Flag history has more than one side

Mark Hammontree

Two weeks have passed since Governor Bentley had the Confederate flags removed from the Alabama Capitol grounds, and still the debate over the flag’s meaning and use rages on.

The governor’s removal of the flags, in particular the controversial “Confederate Battle Flag,” came in the wake of the mass murder of nine black churchgoers in Charleston at the hand of white supremacist hell-bent on sparking a 
“race war.”

In the days following that tragedy, debate exploded over the Confederate flag, which flew over the South Carolina State House before, during and after the tragedy at Emanuel AME Church occurred.

Supporters of the flag have argued that it is simply an important part of the South’s history, and therefore any attempt to remove it from the public space amounts to an attempt to rewrite history or simply wipe it out altogether.

Similar arguments have been used to oppose the removal or alteration of other monuments and symbols, sometimes from the other side of the ideological spectrum.

For example, there’s a debate being waged right now over whether the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, the sight of Bloody Sunday and an important symbol of the civil rights movement, should be renamed. The bridge’s namesake was the Grand Dragon of the Alabama Ku Klux Klan, a Confederate general, and later a Klan-backed
Democratic senator.

Some, naturally, feel it’s wrong to continue to honor the legacy of such a man by keeping his name on such an iconic bridge. Others, however, argue that to change the name to the proposed “Journey to Freedom Bridge,” would whitewash the dark, troubled history of the state, not to mention remove the powerful irony of having a bridge named after a white supremacist be almost exclusively known for its role in the civil rights movement.

Similar debates, albeit on a smaller scale, have occurred here at the Capstone over the names of various buildings on campus, including Nott Hall, Morgan Hall and others. Those same arguments of protecting history, however dark it may be, have often been used by those who support keeping the names of these buildings.

However, it can’t be assumed that the average student or visitor on campus even knows that history.

There are no references on campus or on the University’s web pages to the true stories of men like Josiah Nott or John Tyler Morgan or David Bibb Graves. Only the occasional story or column in The Crimson White, or perhaps a vocal faculty member, presents the darker sides of the stories of our 
building’s namesakes.

After all, the University has regularly shown that it is more interested in ignoring history, or at least whitewashing it, than acknowledging it.

And that’s the real truth to both of these debates, whether over the flag, the bridge or these buildings on campus: history has more than 
one side.

The flag is historical, sure, but for all those who claim it represents the history of a South who supported state’s rights and blah blah blah, it also represents the violent oppression of an entire group of people because of the color of their skin. By flying it over a state capitol, we discounted that history, and we continue to silence those voices.

Here, at UA, if we truly want to acknowledge our history, then keeping these names on our buildings is not enough if we don’t make that history 
evident and known.

Mark Hammontree is a senior majoring in secondary education-language arts. His column runs biweekly.