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Martin Luther King Day

A lesson on 'southern heritage' and the profound power of symbols

A lesson on 'southern heritage' and the profound power of symbols

The debate swirling around the Confederate battle flag takes me back to a time early in my career when that symbol nearly cost me a job. It was when I first came to realize that for a lot of people, the Civil War was still alive and kicking, more than 125 years after Appomattox. Growing up in New York City in the 1970s, I thought that everyone was liberal, and that almost everyone was Jewish. Then, in the early 1990s, I found myself in the ultraconservative small town of Bastrop in northeast Louisiana, where, at 25, I became editor of its tiny daily newspaper. I quickly noticed how fond many white people there were of the Confederate flag, and how often they spoke of pride in their...

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