For my entire life, I have been very proud to be a Southerner. There are few things that stir emotion in me like thoughts of Spanish moss hanging in oak trees, big black water rivers, the friendly wave of a stranger passing me in the other lane, church picnics, and cold watermelon. In my head and in its own way, the Confederate flag represented these things. It represented my home.
As time went by, I was regularly confronted by stereotypes of anyone who was from the South as stupid, ignorant and or hateful. If you are honest with yourself, you can look back in your memory and see that most of the time, when a person is trying to mimic someone they think is simple or dumb, they use a Southern accent. This has always irritated or just saddened me. What added to this growth of resentment was the disrespect of Confederate monuments and the Confederate flag. Seeing images of this type of behavior burned like a hot coal in my heart and made my grip on that flag even tighter because to me, these things represented my home and the people who made me who I am.
At the same time, though, there were others who were carrying that same flag to symbolize intolerance and hate. Even to the extent of carrying it next to a Nazi flag and rendering a Hitler salute. This makes me furious and makes me want to cry at the same time. Why? Because I think of the tens of thousands of Southern men who died on the beaches of Normandy and in the frozen woods of the Ardennes forests to see that this symbol of evil would never fly again. This type of sickening behavior created a sense in me of being unsure how I felt.
During the last few weeks, as the events in Virginia unfolded, these conflicting emotions began to stir again in my heart. While it saddened me to see people topple over monuments of the Confederacy, it also angered me to see hateful people wielding that flag while wearing white masks and swastikas, adding to the stereotype I have lived with most of my life. I try to avoid the news media for the most part because I believe it stirs up anger whenever it can. I do occasionally read it. As I was scrolling through various articles, I stumbled across one with a title something along the lines of “What Did Robert E. Lee Think About Confederate Statues and the Confederate Flag?”
There are few people in southern culture who are held in as high regard as General Lee. I am no exception to those who admire him, so of course I was curious as to what the General said regarding this topic. What I read, and then fact checked, was eye opening. At the end of the Civil War, General Lee was obviously disappointed to have lost, but the primary emotion he carried afterward was sadness and a desire for reconciliation. In fact, after the war he remarked, “Do not bring up your sons to detest the United States… recollect that we form one country now. Abandon all these local animosities, and make your sons Americans.” As I read more, I discovered he was opposed to Confederate monuments and statues being erected. He is quoted as responding to a request to give his blessing to a statue being erected by saying, “I could not add anything material to the information existing on the subject. I think it wiser, moreover, not to keep open the sores of war, but to follow the example of those nations who endeavored to obliterate the marks of civil strife, and to commit to oblivion the feelings it engendered.”
The Confederate flag we most commonly see aloft is a battle flag. A symbol of rebellion and defiance. It is a symbol of resistance to the United States of America. I am not saying this because I have any ill will towards it because I have no doubt if was born a couple of hundred years ago, I would have fought for my home under its colors. But it is over, and we are a united country. This does not mean that it is okay to desecrate the graves of the Confederate dead or mock those who still fly the Confederate flag, but kindly, and from a place of understanding, remind them that General Lee asked them to put it away and live as Americans.”
Keegan Caudill is a father of three from north central Florida. He currently resides with his family in North Carolina.