Wednesday, May 11, 2016
Symbols and their meanings
Eleven months or so, that's all. A kid, 21-year-old Dylann Roof, walks into the Emanuel African Episcopal Church in downtown Charleston, South Carolina, where a number of congregants have gathered for prayer. It's a place the people of Charleston call "Mother Church" because so much rich history happened there.
You've not forgotten. Not really.
Mr. Roof sits with those good folks for an hour or so. Must have been strange, really--he is significantly younger than the rest and the only white man or woman in the room. Then, for no apparent reason, he draws a Glock 41, a .45 caliber handgun and begins to carry out the mission he'd come to accomplish. He kills every one of the people who'd been praying, most of the victims not young and certainly not about to fight the young man off. Later, he tells authorities that he'd hoped thereby to start a race war.
When I read about the story again tonight in Jim Wallis's America's Original Sin, I was saddened to realize I'd so completely put the story into the closet. I had to be reminded of that night, of all the resulting fuss about the place and propriety of the Confederate Flag, and of President Obama's touching solo voice on "Amazing Grace" at the pastor's funeral a week later. Some people hate Obama so deeply that it's impossible for them to believe anything he does is blessed, but when I hear his voice on that old hymn, I will forever consider that funeral and that moment a high point of his Presidency.
I hadn't really forgotten all of that, but I had to read over the story again to bring it back to mind. Amazing, how things simply get lost, even tragedy, even the massive headlines.
You may remember also that the state of South Carolina ordered their flags flown at half-mast to honor the nine men and women murdered there in Mother Church. You may also remember that state law forbad the Confederate flag from being lowered; that act would have required an act of the legislature. What's more, the Confederate flag had no draw string.
You might remember too that Dylann Roof's website was festooned with Confederate flags that obviously symbolized, at least to him, the white supremacy he carried into the church that night, the white supremacy with which he'd loaded that Glock 41.
Once again, just as they had dozens of times before, thousands of South Carolinians argued to take that Confederate flag down once and for all from its position of honor and privilege over the State House, to put it away in a museum where it rightfully belonged. Thousands once again refused, adamant about the flag's honor as a symbol of beloved Southern culture.
What came to mind immediately as I read about that terrible night in Charleston was the immediate reaction of South Carolina's Gov. Nikki Haley, a governor whose conservative credentials were, and are, impeccable. Five days after the carnage, Gov. Haley, flanked by the state's most powerful Republican politicians, ordered the flag be down. She said it is "an integral part of our past, [but] it does not represent the future." What she did was a beautiful and courageous act.
The Confederate flag came down.
The picture up there at the top of the page features a couple of kids having fun with a Confederate flag on Main Street in a town where I lived for decades, flying it. waving it like, well, young rebels. My guess is that they had no idea what they were doing, no memory of the murders in Charleston's Mother Church, probably never heard the name of Dylann Roof--or if they did, they'd forgotten, as I did.
All that dumb flag-waving, they probably said--it was just them having some fun. But some things will never be just plain fun--things like swastikas, burning crosses, and Confederate flags.
If their being kids and their having fun were the whole story. I hope someone they trust and value teaches them memorably one of the most profound lessons they will ever learn.
I really hope those kids get schooled in Mother Church.
Posted by J. C. Schaap at 5:21 AM