The General Lee

My grandfather, Franklin, of whom Uncle Jesse was based said, “Never debate with one whom you must first educate; you’ll both lose.”

The discussion about the Confederate flag is impassioned and acrimonious, and I don’t want to heighten the tension or offend, defend, preach or justify.

Growing up in the South, I had an experience with the Confederate flag that perhaps those who reside outside the South may not understand. Family, friends, neighbors and local business owners had no attachment to racism or white supremacy, but many – most – did fly the flag from their porches. Seeing the flag flying was ordinary and uneventful yet seeped in culture. It represented not slavery nor racism, but Southern heritage—much like sweet tea, cobbler, playing country music on the back porch, or multiple dialects. It was unique to its setting, found almost everywhere, and most definitely not a symbol of racism.

To have it placed on the roof of the General Lee was not politically profound; it defined the culture of Hazzard County, which had nothing to do with racial superiority. And while “Southern lifestyle” is entangled with controversial definitions, the one referred to here crosses racial lines—I shared this experience with black and white friends throughout my lifetime.

My family history is entangled; two brothers fought on opposite sides of the Civil War and my great, great grandfather, Anthony McGill, owned slaves. One year before the war started, McGill became a Baptist Abolitionist, and as such, no longer had slaves under the dictates of his faith. Two of the then former slaves moved north, while another two, a couple, chose to stay on the plantation with McGill. They were sharecroppers, the first in the county, and were buried in our family graveyard after a long life of farming with my family. Generations later, we were active in the Civil Rights movement.

None of this is to mark my place with a particular opinion. I’m laying out my experience, not for an expiation of wrong-doing, because I am not a racist; it is merely to establish discourse and personal clarity. I hope you’ll join me in conversation and help deepen my understanding of all angles and thoughts on the matter.

–Gy

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