EDITOR's NOTE: On 7 July 2015, the South Carolina State Senate voted 36-3 to remove the Confederate Battle Flag from the grounds of the State House in the Palmetto State's capital, Columbia; on 8 July (actually, in the wee hours of the following morning), the State House of Representatives followed suit by a vote of 94-20; and South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley [Republican] signed this legislation into law on the afternoon of 9 July. On the morning of 10 July 2015, the Confederate Battle Flag came down off the flagpole just outside the State House. Although the following piece by Mr. Berg-Andersson was put into its final form after these events, the basic outline of this Commentary was first written out- as a rough draft- before this action on the part of the State of South Carolina became formalized throughout this past week.
I have waited till now to opine upon the controversies involving the public display- not just in those States of the American Union that had once seceded in order to form the Confederate States of America more than a century and a half ago now, but anywhere within the United States of America- of the so-called 'Confederate Battle Flag' (which consists of a red field crossed- diagonally- by two blue bands with white stars within each) so recently engendered, sad to have to say, by the murder (massacre, really) this past 17 June of 9 congregants (including their pastor, who also had a career as as a legislator in both houses of the State's General Assembly) of an historic church within that Protestant denomination known as African Methodist Episcopal located in Charleston, South Carolina by a young white man who, as it turned out, has a mind well imbued with the doctrines (nay, even dogma) of much of that which can fairly be categorized under the rubric of White Supremacy.
I have so waited so as to have taken all due time to well think and reflect- indeed, deliberate- most carefully before sitting in front of my laptop at home here in northern New Jersey in order to compose the words that will soon follow; and I wanted to be most careful in this regard so that any immediate, as well as lingering, emotion in relation to that which happened last month in that Charleston AME church would not thereafter unduly affect what I might have to say on this particular topic.
Before I get to the main thrust of this Commentary, the reader must- in all fairness- be made aware of the following:
First of all, I am a Northerner- a 'Yankee' born and bred, raised and still resident: I was born (in the mid-1950s) in Connecticut and first attended a single year in a public school in the vicinity of the city of New Haven in which I had first entered the world; I then spent the better part of the next four years in a New York City public school (on Staten Island) before completing my 13 total years of public childhood education in a town I have already described [as it was in the late 1960s] on this website as "a somewhat upscale 'railroad suburb' of New York City located in Northern New Jersey"; I then went on to four years of college at Boston University, from which I received a Bachelor of Arts degree (which, when combined with both my purchase of a large- or extra large- coffee and my presenting my AARP membership card at any of a national chain of coffee/donut shops, nonetheless still gets me a free donut!)
After college, I lived for a little over a year back home in 'Jersey' before residing for nearly a decade and a half in New York City's Borough of Queens (thus, I lived in Outer Boroughs of the Greater City both as a child and an adult [a quintessential "Bridge and Tunnel Person" even within that city]), followed by now well over two decades back here in northern New Jersey a little less than ten miles from where I received my high school diploma.
Therefore, I most certainly retain all the relevant (where not also, if only at times, irrelevant) biases- political, economic, sociocultural- of one my age (pushing 60 as I now type this) who grew up, and continues to live, in the Metropolitan New York 'Tri State' region (with more than a pinch of New England-based higher education added into this "mix", to boot!). At the same time, I am (or, at least, I try my utmost to be) most aware of such biases of mine and, despite them- or, perhaps, even because of them- ever seek to remember that 'the other side (of a given issue), if only far more often than not, actually has a side!' and, indeed, I try- as best as I can (recognizing, however, I might well fail in this endeavor, if only from time to time)- to apply this same approach to any and all of my Commentaries for The Green Papers, those already written and posted-- as well as those yet to be written and posted.
Secondly: in North Carolina was born, raised and is still residing my own half-brother- a child of my biological father's second marriage (my Mom had been his first wife). He and his are, of course, all still Family (Blood being thicker than Water, and all that) and, therefore, I also feel I must try my best to tread at least somewhat carefully herein (keeping my half-brother's background in mind, thus, forces me to now also keep that which I might- as best I can- discern of the feelings, sensibilities and concerns of Southerners in general- my fellow Americans, all, after all [even absent the fact that I happen to have Southern kin]- well in mind).
But, finally (and, in the main, perhaps most importantly), there is my own still very recent visit to the Battlefield at Gettysburg- about which I have already written on this website. My so well exploring the entirety of those scenes of warfare surrounding the Borough of Gettysburg (only the National Cemetery is within the limits of the municipality itself: the far-flung sites of battle are actually located within the surrounding Townships within Pennsylvania's Adams County- Cumberland, Mount Joy and Straban- although, of course, these sites all remain [as part of a National Military Park] under Federal jurisdiction and supervision) in and of itself has engendered much sober reflection on my own part (reflection recounted, at least in part, in that piece linked to in this very paragraph) about relations between North and South (not only those of so long ago, but even up to the present day), reflection that- even as I now think upon it more than a half year later- well colors that which I am about to write below.
Above all else, however, I am going to be most frank and honest when it comes to my observations and experience, my own thoughts and feelings herein: you who might read this, as should also be the case with all my Commentaries for this website, deserve no less from me!
I cannot honestly say that the Confederate Battle Flag offends me: at the same time, I cannot possibly know- from my own experience- just how much it offends many an African-American (although my Black friends and acquaintances haven't been the least bit afraid to- over the years and decades- let me know just what they think of it-- the printable answer?: "Not much!"); I am also aware- as I have come across many such sentiments on the Internet of late- that there are Blacks in/from the South who, passing strange as this might seem to a Northerner like myself, see the Confederate Battle Flag as no less a symbol of their own 'Southern Heritage' as any other Southerner seeing it the same way. I might then, instead, truly say that it- at most- disturbs me: though I tend to feel much more dismay than disdain upon catching sight of it under ordinary circumstances. Where I do find it downright repellent is in its use as a symbol of White Supremacy- of denigration of other races (as well as religions), of causing and spreading fear amidst certain populations in this country in the same manner as might a burning cross or a figure wearing a white hood and a white robe bearing the red badge with a white cross and a drop of blood in its center.
Having said this: let us be most clear that- here in my America- one cannot be legally prevented from flying the Confederate Battle Flag (no matter the motivation: Southern pride or intended White intimidation of the non-White [or even non-Christian]) on one's own property. Freedom of Speech itself includes freedom to fly said flag (so long as, as in all other cases in which Freedom of Speech is exercised, one is thereafter prepared to accept the ramifications of actually doing same-- in other words: freedom to fly the Confederate Battle Flag does not at all shield one who does so from possible social sanctions in those areas of the country in which such social sanctions are the more likely to be forthcoming).
I have been living in my current town of residence here in Morris County, New Jersey for over two decades now: during my first year here, I lived in an apartment in a two-family house along a county trunk road before moving into the home in which I am now typing this. While living in that apartment, I would- every so often- walk into town to pick up my mail and/or grab a bite for lunch, etc. and, in the course of doing so, I would (unless I altered my usual route) pass a house (well down the same street which passed behind the one containing my apartment) outside of which daily hung a Confederate Battle Flag on a flagpole (jutting out at about a 45-degree angle) attached to the front of the house.
Every so often (on average, probably every third or fourth time I would be walking by this house), an older man- I would estimate his age as having been in his late 60s or early 70s (this being more than twenty years ago now, I myself was still in my late 30s at the time)- would be seated on a long cushioned bench on the front porch while holding onto a wooden cane. Whenever I would see him sitting there, I would yell out- loud enough so that my own voice could be heard echoing off the houses on his side of the street- "Liberty and Union! Now and Forever! One and Inseparable!" and he, in response, would- far more often than not- 'flip me the Bird' (although, from time to time, he would simply ignore me).
This became, more or less, routine (at times, when he saw me coming down the street, he would even stand up and lean on his cane in anticipation of my so loudly quoting ol' Dan'l Webster so he could then shake his fist at me before flipping me off [my own thought whenever he reacted to me was: 'Hey, you're in Jersey right now, buddy!']-- once in a great while, he would even yell something at me [almost always after I had already passed by and was already walking away from him] which I could never make out [nor did I all that much care what he might have been saying]). Of course, within a year, I was residing in another part of town from which walking down his street into town made little, if any, sense.
From time to time, however- over the first few years I lived in my new house- I would purposefully drive my car down his street and, sure enough, that Confederate Battle Flag was still there... until one day, not too long before the Turn of the Millennia, it wasn't. Did he recently move away? Was he now even dead? I never found out...
but I never ever begrudged him his own Right to fly that flag over the porch of his own house: for his Right to do so, I needn't have to say, is as constitutionally protected (not only by the Federal Constitution, but also by State Constitutions [including that of my own State]) as my own Right to, while out walking along a publicly-mapped street, so vehemently quote Daniel Webster!
Flying the Confederate Battle Flag on public ground, however, is a far more problematic issue:
While I was in Gettysburg last November, I stood before the so-called 'High Water Mark of the Confederacy': it is the furthest Confederate soldiers who were part of Pickett's Charge on the last of the three days of the battle managed to get into the center of the Union line. A monument here marks the spot where General Lewis Armistead, C.S.A., fell mortally wounded: it was (as I suppose it still is) festooned with small Confederate Battle Flags and the 'High Water Mark' directly in front of it (as one looks out from where the Union center was back on 3 July 1863) was marked by a larger, ground-level Confederate Battle Flag. Upon taking in this scene, one has to fairly ask oneself: is it really so inappropriate for the flag under which soldiers of the Confederacy fought, bled and died to be displayed where they actually did so?
I will come back to that very question towards the end of this piece but, first, I want to now explain my own 'take' on what the Confederate Battle Flag has tended to mean to those like myself during the era in which I have actually been alive. If nothing else, I hope this at least will explain why I see the Confederate Battle Flag the way I have described at the start of this section of this piece.
'Yankee' though I am- as 'Yankee' also, then, might be the lens through which I see all this- I do see a distinct difference between the display of the Confederate Battle Flag at, say, the 'High Water Mark' at Gettysburg and its display in front of, say, the South Carolina State House. And, to my own 'Yankee' mind, the dispute over whether the Confederate Battle Flag is, or not, primarily a symbol of Southern Heritage is here, and in the main, largely irrelevant.
The fact is that the Confederate Battle Flag did, once again, become a banner of defiance towards 'the Federals' in support of opposition to various and sundry aspects of the quest, by Blacks in this country (not just in the South, but all over the United States), for what we now place under the general rubric of 'Civil Rights' beginning, in earnest, soon after the end of World War II. Whatever symbolism the Confederate Battle Flag might have had prior to the late 1940s- representing what many Southerners saw as 'the Lost Cause', honoring those who had fought (where not also died) in Confederate grey during the Civil War (the last surviving veterans of that war on both sides, by the way, all would die during the 1950s, although there is much dispute over the claims of at least some of these to even have been Civil War veterans!)- there is little question of what that flag meant to convey among many a contemporary of that time- as well as the times since- far too young to have fought the War Between the States.
Although the Confederate Battle Flag (which had, up till this point, become more and more usually used for decorating the graves of Confederate soldiers as the Civil War itself receded more and more into the mists of Time itself) enjoyed what can fairly be described as a minor revival during World War II- for it was adopted (along with an early mid-20th Century version of the 'Rebel Yell') by many Southern Army units (at the start- and through at least the early periods- of American participation in that war, many numbered US Army Divisions were geographically based [the 26th Division, for example, was originally based in Massachusetts and was known as the 'Yankee Division'], a remnant of large-scale Mobilization having necessitated the same reliance upon State Militia-become-National Guard as had once produced the '20th Maine' which had defended the Union left atop Gettysburg's 'Little Round Top')- it was most surely adopted as an emblem of the so-called 'Dixiecrats' during the 1948 presidential campaign.
The core political position of the 'Dixiecrats' (the media name for them: officially, they themselves were "States' Rights Democrats") was opposition to the Civil Rights plank in the Platform adopted by the 1948 Democratic National Convention which had so recently nominated incumbent President Harry Truman. Democratic Convention delegates (joined by other Southern politicians) unhappy with this development held their own rump Convention in Birmingham, Alabama shortly after the Democratic Convention itself had adjourned and nominated then-South Carolina Governor Strom Thurmond for President and Mississippi Governor Fielding Wright for vice-president.
To be fair, the 'Dixiecrats' also used other symbolism that tugged at the emotions of many Southerners of the era: for instance, their most well-known campaign slogan "Get Right with Thurmond and Wright" was an obvious play on 'Get Right with God', a phrase very much in vogue (as it still is) with evangelical, where not also pentecostal, Christians (Black as well as White: thus, one has to fairly wonder just how the average African-American churchgoer in the South might have taken the Dixiecrats' slogan!). But it cannot at all be denied (and even cursory research on the Internet indicates this) that the Confederate Battle Flag itself was predominant in the States' Rights Party's campaign.
The Dixiecrats' own take on 'Southern Heritage' was also, no doubt, racist: their Convention's keynote speaker- former Alabama Governor Frank Dixon- openly declaimed that the Truman Administration (which had, among other things, ordered the desegregation of the United States Armed Forces in that same year of 1948) was aiming to reduce us to the status of a mongrel, inferior race- mixed in blood, our Anglo-Saxon heritage a mockery. There is also not much doubt that their own use of the Confederate Battle Flag in this way to promote such a "heritage" thereafter well caught on and became the very basis of similar usage amongst, say, many a supporter of late Alabama Governor George Wallace in his own three bids for the Presidency (1964 as at least a shadow contender for the Democratic Party nomination; 1968 on the ticket of his own 'post-Dixiecrat' "American Independent" Party; and his 1972 more definitive quest for the Democratic nomination [during which Wallace survived an attempted assassination that left him a paraplegic for the rest of his life]) and that, while Wallace more appealed to Americanism per se than 'Southern Pride' (the ability of his presidential campaigns to stir up so-called 'White Backlash' in the North was alone legendary), the Confederate Battle Flag was, far more often than not, well in evidence at pro-Wallace political rallies all over the country.
To again be fair, many- if not most- Southern politicians shied away from the 'Dixiecrats' of 1948 (in part because of fear of becoming much too detached from the national Democratic Party [especially if they be members of Congress], but also in part because many of them honestly believed that sentiments such as that expressed by Dixon were only serving to retard the South's postwar economic development [one of these was, famously, Senator- and future President- Lyndon Baines Johnson, who always considered himself to be a Southerner as much as he was a Texan]): in the end, only 4 of the 13 Southern States (if the more traditional post-World War II political definition- appending both Kentucky and Oklahoma to the 11 States of the old Confederacy- be used here) actually gave their Electoral Votes to the Thurmond/Wright ticket: all of them in the so-called 'Deep South'. In 3 of the 7 States of what is generally regarded as the 'Deep South' (these being Florida, Georgia and Texas) the 'Dixiecrat' ticket never gained much more than 1/5 of the vote in any of them; on the other hand, however, the vote in the other 4 'Deep South' States for Thurmond and Wright was downright overwhelming (only Louisiana failed to produce an outright majority for the 'Dixiecrats' and, in that case, only just barely: in the remaining 3- Alabama, Mississippi and South Carolina- the popular vote for Thurmond and Wright in each was never less than 70%!).
A comparison of this with the vote in the South for George Wallace's American Independent Party exactly two decades later (by which time, much of what the 'Dixiecrats' of 1948 had so vehemently opposed had already been enshrined within various Federal Civil Rights Acts [as well as constitutional decisions by the United States Supreme Court (in response to which "Impeach [Chief Justice Earl] Warren" had already become something of a 'mantra' in many parts of the 1960s South)]) is, itself, rather instructive in this regard: Wallace outright won the Electoral Votes of 5 of the 13 Southern States (Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana and Mississippi)-- only in his own Alabama and Mississippi, however, did Wallace win a majority of the popular vote (and, in neither State, did he gain more than 2/3 of the vote); his ability to win the remaining 3 States was primarily based on the presidential race in those States having devolved into a three-way "horse race" between Wallace, Democrat Hubert Humphrey and Republican (and eventual President-elect) Richard Nixon (Arkansas, at the time, even had [and, in the same 1968 election, would re-elect] a Republican Governor [in an era when the South was still, pretty much, the Solid(ly Democratic) South]: a Rockefeller, no less!).
But, unlike the 'Dixiecrats' (whose ballot access was pretty much restricted to the 13 Southern States), Wallace ran a national campaign, getting on the ballot in all 50 States and, in the end, only in 7 States of the Union (Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont) did his American Independent Party fail to gain at least 5 percent of the popular vote (as rounded to the nearest whole integer)... in my own State of New Jersey, George Wallace polled 8 percent!
One certainly cannot well ignore the rather problematic history of my own State of New Jersey as regards the issues that ultimately led to the American Civil War (as well as its aftermath). New Jersey was itself originally a 'Slave State' (in that Chattel Slavery was legal therein- and was, as was the case wherever Slavery was practiced within the young United States of America [North as well as South], primarily based on race- at the time of Independence): very early in the 19th Century, the State opted for so-called 'Gradual Abolition' (beginning in 1804: interestingly, at just around the same time New Jersey also "corrected" a legislative "oversight" which had, up till then, actually allowed free Blacks [as well as, by the way, women] to vote; after 1807, both non-White males and all women were legally disenfranchised in New Jersey), a process that was not completed (with Total Abolition of Slavery) until 1846. Even after that date, however, many non-Whites (some Native American 'Indians' as well as Blacks) continued to be kept in the moral equivalent of Slavery in parts of New Jersey through what were euphemistically known as "Apprenticeships" (in reality, very long-term Indentured Servitude, often intended to last as long as a lifetime [in at least some cases, the children of such "apprentices" were themselves to also be, effectively, indentured until they reached the age of majority (21)]).
Some of my fellow Jerseyans, even to this very day, make much of the fact that part of the State is "below the Mason-Dixon Line" (on the grounds that the peninsula that is New Jersey itself continues south of 39 degrees, 43 minutes North latitude [the approximate latitude of the Pennsylvania/Maryland boundary that Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon surveyed back in the mid-1760s]: Cape May Point- the southernmost limit of the State- is at latitude 38 degrees, 56 minutes North [in fact, it is at just about the same latitude as Washington, DC!]) but this is, technically, incorrect: for Mason's and Dixon's Line actually began at the oceanfront boundary between what is now Delaware and Maryland (under British rule, Delaware- although it had its own legislature- was governed by Pennsylvania as its 'Three Lower Counties along the Delaware'). This myth, however, is often brought up to suggest that Slavery existed in New Jersey only in its far southern portions (indeed, to someone brought up in North Jersey like myself, much of far South Jersey [parts of Salem and Cumberland County, in particular] does seem to very strongly resemble both the topography, as well as demographics, of at least the DelMarVa Peninsula [thus, much of South Jersey shows something of an at least historical affinity to parts of the Upper South]): in reality, however, Slavery- although the actual number of slaves were relatively few in number (that is: compared to many a Southern State of the antebellum era)- was found in many a rural precinct all over the State (as well as in and around important port cities of the time such as Perth Amboy).
In addition, those within the growing urban- more and more industrialized- sections of antebellum New Jersey (these just outside of both New York City and Philadelphia [New Jersey being that proverbial "cask tapped at both ends"]) originally had no real interest in incurring the wrath of Southern slaveholders, for much of this increasing industrialization (along with, concomitantly, the earliest emergence of suburbanization) depended on raw materials from the South (such as cotton for textile mills). Indeed, it was only in the last several years before the Civil War that local iron and steel manufacturing was already beginning to free New Jersey from such dependence on the South (yet much animosity to the growing cry, from some, for Abolition of Slavery throughout the country still existed throughout the State [despite the important influence of anti-Slavery Quakers on the State's own antebellum History (about which more below)]).
In the end, of course, New Jersey did not secede from the Union come the Civil War and, indeed, many a Jerseyan fought valiantly while wearing Union blue (the Battlefield at Gettysburg is itself replete with monuments to many a New Jersey fighting unit, for instance); and both New Jersey Governors of the Civil War era- the first a Republican, Charles Olden; the second a Democrat, Joel Parker- were themselves loyal to the Union. But Parker's political position, in particular, was most precarious: for he had defeated a Unionist (Marcus Ward) in the 1862 gubernatorial election and his own Democratic Party in New Jersey was lousy with so-called "Copperhead"s who were lukewarm- where not outright hostile- to the State's participation in this War Between the States, especially once it had so clearly (come President Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation) become, primarily, a conflict in which men would (to here quote Julia Ward Howe's Battle Hymn of the Republic) "die to make men free". It should here also be noted that New Jersey was the only Free State (that is: a State in which Slavery per se was, by then, unlawful) that failed to give at least a plurality of its popular vote to Abraham Lincoln in both 1860 and 1864 (the only other States that would not secede from the Union to also do the same- Delaware and Kentucky- each remained Slave States throughout the Civil War).
Even after the war, New Jersey's ambivalence in this regard remained marked: the State rejected the 13th Amendment abolishing Slavery by constitutional fiat while it still awaited Ratification by the States and only ratified it a year later (once this Amendment had already been proclaimed part of the Constitution by Secretary of State William Seward); New Jersey was, in fact, the third State to ratify the 14th Amendment (doing so around the same time it had also belatedly ratified the 13th) but, two years later, both houses of its Legislature rescinded Ratification (the Governor at the time- the same Marcus Ward [now a Republican] who had, earlier, lost to Governor Parker- vetoed this rescission, after which both houses then promptly overrode Governor Ward's veto!): when the time came, Congress simply passed a Concurrent Resolution ordering Secretary Seward to ignore New Jersey's rescission so that Seward could then proclaim the 14th Amendment part of the Constitution; as for the 15th Amendment granting Black men the Right to Vote nationwide, New Jersey again outright rejected it while its Ratification was still pending and only after it had already been proclaimed part of the Constitution by Secretary of State Hamilton Fish did New Jersey, again belatedly, deign to ratify it.
While those aforementioned "Apprenticeship"s (amounting to Slavery in all but name) more or less withered away once the Civil War was over, New Jersey allowed- for example- de jure segregation in its public schools in all too many parts of the State until at least the era of Brown v. Board of Education in the mid-1950s (there was, most [in]famously, the 'Manual Training and Industrial School for Colored Youth' in Bordentown, NJ: although often referred to as "the Tuskegee of the North", it clearly was designed to steer Black children into the vocational trades [indeed, there was no such school for White kids until 'the Bordentown School'- as it was colloquially (where not also euphemistically) known- legally had to admit White students under the provisions of New Jersey's then-new State Constitution of 1947; thereafter renamed, simply, the 'New Jersey Manual Training School', it utterly failed to keep, let alone even very actively recruit, non-Black students)]; this school was finally closed down in 1955 and its newer [multi-racial] mission was taken over by a system of Vocational and Technical Schools in [eventually] all 21 New Jersey counties [beginning in the late 1950s]). The issue of de facto segregation in public education here in the Garden State- one still burning to this very day- is one that will not be addressed herein, other than to here note its very existence as an issue, despite New Jersey schools having long been legally desegregated.
The point of all I have written above is to, thereby, let the reader know that I am well aware of my own (Northern) State's rather checkered history as regards Race Relations within the Law itself and that my comments on the symbolism of the Confederate Battle Flag (as I myself see it) earlier in this piece are not at all part and parcel of an effort by 'Yankee' me to, somehow, "sweep all this under the rug"!
And yet, despite New Jersey's effort to- especially following World War II- mitigate its (for lack of a better term) "Copperhead" history, 8 per cent of the Garden State's voters cast their 1968 presidential ballots for Alabama Governor George Wallace... meanwhile, the Confederate Battle Flag (as has been illustrated by my own personal anecdote earlier in this piece) yet flies from many a free-standing flagpole or one attached to a building in many parts of this State!...
why? The apparently more common answer has roots which lie well back within the mists of History- not only before the Civil War, but before New Jersey even became a "free and independent State" in 1776: indeed, said historical roots go well back to before New Jersey's "cask" was even ever "tapped at both ends"- before there ever was a Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and while New York City itself was still known as 'New Amsterdam':
To most New Jerseyans, the principal division within the Garden State lies between North and South: the 'Jersey' of contemporary culture- its accent and attitude- more recently depicted in such television fare as Jersey Shore or The Sopranos is, in reality, North Jersey (and, even then, it is certainly not all of North Jersey [or, as *I* like to put it, "I pronounce it 'Seh-CAUC-us', not 'SEE-cau-cus'!"]). North Jersey is the bailiwick of New York sports fans, South Jersey the home of those who root for the teams of 'Philly'-- and there certainly seems a reason the State House is in Trenton, right in between the two.
But the historical division of the Garden State is, in fact, not North and South so much as it is East and West.
Here in New Jersey, there is something known as 'the Province Line' which can still be discerned on any map of the State showing New Jersey's counties: the diagonal line forming the boundary between Burlington County to the west and (from south to north) Ocean and Monmouth Counties to the east is the same diagonal line forming the lower third of the boundary between Hunterdon County to the west and Somerset County to the east. Mercer County (home of the State Capital of Trenton, which is also Mercer's county seat) straddles this diagonal because it was erected in the early mid-19th Century, well after the events I am about to relate themselves took place.
Until the late summer of 1664, the peninsula that is now New Jersey (with the Hudson River and the Atlantic Ocean to its east and the Delaware River to its west-- ocean and Delaware River become Bay meeting up off of Cape May) was part of 'New Netherland', the Dutch province in North America. The Dutch had, only in 1655, taken over so-called 'New Sweden' (now southwestern New Jersey and much of today's Delaware) which had been largely settled by Swedish-speaking Finns and had been bankrolled by Dutch investors in any event (in fact, Walloon Peter Minuit had served as both an early Governor of New Netherland back in the late 1620s into early 1630s and [albeit briefly] as the first Governor of New Sweden in the late 1630s). Thus, what would become New Jersey found itself neatly tucked, during its decade completely under Dutch rule, between what the Dutch called the North (that is, the Hudson) and South (meaning, the Delaware) Rivers.
Then- in late August 1664- three English warships sailed into what is now New York Harbor to enforce a new Charter granted to James, Duke of York by his brother, the English King Charles II which, among other things, gave all of 'New Netherland' to James. Dutch New Amsterdam, thereby, became English 'New York'; thus, what is now New Jersey came under English rule and was to be governed as part of the personal fiefdom of James: James then promptly granted what was soon called 'New Jersey' to two of his and his royal brother's staunchest allies- George Carteret and John, Baron Berkeley of Stratton...
or did he?
Many historians of the Colonial Period in American History have since come to the conclusion that James had actually intended Carteret and Berkeley to be leaseholders, at best tenants-in-chief of the future King James II and not outright owners of the land themselves. But Carteret and Berkeley began acting otherwise (indeed, the very name 'New Jersey' came from the fact that Carteret had once been Governor of the isle of Jersey [which had been the first English-ruled polity to recognize Charles II as king soon after his father, Charles I, had been beheaded during the Puritan Rebellion]: Carteret and Berkeley were also, by the way, already proprietors of 'Carolina' [before its being split into North and South]) and began attracting settlers to the colony with both titles to land and an instrument of government promising both Freedom of Religion and Representative Government. But about a decade after having so taken control of New Jersey, the two co-proprietors decided to split their holdings and sell each off to others-- New Jersey, thereby, became two colonies: 'East Jersey' and 'West Jersey'.
The problem arose as to where the dividing line between the two new colonies should actually be: in 1676, a 'Quintipartite Deed' between four Quakers (including William Penn, this before he was granted 'Pennsylvania'), who had already purchased 'West Jersey' from Lord Berkeley, and Carteret (who still controlled 'East Jersey', pending its own sale) authorized a diagonal line- one seemingly evenly dividing New Jersey into two equal parts- from the Atlantic Ocean to the northwestern corner of the province (the diagonal boundary between New Jersey and New York was thought to be farther north [and, thereby, also thought to extend further west] than it would eventually be permanently drawn: of course, no white man had even yet surveyed this vast northwestern region of America's own 'Jersey'!).
Not until 1686, however, was surveying this diagonal even begun: under the supervision of Surveyor-General George Keith, the line (known as 'Keith's Line') was run as as far as the South Branch of the Raritan River (near where the hamlet of Three Bridges is today) when it became apparent (by now it was 1687) that- at least based on the best available knowledge (which was still not all that good, mind you!) as to where exactly was New Jersey's northernmost and westernmost extent - the line had been run too far to the west. Thus, it was decided that what was to be the 'Province Line' should, from here, follow the North Branch of the Raritan into the interior (which would at least somewhat correct for this westward deviation in what was, up till that point, East Jersey's favor)-- except that the surveyors, evidently (or so at least local legend has it), then ran the line up the wrong stream: following, instead, the Lamington River (which becomes the Black River once one travels upstream into what is now Morris County from the south). At some point (in 1688), the surveying of the line simply stopped (a provisional line linking the northern end of the Black River to the source of the Passaic River [which, after a major re-adjustment more or less to the south, eventually became part of the boundary between Morris and Somerset Counties] was a later invention) and, as a result, the future Morris County (in which I grew up and where I, once again, now happen to live) would be, to all intents and purposes, split between what was once East and West Jersey (by the late 17th Century, East Jersey had already been setting up future Townships in what is now eastern Morris County, while West Jersey was already granting land in what is now western Morris County).
After becoming King of England and Scotland in 1686, James II tried to reassert control over his one-time holding by attaching both East and West Jersey to his larger 'Dominion of New England' but his overthrow in favor of William and Mary during the so-called 'Glorious Revolution' a few years later put a sudden end to this attempt at colonial consolidation. Nonetheless, in 1702, East and West Jersey were themselves reunited into a single Province of New Jersey (albeit, although it retained its own separate legislature, under the Royal Governor of neighboring New York); not until 1738 would New Jersey get its own Royal Governor (Lewis Morris, for whom my county is named) and not until 1743 would- thanks to both the final settlement of the diagonal portion of the boundary between New Jersey and New York and the entire resulting Province, at around the same time, having been much better surveyed- a new diagonal line (run to the east of 'Keith's Line') be delineated (this being 'Lawrence's Line' which would legally settle the division between old East and West Jersey for purposes of establishing land title, although it has never erased the historical aforementioned 'Province Line' itself; in fact, the original 'Province Line' [that is: Keith's Line- warts and all] would generally become- as it yet remains, to this very day- the truest political, where not also sociocultural, division of New Jersey into two parts [thus, at least for the most part, South Jersey is really old 'West Jersey' and North Jersey is, in reality, old 'East Jersey' separated one from the other by said original 'Province Line']).
For instance: there were, of course, the Newark Riots...
no, not the race-related riots which erupted in the City of Newark during the so-called 'Long Hot Summer' of 1967: I'm here talking about the "Newark Riots" of the Colonial Period!
The issue behind these disturbances (also generally known as "the Land Riots") was the repeated failure of the Province to finally determine the landholdings, as well as the Rights in same (in relation to those who were actually occupying the land), of the proprietors of both East Jersey and West Jersey (Lawrence's Line was itself an attempt to facilitate this process). Although a Royal Province- with its own Governor (finally!) appointed by, and thereby representing, the British Crown- the proprietors (heirs to those to whom Carteret and Lord Berkeley had sold their original holdings back in the late 17th Century) dominated the colony's Assembly and- land speculators all, as well as so many of these also being absentee (preferring to remain in England while others managed their land)- pretty much surveyed and, thereafter, conveyed (or, more often, simply rented- in the manner of a medieval feudal lord or, more to the point, a contemporary Dutch-descended patroon along the Hudson in New York) land as they themselves saw fit (New Jersey was, therefore, in the rather odd position of being a Royal Province that, nonetheless, continued to run itself much more like a Proprietary Colony).
Meanwhile, there were those who had already received deeds (often under surveys related- directly or indirectly- to the old 'Province Line' [Keith's Line, such as it was] ) whose deeds were now compromised by the relocation of the division between the respective proprietors of old East and West Jersey (thanks to Lawrence's Line): along with those who had ignored the proprietors altogether (on the legal theory that, once New Jersey had come under direct Crown control as a Royal Province, the claims to otherwise unoccupied land of the old proprietors were no longer valid) and simply purchased their land from the native 'Indians' on their own, such land users were considered- by the proprietors themselves- to be mere "squatters".
In 1745, in the outlying precincts of the Township of Newark (at the time, Newark was pretty much all of present-day Essex County [Essex County itself, back then, including the southern portion of what is now Passaic County as well as all of what is now Union County]: the area in question was just below the Watchung Mountains- in what is, today, Montclair and the Oranges), a so-called "squatter" was arrested for cutting wood on land that had not yet been sold or rented by a proprietor. He was carted off (literally, given modes of transportation back then) to the Essex County Jail (which was actually in what was then still the village of Newark proper) but a mob of supporters soon showed up and forcibly freed him. Several of those who had done this were then themselves arrested, but an even bigger mob released them from the sheriff's custody.
Governor Morris died in 1746 and, after an interregnum of a year or so (during which executive power was exercised by the president of the Governor's Council), Jonathan Belcher (previously Royal Governor of Massachusetts Bay Province: Belchertown, Mass. is named for him) arrived as New Jersey's new Royal Governor. By then, the Land Riots had spread to what had once been West Jersey (primarily Hunterdon County) and, other than writing back to the Home Government about "the infection of the Newark Riots", Belcher proved to be rather ineffective in quashing them. Only come the mid-1750s (by which time Royal Governor, proprietors and "squatters" alike had something much more important to deal with- this being the French and Indian War) did the Land Riots in (now principally western) New Jersey finally peter out.
But my telling this tale here illustrates an important point: that, although New Jersey was not one of the British colonies directly and adversely affected by the Proclamation Lines of either 1763 and 1768 or the Quebec Act of 1774 (all of which attempted to restrict White settlement to the west of the Appalachian Mountain chain [after all, this chain only touches New Jersey itself at its far northwestern end] and which, in turn, further fueled much of the resentment against the Crown that erupted into the American Revolution itself), there was- nonetheless- already, by then, a history of upland "localist" versus seaboard "cosmopolitan" (itself foreshadowing the contest between Jeffersonian Republican and Hamiltonian Federalist that, thereafter, proved the beginning of Our Nation's Two-Party System) even in a relatively small colony become State like New Jersey.
And this upland/interior Frontier (later, it would become Rural) versus coastal Settlement (later, it would become Urban) political dichotomy would come to play a rather large role in New Jersey State and local politics- as it still does, at least to some extent, to this very day (the most recent Primary early last month for Republican nominations to the three open slots on the Morris County Board of Chosen Freeholders [my predominantly Republican county's elective governing body: by the way, the same body on which my State's current Governor (as well as contender for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination), Chris Christie, first made his political "bones" back in the mid-1990s] was, essentially, a contest between 'Establishment' [read: generally the more moderate in their conservatism] Republican candidates and those who were backed by more conservative Republicans [including some GOP factions from South- historically, 'West'- Jersey]-- all things being equal, western Morris County [west of the Black River, hence west of 'Province Line'] tends to be more politically conservative, in any event, than is eastern Morris County [home to most of the 'Railroad Suburbs' of New York City within the county (including both the town in which I graduated from high school, as well as the town in which I currently reside)])!
Thus, here in New Jersey, especially the further west and south one goes (with the obvious exception of those more urbanized/suburbanized areas closer to Philadelphia), the Confederate Battle Flag (which is why I brought all this up in the first place!) is the more likely to be seen: for, rather than a banner of White Supremacy or Anglo-Saxon Heritage (or, perhaps, even More Muscular Christianity), it is much more utilized- up here in these parts, at least- as a symbol of open defiance against Government Excess (as such might be perceived by those who so fly it)...
and this, too, has a rather long history!
Almost as soon as the 'Dixiecrats' of 1948 had appropriated the Confederate Battle Flag as their own symbol of defiance against those who, at the time, ran the Democratic Party itself, there was already an attempt to (for lack of a better term) "rehabilitate" that banner. Certainly, many of those same Southern politicians (as well as their own supporters) who held the 'Dixiecrats' at arm's length had not simply stopped seeing the Confederate Battle Flag in the manner in which it was more usually seen beforehand-- they were simply appalled that it was being used to promote what seemed, on its face, to be White Supremacy writ large.
This does not mean, of course, that these same 'non-Dixiecrat' Southerners (especially back in the late 1940s!) suddenly had, as if by an epiphany, any notion that schools should be desegregated- if only "with all deliberate speed" (as the U.S. Supreme Court itself put it during its implementation of its decision in Brown v. Board of Education)- or that a Black man marrying a Southern White woman was, somehow, now not only acceptable- but even seen to be a rather good idea. And this certainly did not imply that these same politicians and those who voted for them suddenly wanted the so-called 'Jim Crow' laws in their own States immediately repealed!
But it is true that- come the 1950s- these same politicians and their supporters were now casting about for a way in which the Confederate Battle Flag could be seen- not just in the South, but all across the Nation- as a symbol of an at least more benign (a "kinder, gentler"?) 'Southernness' devoid of all undue Racial Animus. The problem here, however, was twofold: first, as long as there were still such things as, say, 'White' and 'Colored' bathrooms, water fountains and bus and train station waiting areas (combined with the growing impact- as well as import- of a Civil Rights Movement more and more strongly marshaled against these same kinds of things), the Confederate Battle Flag could not help but be seen as a symbol of Racial Animus by those who happened to have been defined, legally as well as merely socially, as 'Colored'; second, there were always going to be those White folks who, while utilizing the Confederate Battle Flag as a symbol of their own Racial Animus, would now find themselves able to hide behind a notion of "No, I'm just proclaiming my Southern Heritage!" (wink, wink; nod, nod)
Until the time came that a duly elected Governor of a 'Deep South' State could stand up and- in his own Inaugural Speech- state, emphatically, that the time for racial discrimination is over (Jimmy Carter of Georgia in 1971: itself certainly a rather far cry from George Wallace of neighboring Alabama declaiming Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever! at his own Inaugural a mere eight years earlier), the Confederate Battle Flag as merely a benign, even neutral, symbol of one's own 'Southernness' (or even as an "in yer face" symbol of anti-Government defiance) could not help but also get itself- inadvertently or not- well wrapped up in the ever-swirling political and sociocultural winds fluttering the same flag as an abject symbol of all too much Racial Animus.
And, despite the emergence- politically and socially, economically and culturally- of the so-called 'New South' beginning in the same 1970s which began with then-Georgia Governor (and future US President) Carter's heartfelt pronouncement, the air (nay, perhaps even- if only at times- stench) of Racial Animus could not long stay away from the Confederate Battle Flag itself...
even as late as the middle of the second decade of the 21st Century!
In the end, of course, 'Yankee's such as myself (at least those 'Yankee's who are White) have had no real say as to where or when it might be appropriate (or not) to publicly display the Confederate Battle Flag. Although it should be altogether obvious- and despite all the opinion those of us from outside the South might have both spent and spewed over all these years and decades on this topic- only Southerners themselves could at all well deal (or not) with what, after all, is a lingering legacy of the one-time Confederate States of America once geographically located in their own section of the country.
Therefore, it is rather gratifying to see that Southerners themselves are now so publicly wrestling with that legacy (even though it is equally all too sad that such "wrestling" has only now come about primarily as the result of a tragedy such as that which took place in Mother Emanuel Church in the middle of last month [although, had the Confederate Battle Flag already been removed from in front of the South Carolina State House long ago now, it would not have at all prevented that very tragedy: given at least one legacy of the old Confederacy- resistance to both Abolition (gradual or no) and Emancipation- there was simply no way that noone would have ever jumped at using the banner once carried into battle by the Confederacy's own soldiers as both symbol and shield for one's own racial animus!)
The resultant dispute over the Confederate Battle Flag engendered by the perpetrator of the recent massacre having so nonchalantly used it as a symbol (nay, even a badge) of his own racial animus could have all so easily devolved into yet another dispute- filled with anger and recrimination, perhaps also imbued with invective- between Northerner and Southerner over such symbolism. However, Southern politicians and leaders- regardless of Party, ideology and, yes, race- have well "stepped up to the plate" in their tackling of this issue (one that has long had serious political overtones amongst their own constituents) and courageously- regardless of where they might, in the end, stand on the display of the Confederate Battle Flag in front of a building housing State Government- debated and discussed it before actually taking a vote on it. The cynic might well opine that it took the death of a fellow state legislator (who happened to also be the pastor of the church in which the killings themselves took place) before conscience was duly shocked into the taking of such action-- but I refuse to be so cynical and truly hope that this might be a sign of a true coming together of the Nation- regardless of political, economic and cultural differences between its many Sections and regions- now but a little more than a century and a half after the end of the Civil War.
However, as is usual with much of human endeavor (and this endeavor is certainly no exception!) the willingness to answer long lingering questions itself breeds new questions...
and I now come back to one I asked much earlier in this piece: is it really so inappropriate for the flag under which soldiers of the Confederacy fought, bled and died to be displayed where they actually did so?
In the immediate wake of the shootings in Mother Emanuel AME Church, there was much else proposed besides removing the Confederate Battle Flag from the grounds of State Capitols and other government office buildings or, perhaps, even replacing its appearance on a State flag (as it does on Mississippi's) with something else. The renaming of parks and streets named for Confederate military officers and political personages was being considered in many a city or town; the removal of busts and statues of notable Southerners- antebellum, as well as those whose names were first made known during the course of the Civil War itself- from public buildings and squares was being openly discussed (where not even actually implemented!).
It all ran- and yet runs- the risk of at least bordering on, where not even entering into, the realm of the historically absurd!
Should we now start to erase much of our own History? Should we, from now on, pretend the Civil War (or, for that matter, Chattel Slavery) never even took place? After all, why not take such sentiments to their own logical- albeit it silly- conclusion?
Perhaps those of us who happen to own one or more copies of the National Geographic Society's ATLAS PLATE 14- BATTLEFIELDS OF THE CIVIL WAR, issued with the Society's magazine for APRIL 1961 (the month of the very centennial of the Firing on Fort Sumter with which that war started)- will soon gather up our copies of same and proceed to a massive bonfire somewhere into which we will all then toss said maps...
of course not!
James Madison owned slaves-- yet he still, rightfully, holds his honored place in History as Father of the Constitution and the principal draftsman of the Bill of Rights; Thomas Jefferson owned slaves-- yet the more majestic phrases within the Declaration of Independence he himself largely penned retain their power despite this; George Washington owned slaves-- yet it is altogether difficult to even imagine the United States of America coming into being in the first place, let alone surviving its first couple decades, without him!
Are we now to consider changing the very name of Our Nation's Capital because of such as this?
Truthfully, men (and, yes, women) of History are- despite the ever present tendency and temptation to treat certain of them as demigods- as potentially flawed as those of us living our own lives in the mere Everyday (not everyone- in fact, rather damned few (if any)- can be another 'Mother Teresa'!) and it is their flaws, foibles and failings that make their respective stories as compelling as do their own words and deeds. The question can, for example, ever be asked: could Abraham Lincoln have done more for Blacks suddenly freed from Slavery while he yet lived? And the answer to the question as to whether this first question is even itself at all a fair one is just as important.
Robert Edward Lee, for one, was one of the best military minds America ever produced: his ending up leading men wearing grey, instead of blue, into battle during the Civil War is itself a somewhat poignant story. One can only wonder what History might have, instead, recorded had Lee's own Commonwealth of Virginia never seceded from the Union and he, thereby, would have been able to accept overall command of Union forces, as President Lincoln himself had wished. But are we to now "sweep Bobby Lee under the rug" because of what lately happened during Bible study in a historic church in Charleston, South Carolina combined with the historical fact that it was Lee who ended up surrendering at Appomattox?
Hell, even the man Lee surrendered to, Ulysses S. Grant, had once owned slaves! (Indeed, Grant is the answer to the trivia question: who was the last President of the United States to have once owned slaves?)
History- our own, as well as that of others around the globe- is all too often made up of people behaving badly or, at least, people all too often unable to grasp whatever of worthiness there might be around them, where not also lying not all that far ahead of them in Time. But, in the main, they all simply suffer from that which we ourselves suffer: an inability to know the future combined with aversion to all too much risk-taking precisely because we cannot surely know that future!
With hindsight, of course, we of the early 21st Century- with the exception of those relatively few who might yet remain rather deluded- can well see that those who created the Confederate States of America in order to, in large part, preserve that which was euphemistically referred to as their "Peculiar Institution" were misguided (many economists- North and South- have long opined that Slavery, as a practical economic function, would not have survived more than a generation or so within the South after the Civil War [had the Confederacy itself survived, that is] in any event): but they themselves didn't necessarily know, at the time, they were so misguided...
likewise, with equal hindsight, we can all wonder- as well as speculate as to- what might have been had the current wrestling with public display of the Confederate Battle Flag have taken place in the manner in which it is currently being done within the South back in 2005-- or 1995-- or 1975-- or 1955, instead of it having to have waited until 2015... but, of course, it wasn't so publicly wrestled with till now.
No, the lowering of the Confederate Battle Flag from in front of the South Carolina State House is not the answer-- it is merely yet another answer that itself engenders yet more questions that themselves will only need be answered in turn, answers that will not necessarily be so forthcoming...
but it is, without any doubt whatsoever, a start!