A group calling themselves Sons of Confederate Veterans, (any son of which would have died over 100 years ago), are trying to raise enormous Confederate battle flags along the interstate in every county that I-40 passes through. Beyond the issue of bad taste, it historically does not reflect most generational Tar Heels’ emotional ties to the Civil War.
For South Carolina, a state that until recently displayed the flag in front of its capitol, the Civil War presented one last desperate chance to regain the power and influence it held during the Colonial period. Charleston, [a large and wealthy U.S. city] in 1760, had, by 1860, fallen to 22nd [in population] and was heading toward irrelevancy. Perhaps a Brexit-like divorce could have been brokered, but not once a fort built with federal funds was fired upon. That was a pretty aggressive Southern action to start the war euphemistically called the War of Northern Aggression.
North Carolina was a rural state of many small farmers with few major plantations. Our largest city in 1860, Wilmington, the 100th-largest U.S. town, did not even have 10,000 people. We wouldn’t have a top 100 most populous city again until Charlotte hit 91st in 1940. We were the last [state] to secede and paid heavily, losing over 30,000 men.
The war and its aftermath created an economic tailspin lasting 100 years and earning us the sobriquet, “The Rip Van Winkle State.” I would imagine the North Carolinians who lived with generations of deprivation would have a very different opinion about what that flag represents. All that suffering for an anachronistic economic system that was already unsustainable as the world headed toward the 20th century.
My grandfather was born in Pitt County in 1902 into a family that a couple of generations before had been minor slaveholding, tobacco-planting farmers. I knew from an early age that my impoverished grandparents were supported by their sons-in-laws, who had moved elsewhere for careers in education and engineering. Local elderly black people and their grandchildren would come by Granddad’s garden, and he would give them his vegetables. I remember asking him, why not sell them instead, and his response [was]: “These folks are very poor, and we owe them so much for what we have done.”
If I would have come into his house waving a rebel flag, or worse, ever uttered the “N” word, he would have looked at me like I had lost my mind right before he smacked me across the room. I can’t remember in that most antebellum part of North Carolina ever seeing anyone with a Confederate flag on their property: much too painful for those who were closer to the rearview mirror than we are.
These racist rednecks in 2018 wanting to yap about state’s rights and Southern heritage haven’t a clue, so here’s one: That centralized government in D.C. you call “the swamp” was a direct result of the war you so want to glorify, and without slavery in this hemisphere, the African-originating population of the U.S. would be infinitesimal — so how’s that Dixie history working out for you?
— Steve Woolum