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Lindsey Graham gets to the heart of it

A difficulty in discussing the Confederate battle flag—whether it should be honored or discarded—is that not everyone can agree on basic facts.

Yesterday, writing in the Washington Examiner, Philip Klein presented a cogent conservative argument against continuing to display the flag, in which he stated a fundamental fact: "The Confederacy was formed to preserve and expand the brutal institution of slavery, and then its proponents subsequently tried to disguise their motivations in lofty language about states' rights."

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He quoted from the "cornerstone" speech of Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens and cited the formal secession documents of Texas, Georgia, South Carolina and Mississippi, all of which emphatically and explicitly said that the Confederate states were seceding to preserve white supremacy over blacks, whom they branded an inferior race.

And, of course, it became in the 1950s and 1960s an emblem of resistance to the civil rights movement, the banner of segregation.

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Commenters, predictably, refused to address the historical facts and instead resorted to ad hominem abuse of Mr. Klein.

But rather than tread that ground again, I prefer to look at an illuminating comment by Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina during an interview yesterday. Concerning public display of the Confederate battle flag, he said, "If at the end of the day, it is time for the people of South Carolina to reconsider that decision, it would be fine with me, but this is part of who we are." [Emphasis added]

Though he does not seem to be aware of it in the interview, Senator Graham has touched on a central question: Who are the we?

In fact, it is the central question. Are African-Americans Southerners as much as white Southerners are? That was the question that some thought was decided by the events of 1861-1865 and by the ratification of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution. But laws establishing segregation, along with lynchings and other violence against blacks, insisted that African-Americans are not part of us.

So Senator Graham might well consider this: Are black people, born and raised in the South, for whom the Confederate battle flag is a perpetual reminder that they were treated as an inferior class of human beings, as much Southerners as white people, born and raised in the South, who see that flag as a proud symbol of their identity while ignoring the ugliness that is inextricably attached to it?

Short version: Do you want that flag to say who we are?

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