As times continue to change, has the lost cause finally lost?

LEE A. DANIELS | 7/6/2015, 7:28 a.m.
Has the pernicious fiction that there was something honorable about the Confederate rebellion treason in the defense of slavery, as ...
Lee A. Daniels is a longtime journalist based in New York City. His most recent book is Last Chance: The Political Threat to Black America. He collaborated with Rachel Robinson on her 1998 book, Jackie Robinson: An Intimate Portrait. NNPA

(NNPA) – Has the pernicious fiction that there was something honorable about the Confederate rebellion treason in the defense of slavery, as one observer so trenchantly put it, recently finally been irredeemably shredded?

History is being made now. Not just ordinary history, but momentous history. The kind of history that will even more deeply mark this moment in time for the Obama presidency as a landmark of America’s march toward a more complete democracy.

That was underscored in striking fashion last week in three decisions handed up by the U.S. Supreme Court: One affirming in full the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare); the second affirming the right of same-sex couples to marry; and the third affirming the central provision of the Fair Housing Act of 1968 that housing policies and practices with discriminatory outcomes can be challenged even if there was no intent to discriminate.

Simultaneously, the hard-shelled resistance to acknowledging the falsehoods of the Confederacy and its most potent symbol, the Confederate flag, has cracked. It cracked, on the one hand, under the combined weight of the tragic racial reality made apparent by social-media technology and the hashtag #blacklivesmatter, and, on the other, by Dylann Roof’s murderous rampage.

The reaction of an outraged public has forced some leading Southern politicians and some leading consumer companies to cut their ties to that stark symbol of America’s original sin, the Confederate flag, that Roof pledged allegiance to.

As one would expect, some conservatives have sneered that the outcry is just meaningless political theater.

And, also as one would expect, for entirely different reasons even some advocates of progressive change have called the focus on the flag a waste of time and energy and said that taking it down won’t solve, or even address, the numerous serious problems that fester along America’s color line. That position was succinctly stated by the headline in The American Prospect: Removing the Confederate Flag is Easy. Fixing Racism is Hard.

That claim and the thinking behind it has always been made about particular actions of Black freedom struggle. But it’s completely wrong. Indeed, there’s no little irony in asserting that the present focus on the Confederate flag is empty symbolism given what the flag itself symbolizes: That although the Confederacy lost the military phase of its race war, White supremacy reigned triumphant by law in the South and by custom that carried the force of law in the North for most of the following century.

That’s the reason removing the Confederate flag from the public sphere and eradicating what it symbolizes has cost so much in lives lost and human talent wasted all these years.

Further, to claim the mass movement against the Confederate flag is mere catharsis is to miss the powerful and obvious connection between the symbolic and the substantive.

After all, there are voluminous symbolic reasons Americans demand that any flag bearing the Stars and Stripes, whether it flies over the Capitol in Washington or the neighborhood park down the street, be treated not as an ordinary piece of cloth but as a sacred object. And the now-successful movement urging that same-sex couples have the right to marry and have those marriages recognized by law everywhere in the United States was overwhelmingly driven by the symbolism of what marriage itself means both to individuals and to the society as a whole.