Race, flags, statues and…

Time, the old cliché claims, flies.

I understand that all too well when I read the “50 years ago” roundup each Monday in The Roanoke Times.  I remember stories that I read and, in many occasions, helped write for the Times during my reporting and photography days there from 1965-69.

One caught my eye on this Monday morning:  “What is believed to be the first license issued in Roanoke for an interracial marriage has been issued to the clerk of Roanoke Hustings Court.”

That story sparked debate in the city and region in 1967.  The Times also, for the first time in its history, began to publish wedding photos of African-American couples — a move that sparked angry letters and canceled subscriptions.

We can argue that things have changed here in Southwestern Virginia in the last half century.  Or can we?  Social media this weekend erupted in debate over a two local residents who paraded large confederate flags while on horseback in downtown Floyd during the Friday night music along Locust Street during the Jamboree.

A few debates broke out, others were just upset, but the appearance did not start any large-scale disruptions or violence.  The social media debate discussed if such an appearance hurts tourism in Floyd or how it might affect the background debate on the future of a Confederate memorial statue on the Courthouse grounds.

The debate over the future of a generic statue honoring those who fought in the war, is useless.  Only the state can remove the statue and it will not happen in the Old Dominion’s General Assembly.

I spent Friday night photographing the season-opening varsity football game at Floyd County High School.  At the chili cookoff before the game, one Kiwanis Club member who has been part of the social media debate on the uproar in Charlottesville said “I hear something is going on downtown and you might want to check it out.”

When I left the game, I drove down Locust Street and saw the horses and the flags at the entrance to the public parking lot but the music was flowing from both sides of the street and it seemed much like a normal summer night on Fridays in Floyd so I stopped at Food Lion to pick up some things and went home. Several who were present gave reports that provided a snapshot.

The aftermath of the violence in Charlottesville continues to spark debate here in the Old Dominion and around the nation.  America is an angry nation, sparked by partisan divides over politics, race, income and living standards.  Anger too often leads to violence and, in a country overloaded with strong emotions fed by hatred, we live too often in a powder keg.

As a Southerner who feels shame over what happened in a civil war that tore our nation apart, I mourn the too many thousands of men, women and children who died fighting for and against unsupportable actions that were tolerated and encouraged from the dawn of our country.  I do not fly the Confederate flag or support those who do.

In my view, the flag is a symbol of hate, racism and bigotry.  The white supremacists who brought racial violence to Charlottesville waved it, and their racism and hate prospers today largely a supportive President considers such hatred an important part of his “base.”

The Ku Klux Klan parades under the Confederate flag.  It commits murder and rape in its name. It is a symbol of hate.

Others consider it a symbol of a Southern heritage that should be honored.  Others, including myself, do not a believe such a claimed heritage ever existed.  That is a difference of opinion and their actions are also their right in a nation founded on differing beliefs and philosophies.  Displaying the stars and bars is not a crime in America but using it as a crutch to support hate, racism and violence is.

Displaying the flag in Floyd on a Friday night brought discussion.  It brought out anger in some.  It did not end with blood on the street or eyes watering from tear gas.

For the most part, Floyd rose above that.

Most folks came to hear the music and enjoy a Friday night in a peaceful community where different folks come together to have a good time.

And they did.  They petted the horses and ignored any political or philosophical implications of the flags waved by the riders.

So should we all.


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