Monday, July 13, 2015

Atticus Finch, Dixie Land, and The Confederate Flag

Who in the world doesn’t agree that Harper Lee’s, Atticus Finch, in her Pulitzer Prize winning novel, ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’, is the most endearing fictional image of racial heroism?
I believe that Lee’s editors were correct in encouraging her to hold back a later story of Atticus and Scout to focus on the 1936 account of the life and times of Maycomb, Alabama.

If you haven’t heard by now, last week The New York Times as well as the BBC panned, ‘Go Set A Watchman’, by Lee stating that this older Atticus is a racist who says things to Scout like, “Do you want Negroes by the carload in our schools and churches and theatres? Do you want them in our world?”

The theme of ‘Mockingbird’ is empathy for those like Boo and Tom Robinson, while the theme in ‘Watchman’ is empathy for bigots like the 72-year-old Atticus.

It’s ironic that the release of ‘Watchman’ took place in the same week as the removal of the Confederate flag from South Carolina’s Capitol after a 54-year run. For most, this is a good thing. On Sunday people in Ocala, Florida rallied in support to put the Confederate flag back up at the McPherson Government Complex with the Southern Pride Ride—a parade to support Southern heritage. “The flag has a lot of different meanings to a lot of different people,” said David Stone, 38, who organized the event. “It doesn’t symbolize hate unless you think it’s hate—and that’s your problem, not mine.”

In the week before the ‘ride’ two small protests were held in Ocala in opposition to the Confederate flag—for those who see it as a symbol of racial hatred. The protests and rallies are spreading and this is a very good thing for the shooter in Savannah. This is just the beginning of what he wanted to happen—not the peaceful ride for pride but the bitter disputes between races.

When I walk on my new treadmill, I try to sing or recite something to lose track of time. When I started walking this morning, I found myself pondering the young Atticus Finch and the rebel flag and I broke out singing one of my favorite Girl Scout songs from my childhood, ‘Dixie’ by Daniel Decatur Emmett of Mount Vernon, Ohio. 

Oh I wish I was in the land of cotton,
Old times there are not forgotten,
Look away, look away, look away Dixie Land.

In Dixie Land, where I was born in,
Early on a frosty mornin’,
Look away, look away, look away Dixie Land.

I wish I was in Dixie, Hooray, Hooray!
In Dixie Land I’ll take my stand,
To live and die in Dixie.
Away, away, away down south in Dixie.
Away, away, away down south in Dixie.

This is a benign song about a dearly loved place. Back when I was ten, I imagined that while the Southerners sang ‘Dixie’ they waved the rebel flag in pride and not in hate. Southerners are proud of their heritage and proud of their part in the Civil War. They’re proud of their Armies and especially their Generals and forts and the battles so bravely fought. Even Southern Black soldiers fought for the Confederacy. Southerners fought for their land, their cotton fields, their farms, for their red clay, and for their muddy rivers. The Confederate flag is honored and cherished as a remembrance of a proud society that reeked of the blood of their ancestors. But today, we see that the fight was really about keeping the Blacks down and not so much about anything else. The flag that means land and family and Southern pride for some, means white supremacy and segregation to others.

So when I sing Dixie, I sing about the pride in my roots. I sing about The South that I love so much and like someone at the rally said, “we’re not looking back, but to the future.” The Confederate flag is a military flag and I hope it will find a proud place to wave. I hope we can put our violent past and the 72-year-old Atticus Finch behind us and look to the future through the eyes of Martin Luther King, Jr. when he said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

Don’t let the white shooter in Savannah win. He massacred nine innocent Black people, ‘to start a racial war,’ and that’s what’s happening—with the older Atticus Finch on the front lines.

I won’t say any more than this: I won’t be reading ‘Watchman’.

1 comment:

  1. Here, here, Shelia, great post and I too am a proud southerner even thought I now live in the west.