William C. Jordan Jr.: Confederate flag debate shows need for education

Since June 17, the day of the horrific murders in Charleston, S.C., I have been engaged in numerous conversations with friends, loved ones, acquaintances and even strangers as people have felt compelled to share their thoughts about the tragedy with me. I have heard words of compassion and expressions of anguish and sorrow.

Regrettably, I have also had my eyes opened to significant misunderstanding and ignorance, specifically relating to the Confederate flag.

The confessed killer, Dylann Roof, sported the Confederate flag and paired it with the apartheid flag while contemplating his murders. Because of this, and in an effort to preserve the dignity and sanity of members of this community, I am compelled to share my own thoughts about the controversies surrounding the Confederate flag and address why for 15 years the NAACP has called for the removal of the Confederate battle flag from statehouses across our country.

Some may question the concern on the part of many African-Americans and our allies when we state the flag represents slavery, something that happened long before most of us can remember. Why should that component of African-American history, or any history, have any bearing on how people feel today?

One could flip the script and ask why do those advocating for this flag feel so moved to cling to a battle flag representing a secessionist government that ceased to exist 150 years ago. If the memory and culture of that secessionist slaveholding state remains in such force to warrant flying of that nonexistent government's flag, why is the memory of enslavement disallowed?


Regrettably, the racist ideologies that justified enslavement did not disappear when enslavement ended. We cannot have it both ways. Asking African-Americans to move past slavery and distance ourselves from the memory of enslavement, while others simultaneously advocate maintaining the symbol of a rebellion that has been in the nation's memory since enslavement, is simply not justifiable.

Yet, I concede one thing is arguably wrong about the movement to ban the Confederate flag at this moment in time. There is the risk the movement will distract us from confronting the more deeply held racist views and narratives that fuel the kind of hate that resulted in the Charleston massacre and all other racially motivated killings.

Furthermore, while the gains made with respect to the Confederate flag debate are positive, they have little to do with remedying the racial issues before us, issues that have brought us persistent and pervasive disparities of all sorts: ongoing housing discrimination, employment, biased policing and prosecution, education, income, poverty, home ownership, graduation and suspension rates, health, the juvenile justice system and the hate-fueled, heinous termination of nine innocent Black lives in Charleston.

Those issues are real, they are current and they still deserve our focus, efforts and dialogue.

To be clear, the Confederate flag, a symbol championed by secessionists and segregationists, has no place on any government property in the United States. Not in 2015 and not in the 1960s — when many southern states decided to showcase the flag as an answer to the Civil Rights


The fact that thousands in our country still promote this symbol of slavery illustrates just how expansive and pervasive the vestiges of enslavement are. One of these vestiges is the revision and omission of historical fact and the teaching of revisionist history to children across the country, which insidiously suggests racism is ancient history.

However, racism is precisely what creates this revisionist history and allows people to believe the Civil War was about anything other than preserving the institution of enslavement in the South. Let us not fall victim to teachings that enslavement and racism ended with the Civil War. These are the same revisionists lies that would have one believe southern states have flown the Confederate battle flag since the Civil War, when in fact, those states raised the flag as a showing of secessionist, segregationist and White supremacist unity in the 1960s, only one generation ago, indicating residual feelings from enslavement were not eradicated. South Carolina did not raise the Confederate flag at its statehouse until 1961.


So let us not be afflicted by historical amnesia; enslavement of Africans in America necessarily depended upon depriving them of their education and their connection with their past. We all lack a true understanding of African-American history, which has been a predictable result of miseducation, under education and the abandonment of infusing Africana history and culture in schools.

I recommend we all reread some components of our history, particularly the history of the Civil War and the Confederate battle flag, before reaching personal conclusions about the flag.

In the meantime, the Rochester Branch of the NAACP stands firm with its national organization in calling for the removal of the flag from the South Carolina statehouse. This action is morally and ethically right and very much the American way. It will aid our nation in creating a true environment of inclusion for all.

William C. Jordan Jr., of Rochester, is president of the Rochester branch of the NAACP.

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