A few months ago I wrote about my experience living on the Mason-Dixon line and hearing stories of the Civil War from an old friend, Charlie, sitting on his front porch. He had known a woman who was just 10 years old when Confederate soldiers, on their way to Gettysburg, came through their town. I have no doubt that her stories were similar to the stories retold of Union Soldiers who passed through southern cities on their way to other battles.
The soldiers were hungry. They took every bit of livestock - every bit of food - that they could find on the farm. The only thing left was one egg. When they passed through town, they burned and looted. A scouting party had proceeded them, but were killed by the townfolk and buried beneath the tavern. And that is how he came to explain the Confederate monuments just outside of town. Those monuments were raised, after the war, for the Confederate soldiers (actually buried beneath the tavern) out of respect for the kinfolk the town expected would arrive one day.
There are many things about that story that I have rolled around in my mind these many years. This town was devastated - burned and looted - but they felt compassion for the families of the enemy soldiers. Their effort was toward healing very fresh wounds at the end of a very painful war.
I see the Civil War through those eyes. Our nation was less than 100 years old then. Those fighting on either side had often been sitting on a front porch with someone like Charlie who told about first hand stories of the Revolutionary War. They heard stories of the need to fight tyranny. Each of the colonies had strong identities of their own. The Federal Government could easily become an empirical influence in the same manner that England had been. Most who fought in the Civil War had no personal interest in slavery. But the powerful and the wealthy of the south had great interest in slavery. It is the powerful and wealthy who finance any war. Ultimately, President Lincoln correctly identified that the battle over federal and state sovereignty was squarely rooted in slavery. Putting an end to slavery would put an end to the war. He was right.
So, today - 150 years after this terrible war - a Confederate flag flies over the capital of South Carolina. Should it come down?
It's long past time to heal. Throughout the state of South Carolina are ancestors of slavery. They are free. But the Confederate flag is a reminder of an effort to keep them enslaved. And a reminder to racists to try to reverse any progress we have made as a nation. Raise a monument to those who died believing they were serving an honorable cause but do not keep alive an image of racial or national divide. We are ONE Nation. We are ONE people.
Charlie's story spoke to me of compassion and understanding. It spoke to me of honor. There is no better time to lower the Confederate flag. It is a matter of honor.