"It's heritage, it's not hate. I don't see it as racism or anything like that," said Brittany Snader, referring to the Confederate flag she flies on her Finksburg home and, on Thursday afternoon, wore on the back of her T-shirt. "It's just history. … We were just brought up with it through my mom and dad."

Snader's neighbors, Jack Fitzwater and Suzanne King, also fly the Confederate flag from their porch. Snader's fiance, Jason Ruby, and Fitzwater carry the flag wherever they go in the form of tattoos on their arms. To all of them, the flag represents pride in family and in place, and its associations with racism and white supremacy are a misinterpretation of the flag's history, they say, or else a case of its being co-opted by those with a racist agenda.


"My bloodline is from down South, from Georgia, and to us that flag is a vessel of our blood — it's our veins," King said. "We were born and raised with it. That flag does not symbolize slavery, it does not symbolize Ku Klux Klan, it symbolizes men that fought in the Civil War in the South, even Northern men, even black men. It's a unity."

Consisting of white stars on a blue X-shaped cross of St. Andrew over a red field, what is commonly called the Confederate flag — technically the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia, not the national flag of the Confederacy — was thrown back in the national spotlight after the June 18 shooting deaths of nine members of a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina. After images surfaced of the alleged shooter, 21-year-old Dylann Roof, with the Confederate flag — along with a racist manifesto — South Carolina Republican Gov. Nikki Haley said it was time for the state's legislature to remove the flag from the grounds of the State House.


Other governors have followed Haley's example, with Alabama's Republican Gov. Robert Bentley ordering the removal of the flag from a Confederate memorial on his state's capitol grounds and, locally, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, also a Republican, expressing his disapproval of the use of Confederate flags on state license plates.

Private retailers such as Wal-Mart and Amazon.com, meanwhile, have decided to stop selling Confederate flags and paraphernalia, and the National Park Service has announced it will stop selling the flag in bookstores at Civil War battlefields such as Antietam and Gettysburg.

To Snader and her neighbors, it's all a step too far, an affront to their personal liberty.

"This whole thing has gotten taken out of hand," Snader said. "The flag has nothing to do with what happened in South Carolina."


Heritage, not hate

"It's almost cliche — some of these folks say that it's not hatred, it's history that's represented by that flag. I would have to agree with those sentiments," said Maryland Del. Haven Shoemaker, R-District 5.

Shoemaker's ancestors, a great-grandfather and two great-great-grandfathers from North Carolina, fought for the Confederacy but not, he said, out of any personal interest in protecting the institution of slavery. He believes the flag commemorates the deaths of many who fought without any racist motive.

"My ancestors, I suspect — I never got to meet any of them; I am a little younger than they are — I suspect they were fighting for the sovereignty of the state of North Carolina. That's what they thought they were fighting for. None of them were the landed gentry that owned slaves," Shoemaker said. "We had a lot of good people, hundreds of thousands of them, that perished in that great conflict. I think that we should not attribute ill motives to all those folks who fought on the losing side."

The move to end sales of the Confederate flag at national parks was particularly concerning to Steven Carney, a Civil War re-enactor with the Pipe Creek Civil War Round Table and a participant in the annual Corbit's Charge living history celebration in Westminster, which is going on this weekend.

"I don't think the knee-jerk reaction going on right now is a healthy thing. I don't need to see [the flag] over a statehouse, but as far as people — there is an entire company that said in the wake of all this they will stop making the flag," Carney said. "You have a lot of ridiculousness associated with this. They are taking down, not allowing battle flags in parks where these men fought and died."

Removing the Confederate flag from parks commemorating the Civil War dishonors the Southern soldiers who fought beneath the Confederate banner for diverse reasons, according to Carney, who, like Shoemaker, has ancestors who fought for the Confederacy. Carney's ancestors lived on a farm within 10 miles of the town of Manassas, Virginia, the location of the First Battle of Manassas in 1861, and they took up arms in response to the advance of a Union Army that they had been told would march on its stomach, pillaging food and land as it went.

"Looking at it from a Southern soldiers perspective — people fought and died on the field underneath that flag. They died by the thousands," Carney said. "There were a lot of reasons for the Civil War, not just what was in your textbooks. It can't just be boiled down into slavery [or] just into states' rights."

More than one heritage

"The way their ancestors fought for that flag, that was wonderful, but the pain that they inflicted when that flag that was flown, that dishonors my ancestors and that is the part that hurts," said Jean Lewis, president of the Carroll County chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. To her, the honor of many of the Confederate soldiers who died beneath the flag is not in question, but their beliefs, motivations, and blood cannot change the historical connection between the country they fought for and white supremacy.

"I have a history with [the Confederate flag], too, and it is not a good history," Lewis said.

That history is more recent than the 19th century, too, according to Lewis, who said the Confederate flag began flying over the state houses in the South in the '60s at the same time the civil rights movement began gaining traction and schools were being desegregated.

To Tim Wolfe, a Taneytown resident and a sociologist at Mount St. Mary's University in Emmitsburg, the fact that many people are offended by the suggestion that the Confederate flag has racist associations illustrates just how divorced from its origins the symbol has become.

"There are a number of people that fly the flag who are not themselves bigoted and do not see the flag as a symbol of racism," Wolfe said. "I will give people who say that the benefit of the doubt that for them, that's what [the flag] symbolizes."

The problem with viewing the Confederate flag as a simple symbol of the South lies in history, according to Wolfe. Insofar as the flag represents the armed forces of the defeated Confederacy, he said, racism and white supremacy are as much a part of its fabric as the stars and cross.


"The historical record is crystal clear that secession was about maintaining this racial relation, with whites on top," he said. "When you look at the speeches from Confederate leaders, the most famous of which is the Cornerstone Speech, the leaders were clear; they said explicitly and in plain language that seceding and fighting was about maintaining the institution of slavery."


Delivered on March 21, 1861, a few weeks before the Civil War began, the Cornerstone Speech by Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens tied the Confederacy to a belief that the races are not equal.

"Our new Government is founded upon exactly the opposite ideas; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition," the speech reads.

Black slavery was also institutionalized in the Confederate Constitution, Article 1, Section 9 (4), which outlawed the possibility of passing a law forbidding slavery.

Many people who hold the Confederate flag dear do not seem to know its historical connections to white supremacy in the Confederacy, Wolfe said, and while he understands their feelings are sincere and heartfelt, he hopes some of them will take the time to research the origins of the symbol.

"If people don't know that history, they should learn that history," Wolfe said. "If they know that history and want to say, 'I don't think of it in those terms, to me the flag means something else,' well, you have a constitutional right to fly it on your property, put a bumper sticker on your car or get a tattoo. It's not my cup of tea, but you have a right to do that."

On that point, Wolfe and those who adore the Confederate flag are in agreement.

"If you want to take it from the government buildings, really, they are going to do it no matter what Americans think about it anyway," Suzanne King said outside her Finksburg home. "But when you try to tell people that they can't fly it in their own yards, that's Communism to me. That's like taking away from the constitutional right and that's not a good thing. I think that could cause a revolution."

Where do we go from here?

"There are some people whose minds just won't be changed," Wolfe said. "They may dig in their heels, and I can imagine some people saying, 'This is just more political correctness telling me what I can and cannot do.' If that's what they feel, they would be defensive, of course."

Wolfe is concerned that no further discussion of the flag will be possible if those who support it feel they are under attack. He hopes some of those who support it as a symbol of heritage will consider what that heritage means to others and have a change of heart.

"[Maryland was] a slave state and we had a lot of Confederate sympathizers," Wolfe said. "I think there are people in Maryland, and particularly from our county, that if they are thoughtful, could be really important players."

When it comes to Snader, King, Fitzwater and others who fly the Confederate flag proudly, they simply want to be left alone.

"How about this: What's coming up on the fourth? Independence Day. Let's have our independence," Fitzwater said. "The outsiders best leave us alone. I've got pride in the U.S., too, but now they are hurting my feelings. They are breaking my heart. I don't even want to hang the American flag now just because it's breaking my heart."



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