Matt Hill proudly flew a Confederate battle flag below the American flag and a POW-MIA flag at his campsite at the Country Concert in Ft. Loramie on Thursday. For Hill and countless of others, the flap over the rebel flag being removed Friday from South Carolina’s capitol grounds is “ridiculous.”
“The first one stands for our country. There’s nothing more important than that flag right there. That goes on top,” Hill, 39, a white man from Leo, Ind. said as he pointed at the American flag. “The POW (flag) is for every man and woman that serves this country. We’ll never forget them and what they’ve done for this country. And that Confederate flag goes right along with that POW flag. That flag is (as much) a part of this country as is the Statue of Liberty. It was part of the South and the Civil War.”
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Even as the same symbol was removed from outside the state capitol building in South Carolina following an extraordinary debate over the pain its mere presence causes, fans at the Country Concert — held in Ohio, a state that wasn’t part of the Confederacy — seems almost removed from that changing current. The flag is disappearing even in places where it traditionally flies, such as NASCAR races, but throughout the crowd in this days-long tribute to country music, people displayed the flag proudly and defiantly, sending a clear message that the debate that began in South Carolina is far from over.
Tim Bown, 58, of Hamilton is in favor of flying the Confederate flag, and he said officials in South Carolina should not have caved to the “1 percent, the people who whine all the time.”
“Whoever’s whining the most gets the most attention,” said Brown, who was not at the Country Concert. “That’s the problem, you’ve got a small group that’s complaining all the time. You get tired of it.”
Cliff McDonald, 50, of Fremont, looked at all the Confederate flags at the Country Concert and wondered about its appeal.
“Everybody has their own perspective about the North and South,” McDonald said. “Half these people are from the Northern states, but they’re flying Southern flags like they’re born and raised down there. I can see if you were born in like Georgia or Alabama and Mississippi, you can fly that flag, that’s your heritage. But these guys probably don’t even know what it’s about.”
A few hundred yards away from Hill’s camper, 62-year-old Johnnie Bulger of Fremont, offered his view as a black man about the dozens of Confederate battle flags among hundreds of American flags.
“I think they ought to be flying the United States’ flag and that’s it. Too many people died for this country, so why separate it?” Bulger asked. “Look how many stars (are) on that (Confederate) flag right there? Now look at the American flag and how many stars and look what they represent.”
Dylan Kleman, 21, of Columbus Grove, was part of a rare group at the Country Concert that displayed the Ohio flag along with the American flag. Kleman said he doesn’t have a problem with people flying the Confederate battle flag, but that “it probably shouldn’t be on a state building.”
Battle flag history
Wright State University history professor Paul Lockhart said the rectangular flag with 13 stars in a crossing pattern began as a Confederate Navy symbol and that the square version was a battle flag. Neither was among the Confederacy’s three national flags, though two did include the pattern.
The use of the battle flag waned for decades until the early 1960s when it was raised in opposition to the civil rights movement and federal anti-segregation laws, Lockhart said. The flag has also been associated with events and organizations ranging from college football games to The Dukes of Hazzard television show’s General Lee car to the Ku Klux Klan.
“Whether it is emblematic of Southern heritage or Southern pride, it’s come to mean, justifiably, for many Americans, something insidious and something awful,” Lockhart said, citing the Southern states’ orders of succession papers. “Up there front and center in every statement of intent is something about the inferiority of the black man and the superiority of the white man and the sanctity of slavery as an institution.”
University of Dayton history professor William Trollinger said the KKK didn’t use the rebel flag much after Reconstruction until the 1960s.
“In a sense, the Klan and its associated groups got what they wanted,” he said. “By the 1890s, they got what they wanted. So you don’t need much in the way of white supremacist groups because they have the South that they wanted, which was a white supremacist South.”
Civil war history
The website civilwar.org estimates that there were 620,000 combined U.S. military deaths in the Civil War, more than the 616,640 combined U.S. military deaths from World Wars I and II, Vietnam and Korea.
For decades, school children were taught states’ rights — not slavery — was the main reason for the war between the states, and that the opinion pervades today, Trollinger said.
“The Civil War in the United States is one of these rare instances where the losers have written the history,” he said. “And it’s only since the 60s since the civil rights movement, that in public schools in the United States, we have started — at least in some places – telling a different story about the Civil War.”
Some 35,475 Ohioans died during the Civil War, according to the website Ohiohistory.org. The state was third in Union combat deaths behind New York and Pennsylvania, still, young Ohioans at the Country Concert identify with the rebel flag today.
“We definitely do not think that it should be banned, that’s for sure, for anybody,” said Michaela Goettemoeller, 18, of Minster. She and her group of friends who displayed both American and Confederate flags at their campsite.
‘It’s about heritage’
“It’s not really a racist thing, like, I saw on Facebook that there was a black guy pulled over on the side of the road and nobody else would help him and the people with the Confederate flag helped him out,” Goettemoeller said. “So, it’s not about racism. It’s about heritage.
“Growing up in a small town, everybody I grew up around had the Confederate flag, so, I just took it as my own.”
Lockhart cited Tony Horwitz’s book ‘Confederates in the Attic,’ which he said surmised that the draw of the Confederate flag reaches beyond southern pride into class and popular culture.
“I will say that the most generous interpretation is something about Southern pride and for Northerners flying the flag, it’s an interesting phenomenon. … some kind of resistance to too much federal power or something like that.
“The problem is that you have to strip history out of it. You have to say, well, the Civil War wasn’t about slavery – which it was – and you have to ignore the fact that the flag really comes into prominence in response to the civil rights movement.”
Other flag flaps
The Mississippi state flag includes a Confederate battle flag — like Georgia’s did until 2001 — and other southern state flags incorporate elements of Confederate symbols.
Lockhart — a Civil War buff since childhood — said he’s a little uneasy about the businesses refusing to sell products including the Confederate flag and the possible removal of it from Civil War-related national parks. But he’s in favor of removing it from state flags.
“Personally, the incorporation of that symbol in a state flag makes me uneasy. I can imagine there will be a huge flap over that,” Lockhart said. “What is represented today as the Confederate flag has always struck me as being out of place in our society.”
Reporter Annie Furia contributed to this story.
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