I think I know a tipping point when I see one.
And when the Republican governor of Alabama, the successor to men such as George Wallace, voluntarily and independently orders the removal of the Confederate battle flag flying over a Confederate memorial outside the state Capitol in Montgomery — that, ladies and gentlemen, is a tipping point.
“After the battle flag – which is at the center of the controversy – was gone, workers began removing three other Civil War era flags.
They are the First National Confederate Flag, commonly preferred to as the “Stars and Bars;” the second flag is the Second National Confederate Flag, more commonly known as the “Stainless Banner;” and the last flag standing is the Third National Confederate Flag.
…The cornerstone of the Confederate monument was laid by Jefferson Davis, president of the CSA (Confederate States of America) on April 29, 1880.”
I wouldn’t mind being the person who broke that news to Dylann Roof. This is what you wrought, little man. You provided the last little hateful nudge to topple a symbol that should have been retired a century and a half ago. You stripped away the threadbare cloak of deniability and made it impossible to defend an indefensible fiction any longer. Out of an act of violence and hate has come redemption.
The ramifications have been swift and impressive. The Board of Visitors at the Citadel, for example, has voted to ask the South Carolina Legislature for permission to remove the battle flag from its chapel. (The mere fact that it has to ask for such legislative permission speaks volumes.) Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has spoken out in favor of removing a statue of Jefferson Davis from the Kentucky Capitol. Several Southern states are withdrawing Confederate-themed license plates from circulation.
Here in Georgia, Gov. Nathan Deal initially defended the continued issuance of a Confederacy-themed state license plate, then hastily reconsidered and announced the plate would be “redesigned.” I suspect even that strategic retreat will be reconsidered in favor of abolishing the plate altogether. Deal claims the plate amounts to a personal statement by an individual, rather than an endorsement by the state, but that stance ignores the reality that the plate is issued by the state, as an official act.
My favorite story, though, comes out of Texas, which recently won a Supreme Court fight allowing the state to refuse to issue a Confederacy-themed plate. As the New York Times reports it:
“In Austin, Tex., a tall bearded man went into the tattoo parlor where Kelly Barr works with a request: the removal a 10-year-old tattoo of the Confederate flag.
He told Mr. Barr that he had decided to get the flag removed when he saw the pained look on a middle-age black woman at his gym on Monday.
“ ‘If South Carolina can take theirs down,’ ” Mr. Barr recalled him saying, “ ‘I can take mine down.’ ” I told him, ‘Right on.’ ”
As I note in a column in today’s AJC, some white Southerners fear that once the Confederate flag disappears, other familiar icons will be targeted next for removal, including the stone statues of Civil War soldiers that stand sentinel over so many small towns across the South. That fear isn’t groundless, but I hope it doesn’t happen, and I would argue strongly that it should not.
Those statues, like the carving on Stone Mountain, are clearly part of our history. They should no more be obliterated than should the few remaining slave cabins or plantation homes in Georgia. They remind us of what we once were and how far we have come, and there is immense value in that. We should not seek historical amnesia or whitewashing of our shared past, only assurance that what belongs in the past remains there, and that we celebrate only those things worth celebrating.