By Damon Krane
Sunday, May 31, 1998
The Observer-Reporter (Washington, Pennsylvania)
(Editor’s note, 1/16/13 — The following letter to the editor was the first piece I ever had published in a newspaper. It ran in the Sunday edition of the county’s main daily. I was 18 years old at the time. I’ll admit to spicing up the last paragraph when reproducing it here. Sadly, nearly 15 years since this piece’s original publication, I would guess that a lot of people (perhaps most) in the area I come from would see my argument as both extreme and incorrect. The local group most likely to agree with my assessment — everything except that last line, that is — probably would be the very same overt racists that I criticize.)
During this year’s recent National Pike Festival, all along Route 40 there were yard sales and music, food and games, booths from artists and craftspeople and even rides on horse-drawn buggies. And in Buffalo Township, at least, there were plenty of Confederate flags for sale.
The prevalence of the flag of the former slave states shouldn’t be too surprising, as a so-called “rebel flag” on a pick-up truck is a fairly common sight for anyone accustomed to driving along Route 40 west of Washington, or on any of the rural roads in our area.
During the Pike Festival, at the intersection of routes 40 and 221, between Claysville and Taylorstown, a Confederate flag could be purchased bearing the slogan “The South Will Rise Again.” Last November an identical flag (possibly even the same one) was held from the back of a pick-up truck by a group of people who also displayed the flag’s colors on bandanas and T-shirts as they yelled racial slurs and death threats at a crowd of Washington NAACP members and supportive Claysville residents marching in protest of a recent cross burning in the small burg. This is something that leads me to suspect the modern popularity of the Confederate flag — particularly in our area far to the north of the Mason-Dixon line – reflects something other than the fact that Lynryd Skynyrd had a couple decent songs.
But perhaps I’m wrong. Maybe the racists opposing the NAACP march merely chose to celebrate their love of that classic TV show “The Dukes of Hazard” in conjunction with protesting racial equality.
Maybe, but I doubt it, given that more than one KKK member protesting the Claysville NAACP march also sported a T-shirt depicting one or more Klansmen against the backdrop of a Confederate flag.
I also doubt that it is without significance that the Klansmen shouting obscenities and racial epithets from the steps of the courthouse in Pittsburgh last April waved two flags. One bore a swastika. Can you guess the other? I’ll give you a hint: if you happen to come across the website of “America’s Invisible Empire, Knights of the Ku Klux Klan,” it’s the first thing you’ll see. Yes, a Confederate flag with the message: “Fly the battle flag with pride for we are at war again.”
It may be nostalgic memories of Bo and Luke Duke evading Boss Hog and his bumbling sidekick Roscoe. Or perhaps those wonderfully tiny shorts Daisy wore. Maybe it’s “Free Bird.” But for what ever reason, the emblem of the former Confederacy doesn’t seem to attract the same outrage as, say, a swastika on a pick-up truck might – and that’s a big part of the problem.
The Confederate flag not only belonged to but explicitly symbolized a society based on the ideology of white supremacy and completely dependent on black slave labor. Millions of kidnapped Africans are estimated to have died while being shipped to the Americas in deplorable conditions. Millions more African Americans spent their entire lives in bondage. The resurgence of the Confederate flag’s popularity – particularly locally – is a celebration of that horrific history, just as much as the modern use of the swastika is a celebration of the holocaust.
After all, there were several swastikas on display in Claysville during the NAACP march. Although protesters donning the Nazi symbol were significantly outnumbered by who covered themselves in the good old “stars and bars,” there was no visible animosity between the groups, as their members and symbols freely mingled that day.
I think it’s past time to take an honest look at the Confederate flag and to realize what it likely reflects of anyone who proudly displays it. If you want to look like a rebel rather than a racist, my advice is to just slap a “No Fear” sticker on your truck. Or perhaps one of Calvin peeing on something. On second thought, maybe there is a good place for that Confederate flag after all.
(Editor’s note, 1/16/13 – After I was done speaking with the Nazi pictured above and other march protesters, the state trooper pictured above turned to me and said, “You’re not from around here, are you?”)