated with flag. So he threw it away and, more importantly, took on the work of expanding his consciousness. By the time we met he had come a long way on that journey. As we were discerning whether to share our lives together he had to know if I would forgive him and still love him knowing the truth about his past.
My grandmother, raised by her grandmother who was born into slavery in Kentucky, was a great encourager to me. When I went to her and also to my parents for advice about whether to stay in this relationship they all nudged me to be courageous on the path of love–to love the man that he is not that he was. My family taught me not to fault people for their ignorance only for their conscious choice to remain ignorant. We had our own little truth and reconciliation moment and decided we could be family.
I didn’t give the Confederate flag much thought until our family moved to Georgia four years ago. I cannot go a day without seeing the flag displayed on cars, Confederate war memorials, clothing, even a second-hand bedspread in the home of a refugee family that I know. It is a constant hostile reminder not only of a horrible history but the terrors of this present day.
For months I had been mulling over how or when to write about this omnipresent reminder of racism’s insidious hold on our culture. In early June it finally came out as a poem that I wrote and shared aloud as part of a UGA poetry workshop.
Then Charleston happened. A groundswell of support has led to yesterday’s historic announcement from the South Carolina governor that the Confederate battle flag should be removed from the state house. Governor Haley’s announcement was an important one to be celebrated, but I worry about the suggestion that it be moved to an “appropriate location.” I hope she meant the trash… or a museum. There is no other appropriate location for such a volatile symbol. Walmart just announced that they will stop selling merchandise from belt buckles to shower curtains that bear the Confederate flag. Parents who love God and love their neighbors need to teach their kids the truth and stop buying the lie of “southern pride” associated with that flag.
Just days after the shooting, a friend of mine was driving out of SC and saw the flag waving from the back of a pick-up. Getting the confederate flag out of government buildings is only a small step in the much larger step of moving toward becoming a beloved community in which we could feast together beneath God’s banner of love (Song of Solomon 2:4). And some people would rather do the devil’s work no matter what the law says. Anyone who flaunts their right to wave that banner of hate is saying to their neighbor, “I’m sorry you have so many burns, ” while pouring gasoline on their burning house.
I pray that this poem can stand among the chorus of voices that have been calling out for decades to finally lay the Confederate battle flag to rest. It’s time to lay her to rest once and for all.
She waves from the back of a pick-up and
struts up to the bar in that 150 year old dress-
scarlet, indigo, bone.
Poor thing, bless her heart, she swings from poles.
Just keeps on going, like a star.
She was my husband’s first love.
Whispered sweet in his lily petal ear,
“Be proud you’re from the South.”
He pinned her up in his room
in Philadelphia and a brother said,
“That’s not love.”
Hearing how men with
barbed wired bats,
shiny black shoes in offices
with whips, white sheets
had used her,
he dumped her.
I kept him, glad
to never see her
flappin’ around my town,
until we moved down.
Now she haunts me ‘bout every day.
I see her and her older sisters
out on highway 72, erected
by the sons of men now dead
who held on too tight to lies
about gray and black
and bein’ white.
I’ve seen her spread on my neighbors’ bed-
their house the smell of fish sauce and acrid memories of war.
They don’t know her history.
She’s just a used blanket, a gift of welcome to
She shows up in my dreams.
I see her hangin’ out in school cafeterias.
There she was slinkin’ around on a South Carolina beach,
in front of my children, as a string bikini.
This old rag’s been fightin’ all her life,
been workin’ like hell.
Even the men who love her
and claim her as their own
call her “blood-stained.”
They need to leave her be.
Let her lay out in the sun
on a bed of foxtails.
Let her threads get bleached and
fade into the soft black earth.
Let Queen Anne’s lace and chicory
sprout from her stars, and poppies bloom.
If only she could
just rest in peace.