23 Jun



By L. Stewart Marsden

I haven’t done the proper research to know when symbols were discovered by archeologists first used by humankind. Probably long before the Egyptian hieroglyphics. Suffice it to say symbols, logos, banners, flags, crests and other tangible and visual designs have been carried, borne, flown and otherwise pressed into too many battles and conflicts to count. They’ve been used to establish ownership, political and governmental dominance, and reminders of what and whom they stand for. Symbols have struck heart, courage, fear and various other emotional responses when heralded.

Depending on the perspective, symbols are welcomed or not. Some are benign in nature, like the constellations. Or the signs for gender. Others challenge long-held points of view and traditional convention, like the rainbow.

Symbols are used for order and safety, as with traffic signs and directional symbols.

Some symbols are highly personal, and relevant to only a few, as with my family’s crest.crest

Some symbols are universally recognized.

Many symbols are viewed and interpreted differently. The impact of some symbols changes with time.

In America, some symbols are seen as an expression of various freedoms. The country has fallen into debate regarding a symbol. Everyone might have an opinion regarding the symbol, though I doubt it. The historical impact of this symbol — the flag of the Confederate States of America — is a point of convergence for those that want to protect it and what it symbolizes, and those who want it taken down because of what it symbolizes.

therebelFor me, it symbolizes one of the worst periods in the history of the United States — the secession of several states from the Union and the ensuing loss of life, property and so much more during the War Between the States. It didn’t always. When I was a kid and my neighborhood friends gathered to play at war, we sometimes played Civil War. The Rebel, starring Nick Adams, portrayed a southern army survivor, Johnny Yuma, in his search for inner peace post-war, was a popular TV series. That gray crushed can-like cap with crossed rifles was bought and worn by dozens of kids I played with.

An earlier TV series that had a short run at the end of the 50’s was The Gray Ghost, a decidedly-biased and romanticized production that focused on Major John Mosby’s unit known as Mosby’s Raiders. But I didn’t know that. The show was very popular among a large following. Not one of us ever stopped to ask about the pivotal cause of the Civil War that I know of. We simply enjoyed playing war. I’ve read book after book on the Civil War. I’ve visited the grounds of Gettysburg and walked over land that was soaked with the blood of Northerners and Southerners.

Perhaps here I should inform you my parents were from Minnesota. Although I grew up in the south, my heritage has northern roots. I was reared when segregation subtly dominated in the background.

Schools, water fountains, restaurants, bathrooms and many other services and conveniences were separated between blacks and whites. It was not until I was in college that I began to have any realization of the great gap between blacks and whites. It was not until I read Alex Haley’s Malcolm X, or read Langston Hughes, Richard Wright or James Baldwin that I came anywhere close to having the binders pulled back. It was not until the great television series Roots aired that I had an inkling of the insidious practice of slavery in America.

As a child I would peer with wonder at the passing shanties along our driving route to the coast of South Carolina each summer for vacation. Dark, foreign structures that only hinted at the decades and centuries of abuse and subjugation on descendants of people from the west coast of Africa.

So within the turmoil of the 60’s and 70’s, I learned. Or better said, was exposed to truths I had not known before.

In an earlier opinion piece, I mentioned that I’ve been told on several occasions white people are inherently racist. Not sure there’s a DNA test that can isolate that particular bent, but when faced not only with the history of slavery and what appears to be continuing efforts by some to keep blacks “in their place,” I’ll concede the point. I compared that bent of racism on my part to other failings I have. For years I smoked cigarettes. Twice I quit — cold turkey — no patches, no support groups, no other nicotine substitutes. That was over twenty-five years ago. But I can tell you this: all I have to do is smoke one cigarette, and I’ll be off the wagon.

I don’t think I’ll become a raging David Duke fan, or KKK patch-wearing racist in the future. I know those people are out there. I stereotypically classify folk as racist who ride around with the Confederate flag attached to the rear window of their truck, or flapping from the radio antenna of their Dodge hemis (see … I’m prejudiced, too). And I am not so naïve as to think removal of the Confederate flag from various state flags or state government flag poles is going to correct centuries of inclinations.

But it’s a start. Take the symbols of hate and fear and stubbornness down. In both camps.

Then, Come now, let us reason together. (Isaiah 1:18).

Copyright © by Lawrence S. Marsden, 23 June, 2015

2 Responses to “Symbols”

  1. Outlier Babe June 25, 2015 at 1:23 am #

    A good, thoughtful, personal post.

    But anyone who says all white people are inherently racist is making a racist statement about whites, and is likely a racist.

    • skipmars June 25, 2015 at 8:35 am #

      Of course. In those instances, that would be an example of irony.

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