Heritage of Convenience

A lot has changed during the two weeks since I posted my view of the Confederate flag being used by Southern state  governments in a way that suggests the people of that state are honoring some type of mythological concept of heritage . If you are among the 12 people who read this blog, I don’t need to catch you up.

South Carolina did the right thing. Other states should follow. And, members of the U.S. House of Representatives should also.

From the Washington Post story, “As S.C. prepares to lower battle flag, Boehner calls for Confederate review,” comes this quote that is extraordinary in its irony or ignorance, or both.

Southern Republicans said that their Democratic colleagues did not understand that they were trying to pay tribute to fallen Confederate soldiers who were not plantation owners. “The majority of people that actually died in the Civil War on the Confederate side didn’t own slaves. These were people that were fighting for their states, and, you know, I don’t think they even had any thoughts about slavery,” said Rep. Lynn A. Westmoreland (R-Ga.). He rejected the position of Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), a leader in the civil rights movement, who called the flag a symbol of oppression. “Does he understand where I’m coming from?” Westmoreland said. “Well, if I believe it comes from heritage, does he understand where I’m coming from?”

Perhaps I am cursed by a lifetime of reading books about history, many of them regarding the context and battles of the Civil War.

But for a nanosecond, let’s set aside Rep. Westmoreland’s historically-challenged views of slavery’s role in the Civil War and focus on  his selective application of the concept of “heritage” that references something that happened 150 years

Somehow, Rep. Westmoreland has been able to evolve one of cornerstone’s of Southern heritage and become a Republican–a member of the Party of Lincoln–an act that he could never explain to those ancestors who were killed in battle against an Army commanded by Lincoln–whether they owned slaves, or not.

No doubt, Rep. Westmoreland would explain that the origin of the Republican Party (its heritage) is not what defines the party of today — that it doesn’t stand for crushing the region of his heritage, like it was in the early 1860s.

He wants to have the meaning of “heritage” be something fluid when it comes to explaining how he can dishonor his ancestors by joining the party of their enemies. Yet he wants the meaning of heritage be never-changing when it comes to a symbol most of his fellow Southerners, black and while, have accepted is a modern-day symbol of repression, racism and hate.

I’d like to think the ancestors of Westmoreland who fought against the North–who didn’t own slaves–would want the war to be over 150 years later. They would want him to be a Republican if he wants to be a Republican, and they wouldn’t care if it means something different today than it did 150 years ago. Symbols change in meaning.

If the sons of Confederate Soldiers can today set aside heritage when they go into political battle under the banner of the Party of Lincoln, they have established a definition for the word “heritage” that allows the sons of slaves to define what the Confederate flag means in 2015