Of White Robes and Midnight Fright: Why I'm Offended by the Confederate Flag

So you wonder why I, as a black American, am offended by the Confederate battle flag? I'll tell you why.

I remember hiding in my own yard, too terrified to stay in my own house, when the Klan made their weekly visit to our Atlanta neighborhood. This particular group of Klansmen always carried an unusually large Confederate flag, so large that it covered several marchers as they stomped through our streets shouting profanities and daring anyone — and I mean anyone — to show their face.

So our mom always hid us in the back yard just in case they decided to burn our house.

Why would they do that you wonder?  I've always wondered the same thing myself.  I've wondered for years why those people were so mean.

None of us ever went into their community and did anything like that. We didn't even go shopping in their neighborhoods because we were afraid of them day and night. We were afraid because they'd showed us that we were subject to their wrath for any violation of their on-the-spot rules and/or imaginations. We'd be just another nigger in the wrong place at the wrong time if anything happened.

Now I'm 53 years old and I still can't forget all the ugliness I've seen associated with the Confederate flag. And white Southerners think I'm just whining when I say I can still remember the smell of that flag burning?

Why can't I forget how scared I was every time I saw that flag?

Because I understood the signal it was intended to send to black people — stay away. Any person that flew that flag on their property, their land or especially their trucks meant it as a warning that they would hurt you or kill you if they caught you anywhere near something that belonged to them.

And we took that warning seriously. We knew they could do anything they liked to us. 

Now people think I shouldn't be offended when that flag is flown over the statehouse and other places supported by my tax money. I can't really believe they don't understand.

They talk about the white women and men that died for their flag. What about the black men and women killed by people waving that flag?

It's hard to forget something like that when you lived through it. Most white people have never known that kind of fear. They've always felt safe here. But there was no place safe for us.

To those who tell me the days of marauding men in white sheets bearing the Confederate flag are over, I say maybe, but many of the attitudes they stood for persist.

I had a young white man cuss me out in front of my kids when they were very young when I went to a recreational area for the first time. I was unaware that people waited in a certain place in a line until parking places were available. I drove up, saw a vacant spot, and just parked.

This man followed me to the spot, blocked my car and called me a stupid black bitch. He treated me like I had committed the worst kind of sin because of a parking spot.

My children were 6 and 8 at the time and I could not explain to them why that man had screamed at me like that. It hurt me, and I know it hurt them.

How can I convince them not to be angry? How can I teach them to judge people by their actions when most of the white people we run into have been so nasty and thoughtless?

This incident is evidence that attitudes have not changed. No matter how black people attempt to remold themselves into people acceptable to whites, we simply can't do enough.  Some whites need someone to blame for all the bad things they feel, all the misfortune they've experienced, and it's always us.  It's this attitude, that I am not equal in our society, that is represented by that flag.

Pro-flag proponents talk to us about history and heritage. The history and heritage they remember is far from the reality of the fear and hatred I've experienced. That flag has left a memory with me that I'll relive every time that I see it flown.

But I am liberal enough to concede that people have the right to express their ignorance in any legal manner they like. The South already gets a bad enough rap without our state government joining in on the stupidity. The government should represent all the people in a
state. This flag certainly doesn't represent anything to me but repression.

Carolyn Clark Stroud is a Data Billing Specialist at Sprint Corp. in Atlanta. A mother of two teen-agers, she has lived in Atlanta all her life with the exception of a brief stint in Washington with the U.S. Army.

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