What’s In A Flag?

I’ll let you in on a little secret: I have a confederate flag tucked away in my closet. It’s been hiding in there for the last forty-two years. Why? Why would I harbor that symbol of southern stubbornness and inbred racism, especially in light of the latest atrocity in South Carolina? Why not burn it now? I have to admit, I have a sentimental attraction to flags.

According to my mother, it goes back a few centuries. The name Ross appears in the family archives, and one of my great uncles was named Ross. That connection includes Betsy Ross, the seamstress who allegedly patched together the original stars and stripes for General Washington. Another name that appears in the family tree is Davis, and I’m told that a guy whose first name was Jefferson was one of the more prominent members of that branch of the tree. Uncle Jeff was also associated with a flag, although historians tell us it was never the official flag of the Confederate States of America.

Moving ahead to the 20th Century, a young Bob Crabb set out for Atlanta, Georgia, with his buddies Doc Halstead and Charlie Williams. Doc and Charlie were musicians and I wrote words to their melodies. We put together a band called Carrie Nation in Nevada City in 1971, but were unable to find enough willing musicians to starve with us while we tried to climb the ladder of success. Charlie had an uncle, a trappist monk no less, who had left the solitary life of the monastery in Conyers to found a halfway house for runaway youth in Atlanta. He had a place for us to stay while we mined the rich inventory of musicians in the big city.

So it was that we left the nest in April of ’72 and began the process of acclimating to the alien southern culture. It was not easy for us foreigners, with our west coast yankee accents and liberal ways. But I was surprised also by how much the old Confederacy had changed in the eight short years since the Civil Rights Act and desegregation, at least in the big city of Atlanta. Jimmy Carter was Governor, and there wasn’t a burning cross in sight. People of both races seemed to get along, although the “N” word was still spoken and the stars and bars flew over the capitol. We’d see famous racist ex-gov. Lester Maddox hawking autographed ax handles like the one he used to chase the coloreds out of his restaurant a mere eight years earlier. Even so, it seemed like racism was dying on the kudzu vine, and would be buried along with the old generation.

As time went on, we found new musicians and began to flesh out the hybrid west coast-southern sound we’d been looking for. It was a new Carrie Nation, and it seemed we needed a symbol to highlight the change. We had brought a California Bear Flag with us, and one day I was inspired to cut out the bear and have Charlie’s wife Sue stitch onto the middle of the stars and bars. It was a perfect fit.photo

The Carrie Nation Flag appeared on stage with the band from then until their final show in the summer of ’77. No one ever complained, but it was a different time. When the band broke up, the tattered banner was folded up and forgotten, until this week.

Now the controversy is alive and viral, thanks to the dimwitted kid who still believes in the myth of racial superiority and the peculiar institution. The old wound in the American psyche bleeds again. There are calls to turn the flagpole into a burning stake, to cauterize the wound once and for all.

It’s a tough call, because this old flag has sentimental value to me. My reason for using the flag had more to do with geography than ideology.  I know it is as offensive to blacks as the swastika is to Jews, and it doesn’t help that I have relatives who championed the lost cause. And truth be told, there are Mexicans who feel the same way about the bear flag and the theft of California’s riches by the forty-niners. (Hmm…Is it time for a new name for the football team? Is the gold miner symbol on the Nevada County logo a racist statement?) We all have our cross to bear.

So I’m not going to torch my flag. I’ll fold it up and put it back in the closet with all the other ghosts of the past. Maybe it will end up in a museum some day, where it can tell a different story and perhaps redeem a small piece of its evil legacy. One can hope.


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12 Responses to What’s In A Flag?

  1. Ben Emery says:

    Talk about a different time, as a kid I loved Dukes of Hazard. Now that I am an adult I cannot believe that was a national tv show that played during prime time. Stars and Bars on top of a car named the General Lee, holy crap. I guess they did portray the public sector as idiots and country boys as the brains of Hazard County. I guess having the Daisy Dukes on every episode probably didn’t hurt the ratings either.


    • rlcrabb says:

      Many things have changed since the “good ol’ days”, Ben. Could you ever imagine anyone trying to sell a sitcom about a POW camp now?

  2. Well I’ve fought the good fight all week on FB, and I am glad to see the folks back there realized how much their economy would take a hit in the tourism sector, and came to their senses. I think it will take at least another two or three generations for it to die out altogether, or maybe lots sooner, if hostile aliens ever land. With that event, suddenly skin color is going to be a minor detail.

    For those who think there is no racism in Nevada County, if you have a Facebook account, go to Nevada County Life, and scroll down to that RV. It’s local, and often seen at the library, where they can go online, anonymously.


  3. george rebane says:

    Thanks for a good piece of history and a valuable perspective Bob. Totems and symbols do have various meanings for different people. A more notorious example is the swastika, an ancient symbol that had widely different significance for native American tribes and certain sects of India before it was adopted by the Nazis. Now our politically correct neo-nazis go ballistic when they see a swastika embedded in a graphic recognizing or celebrating bygone cultures. It is hubris maximus to insist that your assessment is the universally correct one, yet one must mind the mob.

  4. Ken Jones says:

    The Gateway Pundit. A real piece of journalistic integrity. The typical loudmouth comments from those that despise everything left of a Ted Cruz. They are loving the Hillary buttons. Simple pleasures.

    • Greg Goodknight says:

      Yes, I suppose they are but in any case, sauce for the goose is often sauce for the gander, “pundits” generally don’t pretend to be journalists of the unbiased news persuasion and there aren’t many pundits that aren’t loudmouths. That’s what pundits are, whether right, left, up or down.

      • Ken Jones says:

        Good points Greg. I do agree most pundits are loudmouths and tend to operate at the edges of either side of the spectrum. And sometimes those loudmouths do make valid points.

  5. Ben Emery says:

    Funny that I brought that up.

    As most of you probably assumed I hate the Confederate Flag and just about everything it stands for. Slavery and the oppression of people of color is one of the most shameful and immoral things in our nations history.

    General Lee From “Dukes of Hazzard” Losing Its Confederate Flag

  6. Terry says:

    The Confederated armies had to have a banner beneath which to rally during their fight for Southern supremacy. That they were fighting for THEIR right to continue to abuse those whom they believed were sub-human. Well guess what Confederates, you lost that war. Period. The problem stems from a prevailing (but hopefully diminishing) belief that, “The South shall rise again.” It ain’t gonna happen. During the intervening years between 1865 and 2015, the meaning of that flag has changed considerably and I think it is now more of a symbol for anarchists, other outcasts, the “up yours” set, and oh yes, flaming bigots…you know, kind of like the Nazi flag. Nevertheless it’s obviously time to strike the colors and put that offensive symbol where in belongs, in a museum with a small hand-printed card reading, “Example of how high humans can reach, and how low they can sink.” In the end let us just hope, fervently, that is issue will bring about a new era of understanding and tolerance of others. (Except Muslim zealots who don’t tolerate anyone but their own and then not even them sometimes.)

  7. Chris Peterson says:

    To tell the truth, I never paid much attention to the flag of Carrie Nation; having just gotten back from overseas, I was too busy getting off on the music, the women, and whatever drugs I could get my hands on.

    That being said; it’s an ingenious pairing of icons: the bear and the bars.

    As for the morality; my 8th great grandfather, in North Carolina circa the early 17oo’s, owned 4 slaves, and was a magistrate for the British. (Kind of a double yuck.) But I see that as completely different than today’s bigotry. Back then, it was a way of life that ended with some considerable effort. Today’s bigots have nothing to do with all that; they’re just idiots being raised that way by imbeciles. Bigots don’t want to return to slavery; even THEY aren’t stupid enough to think that could ever happen. They just hate blacks because it’s a family tradition.

    Then again, Pat Boone thinks the kid in Charlotte is just misunderstood. And who among us can argue with a Christian in white bucks.

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