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Monday, December 15, 2014

Confederate Flag Interview 03-10-2014

The following story is from a series of questions conducted by the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities concerning the display of the Southern Cross of Dixie (Confederate battle flag Army of Northern Virginia) which I responded to.
Many have asked my for my opinion over the years about my continued support for its display in public venues. Particularly why I would offer my support for the display of a banner that many in America feel to be controversial given much of the past associated with it. 
I feel that the responses to the excellent questions posted in the discussion best reflect my feelings in this regard. I responded truthfully and hope that the answers will help people come to understand how someone could continue to honor a flag that so many would prefer to see confined to a museum, or completely destroyed. 

Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities
5511 Staples Mill Road, #202
Richmond, VA 23228
Ph: (804) 515-7950
Fax: (804) 515-7177

We use the term “Confederate flag” in these questions be
cause that is the common usage and understanding today.
See the historical context for a more complete and
accurate description of the appropriate terminology

Answers provided by Mr. Carl W. Roden, noted Confederate flag proponent and self-identified  Confederate descendant.


Q - What is your earliest memory of seeing what is understood today to be the Confederate flag?

CR - I was about six years old riding in the backseat of my parent's car and saw it hanging from a pole over the door of a barn somewhere in York County, South Carolina. This was around 1982. I asked my dad about it and he told me it was the flag of the South, our home.

Q - What did you think about it?

CR - I thought it was neat. I'd remembered vaguely seeing it before in a Civil War themed episode of the "Bugs Bunny and Tweety Show" while watching Saturday morning cartoons with my sister.

Q - What messages did you receive about it?

CR - I saw it simply as a symbol of the South, my home and the land of my birth. Later I would learn of my great-great grandfather, a sergeant in the 48th Alabama, CSA.

Q - Who shared those messages with you?

CR - My friends and several classmates - some of whom were non-white Southerners I might add. My grandmother who told me about the War and how the South and the North fought. My uncle James "Cooter" Roden who found out about my ancestry was also a big help. I also remember seeing the flag at a Confederate grave in a local cemetery not long after seeing it the first time. That was the most profound experience for me.

Q - Have the messages you received about the Confederate flag been consistent throughout your life?

CR - I would have to say no to that one. Over the years I've seen that flag used to honor Southern heritage and identity, and also by people driven by a motive to hurt or offend people.

Q - If they have not been consistent, what were the differences?

CR - I have seen movies and news stories where racist groups and individuals displayed that flag to attack others. I have on a couple of occasions seen this personally. Those views have always filled me with disgust. They are an affront to humanity and my Southern identity as I define it. To that end I pledged to do whatever I could throughout my life to fight against that misuse and mischaracterization of that noble Southern banner.

Q - From your perspective, what role(s) has the Confederate flag played throughout history?

CR - The flag has played many roles, most of which have been quite positive and honorable.

During the War itself the flag was seen by the Confederate soldier as a symbol of home, of family, of devotion to duty, of espirit-de-corps. As a symbol of the regiment, it was often fiercely fought over when battle was joined so that it would not fall into the hands of the enemy. The surrender of that flag was a sad occasion, with veterans often tearing them to pieces and keeping the scraps rather than surrendering them.

Later in other American wars, the flag was on display (often times beside the US flag) as a sign of respect for the old Confederate Veterans and a sigh of Southern identity in respect to American unity. Soldiers from Southern States would often take a battle flag with them to war to display as a reminder of their home.

The flag was also displayed as a visual reminder of Southern identity in a positive, benign way - and to this day still is in many cases.

There were also times when the flag was badly misused, often by opportunistic politicians and hate groups who thought that use of that flag would legitimize their own sordid ideals to the Southern people. It is with great regret that many Southerners went along with such thinking. Other Southerners, mainly prominent Southern historians, condemned such actions during the Civil Rights Movement - I only wish they'd been listen to. Would have spared many of the problems those who honor Confederate heritage and Southern identity faced today.

Still no human symbol is free from tarnish, all flags and symbols contains the scars of bigotry, hatred and discrimination in some form or another. In my opinion it takes more than racists bigots and their twisted ideologies to tarnish the true heritage of honor that those noble Southern soldiers carrying that same banner won in battle. That is what many Southern heritage defenders today fight to prove....and I believe they will ultimately prevail to some degree.

Q - From your perspective, what role(s) do you think the Confederate flag plays today?

CR - Throughout the world today, the Dixie Cross (battle flag) represents the American South and its good Southern people. It can be found on six continents across the world carried often by the descendants of Confederate veterans, Southern-born people of all races, religions, and creeds; or simply by people who respect the American Southland. 98% of the time the display of that flag is done to honor Southern identity and not meant as a means to attack, or express hatred for other people.

Q - What does the Confederate flag represent to you?

CR - The Dixie Cross banner is the living symbol of Southern identity and memorial for the Confederate dead - those who died in battle and those who survived the hell of the War Between the States (American Civil War). More so it is a heraldic symbol that links Confederate descendants of all colors and creeds to their ancestors - both those who fought in the War and in some cases more distantly. For many white Southerners of Anglo-Celtic descent, the flag's symbolism of the St. Andrew's Cross (the saltier, or X in the flag) is a Christian symbol that links back to ancient Scotland and Ireland. Moreover, the St. Andrew's Cross is a part of many other national banners throughout the world. This links the American Southland with other nations, or States that share a common link. The Dixie Cross may not represent an existing country, but it does represent the heritage of a widely diverse group of American people mostly native to the American Southland.

Q - What feelings come up for you when you see the Confederate flag?

CR - When I see that flag flown at a Confederate Memorial Day parade, at one of the many memorials for the Southern dead, or at a Confederate soldier's grave, I see it in its proper and honorable context. When I see it displayed on vehicles, in front of homes, and in public somewhere on Southern soil, I see it as someone saying: "I'm Southern and proud of it!"
Now when I see it displayed in places outside of the Southland, it prompts curiosity in me. But when I see it displayed by hateful people who wave it and shout ugly, racist obscenities at non-white Americans, it evokes a great anger in me - as well as a strong desire to tear it from their unworthy hands.

Q - What assumptions, if any, do you make about people who fly the Confederate flag?

CR - This day and age I don't presume anything about anyone who displays it, thought I sincerely hope it is for one of the 98% of the good reasons I mentioned before. I think that given the current climate everyone should be cautious when applying either on overly positive, or negative reaction about it until the reasons for said display are know and all facts are made clear.

Q - What assumptions, if any, do you make about the people who protest the flying of the Confederate flag?

CR - I think that such people are misguided, even if they believe their actions are for the "greater good" of society. Ultimately they discount the positive feelings of those who more often than not display the flag for benign purposes. Many of these people label anyone who displays that flag as a racist. Those actions I think ultimately work less towards establishing unity, or community, and more towards creating bitter feelings.

Overall, I believe that those who protest the display of the Dixie Cross in any context, rather than rejecting the racist misuse of the flag, instead promote the very racism and intolerance they claim to despise. Removing the flag because of such misconceptions about its display does nothing to promote unity, or tolerance.

More so, many Confederate descendants regard the removal of that flag as a surrender, as an acceptance - even a promotion - of the view that flag is a symbol of hate, by the very people who call themselves "tolerant". They see it as flag opponents willingly allowing white supremacist groups and other assorted lowlifes to co-opt that flag, with the full blessings of the anti-flag forces. To a heritage defender that is an obscene insult - and in some cases - an unforgivable one.

Q - What might be some interpretations of the Confederate flag that are different from what you believe?

CR - That the flag is nothing more than a symbol of and tool of racial strife. An "American swastika" as some of the more extreme fringe of the anti-flag opposition would claim.

Q - In what ways are they different?

CR - Such views represent true intolerance and puts the most extreme of these people on par morally with the very same racists who misuse the flag as a banner of hate in the first place.

Q - How do you think people came to have those views?

CR - In some cases, I think it came about because racist people claim the flag as a tool to intimidate and show their hatred for non-white, non-Christian people. Such actions always fill me with disgust and anger, but not directed at the person harmed and feel upset by the sight of the Dixie Cross. I feel sorrow for and do the best that I can to educate and eliminate that misconception. My anger is reserved only for those who continue to do harm - no matter if they wave it to promote evil, or who actively protest its continued display and label Confederate descendants as mindless racists.

In other cases, however, the flag has been demonized by the American mainstream media and entertainment establishment culture. Race-baiting opportunists, much like their white supremacist counterparts, use the display of the flag as a lightning rod, and use misinformation about its display as a means of creating non-issues and controversy.

Q - How can a person's experiences shape her/his views on the Confederate flag?

CR - Exposure to people who display that flag honorably tends to lead to either acceptance, or at least indifference, to its display. Usually with no negative results.
However, continued displays of the flag in hateful ways without people speaking out against such actions, and a popular culture establishment hostile to its use in the first place that reinforces those negative views of the flag and the people who display it, create hostile feelings based on presumptions and propaganda.

Q - What can you learn from those who have a different perspective about the Confederate flag?

CR - For the most part, what I learn from them is the best way to engage opponents of the flag and Southern heritage. I don't complete ignore the stories of someone who has been hurt by someone displaying that flag in a negative light though, nor do I discount their feelings, though I can never agree that doing away with its public display would change anything in a positive way. Such stories only reaffirm my own resolve to fight and speak out against the misuse of the Dixie Cross and those Confederate descendants who honor its proper heritage.

Q - What can you teach those who have a different perspective about the Confederate flag?

CR - Well, about all I can teach them is to start by having an open mind about those who display the flag, and try to convince them not to prejudge or label those who display it. To give Southerners and other individuals who display the Dixie Cross the benefit of the doubt unless one commits some openly hateful act. Overall that as a modern symbol the Dixie Cross has only as much racial context as both the person who misuses it and those who choose to regard it that way. For those who honor it properly there is little to no emphasis on ethnicity, only regional and ancestral pride.

Despite the somewhat flawed "symbols have meanings" argument, the Dixie Cross was never designed specifically to be a racial symbol, nor is its ancestral symbolism - the St. Andrew's Cross - historically a symbol synonymous with racial hatred. Since there is no specific consensus on the overall meaning of the Dixie Cross in a modern context, the argument that the flag is "infused with racism" is a weak one. The flag is only as positive or negative a symbol as the person who carries it, or sees it, chooses it to be.

I think that, in the final analysis, choosing to reject the negative view of the Dixie Cross advances the cause of social equality in a more meaningful way that simply condemning it, labeling its proponents, and condemning its use to the hands of those who misuse it for hateful reasons. Accepting that flag as a symbol of hate only empowers those who are themselves racists.

Q - In what ways can you educate yourself about the Confederate flag and its history?

CR - There are a number of really good books about the history of the flag and its origins, as well as a variety of internet sources that are informative. These show both the good and he bad parts of that flag's history. I believe that its always important - from a flag proponents POV - to honor the good parts of that history, while remembering the negative uses of that flag, and striving to make certain that those negatives are never allowed to ultimately define its symbolism.
I stress this to the defenders of Southern heritage and identity, and the Dixie Cross banner. The negatives should never be forgotten, or overlooked; otherwise it allows those who dishonor that noble flag to continue doing so, and it dishonors the memories and feelings of those who were harmed by that misuse.
Even if flag proponents were to achieve complete success and that flag were never displayed to express hatred of another human being for a century, that misuse will always remain part of that flag's history. That being said, it does not have to be the defining part of what that flag stands for. That end would do nothing to bring justice to those harmed, and it would dishonor those who died fighting under it and their descendants. The best justice for all concerned would be consigning the misuse of that flag to irrelevance, if not extinction. The misuse, not the flag itself.

Q - In what ways can you educate others about the Confederate flag and its history?

CR - For my part, I have educational materials from several great books about the flag and its history that I use for a presentation on the flag, its history, and its modern symbolism.

Q - What can make having conversations about the Confederate flag difficult?

CR - A lack of an open mind, or willingness to allow the other person to express their feelings, or reason through differences.

For the part of those who oppose the flag, they claim that its intolerant to expose the flag to anyone offended by it, and an insult to be "forced" to accept its display in any public context. Some of these people have been exposed to the worst sort of ugliness by agents of hatred who waved that flag and others in their faces. This view is also reinforced through the mainstream American media and popular culture establishment propaganda that tells them, and many in the younger generation, that there is no good in the display of that flag - rather that any such display is a direct threat against them. This view is also reinforced by many so-called "leaders" and various groups who profit from continued anxiety on this issue. It also leads to such people viewing anyone who displays the flag as a negative racist stereotype, rather than an free-thinking individual.

For the part of those who support the flag - especially Confederate descendants themselves who honor their ancestor's service - being asked to accept the condemnation of that flag is the same as being asked to accept the denigration of one's own heritage. It is the same as asking them to surrender it and willingly allow it to be handed over to radical hate groups and other extremists who would continue to tarnish it - and by extension, the memories of their own ancestors, their own blood. That suggestion is morally obscene to most of us, and strongly resisted. Also a good many of those who defended the display of the Dixie Cross feel that only those descended from the Confederate soldier and who honor that service have any moral right to define what that flag means in a modern and historical context.

Both sides have strong feelings on this issue, and believe their views are morally just. I feel that opponents of the flag lose any moral high ground when they choose to label anyone who display that flag as a racist bigot, regardless of their motives. Yet, I do not completely discount the pain that some have been subjected to by those who misused that flag as a symbol of hatred. However,  I said before, I do not believe that the condemnation and removal of that flag from public view outside a museum would serve to bring justice to those offended. Rather, I believe that a complete rejection of the misuse of the flag and the view of that banner as a symbol of racial hatred, would ultimately serve as a stronger blow against those who advance the outdated view of racial superiority.

Q - What can you do to improve the quality and frequency of such conversations?

CR - I would promote proper education about the flag to young people and to the general public on an individual basis. I would also respectfully call for a toning down of more harmful rhetoric and blanket labeling of those who display the flag at Civil War re-enactments and other occasions that promote Confederate heritage. Also, I would suggest promoting the fact that Confederate heritage and the Dixie Cross banner are both an integral part of this country's diversity, one shared by all Southern-born people regardless of ethnicity who had ancestors who fought in Confederate gray and butternut. The flag does not stand against diversity, it's a part of America's diversity.


Q - What does it say about the Richmond region to have a Confederate flag flying on Interstate 95?

CR - Personally, I don't feel it's inappropriate for the historic capital of the former CSA to have a battle flag displayed in a place of historical significance. Where better for that flag to be displayed?

Q - What are some ways that the Richmond region is distinctive?

CR - To tell the truth I have yet to visit the area to date. I've heard many positive things about the place and look forward to visiting it someday.

Q - What are some other symbols that you would select to represent this region?

CR - In addition to its Confederate past, I would also suggest symbols of its early European colonial period, as well as its Native-American past. And there are modern art and buildings of historical and cultural significance that would likewise serve well. All of these are an integral part of the beautiful tapestry that is out Southern Heritage and identity and should be treated with equal respect.

(Discussion questions submitted on 03/10/2014)

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