In a move few if any foresaw, the commission voted 4 to 1 to remove all the five flags except the US flag, and to add the Florida flag to the display.
The community was stunned. I believed from the moment I heard about the vote that it was a mistake and would eventually be corrected. When Bowden editorialized that the flags should be returned to the display, with the First National instead of the battle flag, I was even more convinced. The PNJ editorial by Commissioner Grover Robinson cinched it for me. It was just a matter of time before the decision would be reversed.
January's and February's commission meetings passed with no discussion on the matter, but it was on the agenda for the March meeting. Although I knew I would have zero influence on the matter, I decided to attend the meeting.
The March meeting of the Escambia County Board of Commissioners began at 5:30 p.m. the 5th. I would not be able to get there until 6:30 or later. I assumed that would be too late to request to speak to the board, so I had no plans to do so. That being the case, I didn't take time to put on make-up or put up my hair, and delay my arrival for the meeting even more.
After dealing with various items county business, the commission brought up the subject of the Pensacola Bay Center five flags display. A number of citizens spoke to the board, and several extolled the U.S. flag as a lofty contrast to the Confederate flag with its symbolism of racism and slavery.
These comments echoed others made recently in letters to the PNJ and on social media: The only flag we should display and be proud of is the American (sic) flag.
The more I heard this sentiment at the meeting, the more I squirmed in my seat at the back of the chamber. Finally, I went to the woman who took requests from attendees to speak to the commissioners, and asked if it was too late to sign up. No, it wasn't. She gave me a slip of paper with a few blanks to fill in, and I did so.
|My hastily scribbled notes|
Here's what I told the commissioners:
What's worse? A country created on the principle that all men are created equal and allows slavery for eighty-nine years, or a country founded on the principle of slavery that's ready to give it up in four. Jefferson Davis sent Duncan Kenner to Europe at the end of the war-- close to the end of the war -- to offer to free the slaves in exchange for recognition from Britain and France. That's not taught in our schools. It took the Confederacy four years. It took the United States eighty-nine.The crux of my brief remarks was that the US flag, which some people had extolled as if it symbolized unsullied righteousness and represented impeccable loftiness, was not stain free. My point was to remind people that, when it came to negatives, the two countries represented by those two flags shared more similarities than differences.
And there are other things that that flag stands for, like the genocide of the Plains Indians by the Grant Administration. It was U.S. policy to kill off the buffalo and starve the Plains Indians and take their lands for white settlers. It was under that flag that native Americans were imprisoned on reservations in conditions worse than plantation slavery. Under that flag MK Ultra experiments on unknowing-- CIA experiments on unknowing subjects, Abu Ghraib, torture in Central America approved of and perhaps achieved with help from the CIA. So that flag is not stain-free.
And the claim that it offends African Americans. Pew Research poll showed that -- recently 48 percent of African Americans are indifferent to the Confederate flag, only 41 percent disapprove.
I was the last speaker, and the board carried on their discussion afterward. Although Commissioners May and Underhill weren't prepared to change their votes, I was not at all surprised that the other three did indeed vote to return the five flags, with the First National, to the bay center. I don't believe for a moment that my comments had any bearing whatever on that decision. But I hoped I had given people something to think about.
Commissioner Underhill was not pleased with my remarks, and said, "And to that last speaker who spoke and talked about all the sins committed under this flag, this is the flag of sinners. This is the flag of a bunch of people who got together and said we can do it better and we have made some mistakes but to sit there and articulate all the things that have been done wrong under this flag, I'm really sorry that your experience brings you to focus on all of those things when we should in fact be focusing on all the things about this flag that bring us together."
It would probably be pointless to try to explain it to him, but very little about the US flag brings us together, and it grows less powerful to do that every day. In fact, it has become increasingly targeted for removal in various places and by various groups and individuals around the country. Confederate heritage folks know what that feels like first hand, and we've warned people for years that the US flag was next.
Although I don't really think Commissioner Underhill is interested, my experience that caused me to focus on those negative things is the experience of having my Southern and Confederate heritage and culture continuously attacked and dishonored. I believe the north/union had no moral authority for coming South to kill Southerners 150 years ago, just as those targeting Confederate heritage for removal today have no moral authority for doing so.
In any case, I have to wonder how many disappointed, appalled, even angry constituents the commissioners heard from during the period from December to March... In January, WEAR-TV reported, "Commissioner Grover Robinson says as soon as the county made that decision, he started getting a lot of complaints." It quoted Robinson as saying, "(They said,) ‘you took down Spanish, the British, you took down the French, why did you that?’” Robinson said. “It’s part of our history, it’s our culture and there’s a strong desire to identify with our culture.”
Indeed, there is. Those people who complained to the county commissioners are the reason the flags went back up. Kevin Levin's calling it a victory that "rings hollow" is simply his attempt to save face because it runs counter to his long-standing prediction that Confederate heritage is disappearing from the earth. This was a victory not only for Confederate heritage but for the people of west Florida who have strong desire to identify with our history and culture.