Flag Represents Bad Policy Waving From State Rooftop

The Confederate battle flag flew over Alabama’s capitol from 1963 until a few years ago when the state began a major restoration of that historic structure. Governor Guy Hunt has stated that he will order the Confederate battle flag returned to the capitol dome when the capitol reopens in December 1992. The governor’s decision to return that flag to the capitol dome divides Alabamians into two camps, those who do not want the Confederate battle flag flown from the dome of the state capitol and those who do.

It is not clear just how many Alabamians want the Confederate battle flag flying over their capitol. Governor Hunt claims he has polls indicating that 80 percent of white people and 50 percent of non-white people in the state desire that the Confederate battle flag continue flying over the capitol. The governor refused, however, to provide the name of the polling firm that provided his data. Another poll conducted by Mason Dixon Political/Media Research Inc. suggests that the governor’s claims maybe overstated. Regardless of whose numbers are accepted, clearly, many Alabamians want the Confederate battle flag to fly over their capitol.

On April 26, 1963, when Governor George Wallace ordered the battle flag placed atop the capitol dome, many people considered it an act of personal courage and political defiance. His was an act of non-violent symbolism supported by most of the state’s political leaders. This symbolic act, flying the Confederate battle flag, served to vent the hostile and racist attitudes that may have otherwise exploded in violence against the state’s non-white population.

Governor Hunt’s refusal to take the flag down flies in the face of opposition from many of Alabama’s business and economic elite, most chambers of commerce in the state, and many of the states political leaders. Recently, a 28 year veteran congressman, Bill Dickinson, added another powerful voice to those requesting Governor Hunt remove the battle flag from the state capitol. An Advertiser editorial quoted Congressman Dickinson as saying: “There’s no need to continue to spit in somebody’s eye. To keep flying that stupid flag as an act of defiance is simply perpetuating a bad image that the people have of the state.” Commenting about the flag, Chairman of Montgomery Chamber of Commerce, Will Hill Tankersley compares flying the Confederate flag from the capitol dome to a man attending church dressed only in his underwear “. . . it makes people uncomfortable.”

On December 12, 1992 when Governor Guy Hunt orders this same flag raised over the state capitol it will be considered an act of personal ineptness and political selfishness by many of those same leaders. Essentially they are telling Governor Hunt in terms of that classic political put-down: “Governor you are no George Wallace. We know George Wallace. He is a friend of ours.”

Surely the governor must realize that things have changed since 1963 when Governor Wallace and other southern governors manifested such non-violent symbolism as “flying the Confederate flag” and “standing in the schoolhouse door” during the campaign of “massive resistance” to federally mandated desegregation. Those governors may argue that their actions prevented violence. Who can say what might have happened had political leaders of that era not provided a hostile and demonstratively violent society with a nonviolent means of expressing hostilities? Who can definitely say that flying the Confederate battle flag did not save lives during the civil rights movement? One only need to visit the Civil Rights Memorial and read the forty names inscribed upon black marble there to be reminded of how violent those times were. In 1992, Guy Hunt faces no such challenges, yet he chooses to fly this socially disuniting symbol fully cognizant of the battle flag’s appeal to our nature’s darkest side. Why?

Some people think that Governor Hunt will run for a seat in the United States Senate in 1996 when Senator Heflin’s term expires. Those holding this view reason that he will need the flag issue to help maintain the voting base that elected him governor in 1986 and 1990. Therefore, he won’t take it down for fear of losing this voting base. A lawyer friend of mine speculates that he may want to use the flag issue in any jury selection process should he be indicted and tried once he is out of office. Governor Hunt is currently the subject of a state grand jury investigation. The grand jury is investigating his use of state airplanes to travel to paid preaching engagements. The governor is a primitive Baptist preacher.

Clearly it is in the best interest of all Alabamians that this symbol of defiance of federal authority be removed from the state capitol. No one should be able to see that any clearer than the Republican governor of a state that voted to elect a Republican president that lost to the Democratic candidate. The smart politicians are trying to tell Governor Hunt that Alabama is in deep “do-do” with the incoming Clinton administration.

Alabama did not vote for Bill Clinton. Surely we don’t want to risk additional insults or offend members of the new administration by flying the Confederate battle flag while they are looking for military bases to close. This is especially important now that, in addition to voting for the losing presidential candidate, we will be replacing our senior congressman (Bill Dickinson) on the Armed Services Committee from the president’s party with a freshman congressman (Terry Everett) who is not from the same party as the new president.
Bottom line, flying the Confederate battle flag may be good politics for Governor Hunt, but bad economic policy for Alabama. It costs us Jobs.

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Originally Published: 3 December 1992, Montgomery Advertiser

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