Furl the flag
Sports leagues taking on racism, false history
“You can’t re-write history,” seems to be a popular refrain these days from unreconstructed Confederates.
History is full of nuances that are often forgotten or overlooked, and American history is no different.
Our nation was founded on the ideals of freedom and equality, but those ideals weren’t extended to all. Slavery and its repercussions have been part of our history since 1619. As other nations started outlawing slavery as early as 1803, the United States tore itself apart with Southern states opting to separate themselves and go to war in 1861 to preserve the peculiar institution. The war to preserve the Union changed significantly in 1863 as abolition became a key strategy in subduing the insurrection. Following the Civil War, the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments were passed in the mid-1860s to give slaves freedom, citizenship, and, for males, the right to vote. Reconstruction was supposed to bring the South peacefully back into the Union, but “the Compromise of 1877,” a political deal to resolve the presidential election of 1876 pulled federal troops and allowed the South to govern itself. The promises granted Blacks by the government in the 1860s, at the conclusion of the Civil War, wouldn’t begin to be enforced for another century with the Civil and Voting Rights acts of the 1960s, When Blacks stood up for their rights, they were often berated, beaten, jailed, and murdered.
Even as all of this was happening, defeated Southerners worked diligently to whitewash history to establish a false narrative about the reasons for the Civil War, glorify the leaders of the “Lost Cause” by overlooking and ignoring established facts and events. In the hundred years in between, Southerners erected monuments and statues to their failed leaders to create and reinforce an environment of oppression.
My eyes were opened to the violent racial history our nation has endured while a student at Ole Miss. I arrived in Oxford in the mid-1990s. At the time, the rebel flag was a ubiquitous sight on and around campus. At football games, the band would play “Dixie” and the students would lift and wave rebel flags and cheer on the team – which was majority Black. If one didn’t know or understand the history of the rebel flag, they might describe it as a beautiful sight. But after learning about its stains, it was hard to accept. The rebel flag was ubiquitous at battles fought to keep people enslaved, then at Ku Klux Klan rallies, anti-segregation marches, lynchings.
While working on a school project, I came across a photo by David Rae Morris that focused on a Black University Police Department officer surrounded by a sea of rebel flags in the Ole Miss student section. Assigned to keep the peace, he had a calm, cool, collected look on his face, but I wondered about his interior monologue. What was he thinking, feeling in that moment. What did he tell his wife and kids when he went home at the end of the day? How was he treated if he had to interact with a drunken, outspoken student?
It wasn’t too much later that then head coach Tommy Tuberville told fans that the continued adulation of the flag was hurting the University and its teams’ ability to recruit top talent. To avoid First Amendment issues of free speech, the school banned flag sticks from stadiums and arenas.
There was push back, a lot of it. But it was the right move. In the 25 years since I first stepped foot on campus, the flag has all but disappeared, the band doesn’t play “Dixie,” and the school has retired its on-field Colonel Rebel mascot.
I’ve been witness to Ole Miss making several positive changes over the decades. The school has made itself more accommodating. That’s good.
So it perplexes me that there are still people, like Ray Ciccarelli, a part-time driver of the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series, who want to take their stand over defending the rebel flag and its associated racism.
This week, NASCAR announced it wouldn’t let fans display rebel and confederate flags at its races.
That was too much for Ciccarelli, who said he wouldn’t return after the 2020 racing season because of NASCAR’s decision on the flag. As Johnny Ringo famously says in the movie Tombstone, “Well, bye.”
That’s an interesting take from someone with an Italian surname. Maybe he doesn’t know it, but while Blacks were denied rights following the Civil War, so too were others who weren’t seen as “White enough.” This included Italians, as well as Irish, eastern Europeans and those not of Anglo-Saxon heritage.
The debate over race and hate is being rehashed again today and action is once again being taken. Education is attempting to overcome ignorance. From locker rooms to the track, we’re discussing the impact of false narratives and racism and working to correct past mistakes. State and local governments are removing accolades of a false history by removing Confederate-related statues, the military has moved to rename bases that were named for false heroes, and people are working to provide a more accurate representation of our nation’s history and continuing to make it a more perfect union.
The time has come for our nation to move on from its racist past and move toward its goal of being a shining city on a hill and fully realizing American exceptionalism.