My opinion: Fort Sumter’s Confederate flags should stay

Fort Sumter is, for better or worse, in the news again this season.  And the news centers around this flag display:

Fort Sumter 4 Aug 11 1670A

In response to recent events, the National Park Service announced it was taking down flags in that display which were related to the Confederacy.  The Post-Courier covered this last week (I posted this to my Facebook page, but held off discussing here until full details came public):

Tim Stone, superintendent of the Fort Sumter-Fort Moultrie National Monument, said Fort Sumter’s four flags were lowered the day after the shooting.

“The tragedy has made all of us re-evaluate our role in the community and in the nation,” he said.

On Thursday, the National Park Service, which runs the fort, issued a directive to remove Confederate flag items such as banners, belt buckles and other souvenirs from its gift shops, though books, DVDs and other materials showing the flag in a historical context may remain for sale.

On the same day, the Park Service also instructed its parks and related sites to not fly flags other than the U.S. flag and respective state flags outside their historic context….

Stone said the fort’s wayside markers explaining the history behind the fort’s various flags will remain, “but we probably won’t be re-raising them per the director’s policy.”

The removed flags include the first and second national flags of the Confederate States of America as well as two earlier versions of the U.S. flag. Stone said the four banners had historical ties to the fort, which was surrendered by Union forces in 1861 as the war began but retaken by them as the war wound to an end.

The series of flags were first raised in 1972, and Stone said they brought few complaints. “There was on occasion some comment of why we were flying the Confederate flags,” he said. “We explained the historical context of that.”

The marker he mentioned is this one:

Ft Sumter 3 May 2010 287

Please consult the HMDB entry for the transcribed text.   The article continued with some explanation of the move by the park:

But Stone said he grew more sympathetic to concerns about the flags when he noted some boaters entering Charleston Harbor would pass by them without any interpretation explaining why they were there.

“I think that concern has some legitimacy, and we need to be sensitive to the community and the American people,” he said. “I hadn’t thought of it in that perspective.”

Stone said it is unclear what will become of the four flagpoles that were improved as recently as 2007 in preparation for the Civil War’s sesquicentennial but now no longer serve a purpose.

“A lot of this is happening very quickly,” he said.

Indeed, all happened very quickly.  Perhaps too quickly.  Yesterday the Post-Courier ran a story indicating the park is re-examining the decision and contemplating changes:

Linda Friar, a National Park Service spokesperson, said on Wednesday that the park has received a lot of calls about the decision to remove the flag, but they have not yet reached a decision on if the flags will be raised again….

“The National Park Service has many historic sites, and some of our history has a lot of different emotions attached to it by whoever’s looking at it,” Friar said. “Fort Sumter and Fort Moultrie are about a particular part of our history and a lot of folks still have opposing views.”

First off, if you interpreted my post from last week to mean I wanted to purge all traces of the Confederacy, then you may have read something into the writing that was not there.  There are proper venues and reasons to display the Confederate flags.  And I contend that Fort Sumter is one of them.  I find the explanation for the flag removals lacking.   The action was in response to a blanket, knee-jerk reaction by government officials.  To categorize this as a problem for boaters passing the fort is to bend the limits of credibility here.  Should we also be worried that boaters might sense some danger with all the cannons pointed at them from Fort Moultrie and Sumter?  Please, we are adults here….

This is a great example of how complicated our history is.  As such, it is a perfect location for the public to be introduced to the story that is our history, for all of its complications, in order to gain a full, rich, and, dare I say, proper, understanding.  If we are to steer the public away from “emotional” displays, then our National Park system is going to be a very bland, joyless, and lonely place.  If we are going to go out of our way to address every “sensitivity” then our National Park system is going to resemble the intellectual equivalent to a kindergarten play room.

Are there “dangers” associated with the display of Confederate flags at a location, such as Fort Sumter, where historical context actually fits?  Yes.  Several dangers in fact…. two that come directly to mind are – that those pushing their version of heritage might actually have to confront the realities of history… and that some historians will have to admit the history trumps their political agendas.   We would do better at dispelling the former if the latter stop treating the audience as some naive lot.

Again, we are adults here. “Emotional” displays should not deter us from the history.  I’m pretty sure we can confront the “scary” side of the Confederate flag.

POSTSCRIPT: I meant to include mention of the sesquicentennial display done at Fort Pulaski over the last five years.  If you missed note of that, Fort Pulaski flew, at times to coincide with the sesquicentennial events associated with the fort, different historical flags.  Those included Confederate flags.  The display was very powerful, mature, meaningful… and positive.

6 thoughts on “My opinion: Fort Sumter’s Confederate flags should stay

  1. Agreed. The display of the Confederate flag in this case has a basis in historical content, and is part of a larger display of flags associated with the site.

  2. Went to the Invasion Beaches in Normandy several years ago. I didn’t see one Nazi Flag flying anywhere, not even at the German Military Cemetery. I wonder why? I saw flags of the Allies displayed, but none of the German Flag of that period.

  3. Craig: I support your point of view. As a society collectively we need a time to have an adult discussion on when and where and under which set of circumstances it may be appropriate to use it in its historic setting. Throwing it out with the bath water without this discussion is as wrongheaded as flying it out of spite.

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