It could have been a figment of my 10-year-old [twin] daughters’ imaginations — but it wasn’t — when they burst through the door one afternoon fresh off the school bus, exclaiming, “Mommy, we just saw a black man holding a Confederate flag on the corner!”
In my best maternal tone I replied, “No, girls that is just not possible.” The very next day, I had to eat a rather large crow after I, too, spied the black man, on a corner of Patton Avenue. I later explained to my daughters that the man was H.K. Edgerton, former president of the local NAACP. This sight grieved me greatly. Having to explain this bit of irony to my daughters was much like the time when we lived in South Carolina, and they came home from school to learn that it was indeed Susan Smith who had killed her own children. A little bit of their innocence had been stolen.
A black man toting the Confederate flag is truly an abomination, no matter what the historical context. We, as African-Americans, have had many struggles, and this sort of fantastical display is not helpful to anyone — especially children. As we try to right wrongs, South Carolina (my birth place) lags behind the rest of the country. The ’60s are gone — and we have still have to protest, petition and fight for basic human dignity as black people. Where is the compassion?
Those who embrace the Confederate flag believe they’re being clever when they say, “Heritage, not hatred.” What part of slavery do they not comprehend? When African-Americans see the flag, we see slavery. I do not begrudge anybody their heritage. As a matter of fact, it is my belief that we all should embrace our roots. However, the Confederate flag atop the South Carolina state capitol stands for something else. My ancestors were not honored or respected during the tyrannical reign of slavery. So, although we embrace our past and the strength of the struggle of the black men and women who came before us, we will not celebrate the circumstances that kept them oppressed, suppressed and bound — nor pay taxes for it. The confederate flag is a symbol of that time. I cannot do a thing about the numerous trucks, homes and cars that display this flag; that is a person’s individual right. But any person, even the Republican candidates in the presidential race, should be able speak out unequivocally about taking down the flag. When they don’t, it smacks of George Wallace and his infamous speeches against integration. Why do people have to be forced to do the right thing?
In 1995, the University of Georgia commissioned me to write a poem about the Confederate flag. I had already been working on one, after a trip to the South Carolina state house; my daughters wanted to know why that flag was still flying. At that time, I felt it was my responsibility — as a mother, an African-American and a human being — to write a poem that expressed my feelings about the flag. But for no particular reason, I had stopped working on the Confederate-flag poem, “Village Cry.” My poems decide when they want to rear their heads; not only the poem itself, but other circumstances caused “Village Cry” to rise again.
Two weeks ago, when I was walking out the door to do a New York and Connecticut college-and-university poetry-reading tour, a special package came via UPS. It was a copy of Southern Exposure: A Journal of Politics & Culture. On page 52, my poem appeared.
Two days later, I got a call from the South Carolina State Library, asking me to perform poetry on the Capitol grounds for 600 elementary-school students as part of a program called “Read In 2000.” I was slated to read after the state’s first lady. My agent, John Lloyd, expressed my principles to the programmer. In response, she stated, “We know Glenis’ stand; that is why we want her to counterbalance what is taking place.” I have never considered myself overly political; however, I believe in speaking out about what impacts me, my family and my community. Call the poem prophetic as it quips, “This flag will go down … Because, frankly … I do give a Damn!”
If it takes a village to raise a child, how many people does it take to destroy one? I hold H.K. Edgerton responsible for his actions as I do any legislator who isn’t doing his or her part to make this flag come down. This poem is for all the children of our community. As Langston Hughes’ “Mother to Son Poem” states: “Son, Ise still climbin, and life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.”
Glenis Redmond is a poet, public speaker and educator; she lives in Asheville.
I am living under the dread
of the confederate flag.
In my heart I know …
I am taller than plantation pillars.
I am taller than academic towers.
I am taller than the confederate flag flying.
I’ve lasted five-hundred years of slavery.
Count them 1-2-3-4-5.
There has been more than
four generations of uneducated misery
between me and my resilient ancestors.
Their wilted souls like broken bones
provide the blood in the red soil.
I sojourn on.
I look back.
I don’t see no trail-blazed in glory
just blood soaked cotton.
They tell me roots are lovely.
How would I know? I can’t touch them.
I can’t hold them. I can’t see them.
I’ve only held them in my mystical hand.
I’ve seen how they shrivel and shrink, when ripped from familiar soil.
I’ve seen how vulnerable they become by air.
They cannot breathe as I cannot breathe.
I look back …
I don’t see no trail-blazed in glory
just my last name forced on me by slavery, R-E-D-M-O-N-D.
Redmond is too fragile to stretch across these Atlantic waters.
I don’t have no last name neither does any other African brought to this
There is nothing affirmative action can repair or replace in thirty years.
More than four generations of blood soaked cotton!
The new south cannot stand on the pillars of the old south.
We can dress her up with Magnolias, Camellias, her Honeysuckle vines.
Blood soaked cotton lets out a stench.
I will not close my eyes to it.
I will not go gently. I will do as Dylan Thomas says.
I will rage.
I will rage.
I will rage.
The Berlin wall toppled
as did USSR.
Apartheid did too.
This flag will go down!
And, I will be standing Taller …
Taller than plantation pillars.
Taller than academic towers.
Taller than the confederate flag flying.
This flag will go down.
It will be gone with the wind.
There will be no sequel Scarlett,
Because, frankly I do give a Damn!
— Glenis Redmond