The Confederate battle flag came down in South Carolina. I was moved. I assume most of the South was, if not the entire nation. I wrote a long form essay on this that I have submitted elsewhere and am awaiting word back on. Still, I don’t know if people outside the South realize how much that flag and Southern iconography is not just part of the Southern landscape but of Southern consciousness. Often viewed as the nation’s tumor in polls and data about poverty, low education, and obesity, the region has carved itself in the image of strange and oppressive gods. This has been both a blessing and a curse. The Drive-by Truckers often sing about this duality, its pride and its shame.
When the flag came down this morning, a predominately African-American crowd started cheering, and then this Southern crowd started singing the chorus to “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye.” Other Confederate flags—these owned by white individuals in the crowd—fluttered in the notes of this song. And this—I saw—was the new South still very much like the Old South.
The song was written by a fictitious band called Steam in 1969; it is often a staple of Friday night football games. Music and sport are the other corollary arteries of Southern identity. Much more fluid and alive than our symbols and statues, they are our communal bonds.
When the color guard finished rolling up the battle flag, they tied a ribbon round it. Then they marched it from the public space in the sun to some air-locked tomb of the city. A black man carried it and handed it to a white official. Those other Confederate flags still flapped in the background, and people cheered like on a Friday night; a black boy running with the ball and white men cheering despite either open or buried prejudices.
The antebellum shadows of the cotton field and the overseer—the structure that crumbles but does not surrender—are everywhere, if not in the foreground, then moving with deftness through the hearts and minds of the crowd in the distance. Hey hey hey Goodbye. We stand in the parking lot wondering what’s next.
Bryan Harvey can be followed @LawnChairBoys.