It was probably around 10 years ago, before my father died. I was up at Clement checking out things back at the homeplace. As I rode by DaddyMac’s, my granddaddy’s house, I noticed something. Pa had been renting the house since my grandparents passed away. I noticed there was now a Rebel flag flying at the front of the house near the highway.
When I got back to Pa’s, I asked him to tell the renter that he was going to need to take the flag down, since DaddyMac’s house was in my name. He did, and the renter removed the flag.
Was I offended by the Confederate flag flying at my granddaddy’s house? To be honest, not really. As I have written before, I’m a son of the South. I was born at Dr. Brewer’s clinic over in Roseboro, and was raised on a tobacco farm here in Sampson County. I attended Clement School, with a graduating class of around 40 students. Our ball teams were called the Rebels. I have been to Allman Brothers and Marshall Tucker Band concerts, but have heard southern gospel groups like the Happy Goodman Family and the Oak Ridge Boys. (That was before they strayed into heathen country music.) I love grits, not oatmeal, and chicken pastry, not something called chicken dumplings. The Confederate flag is part of my culture.
So why did I want that Rebel flag taken down from our family property? It’s really pretty simple. As I looked at that flag, I wondered, “How would Sonny feel if he saw it?” Then I knew the flag needed to go. Well, at least on my property.
You see, Sonny is an African-American. He and I have been going to church together for years. It seems we are always doing stuff around the church together, helping out however we can. Sonny is a good friend. I wouldn’t want to allow anything that might offend him if I could. Knowing Sonny, he probably wouldn’t have said anything if he saw that flag. But I didn’t want to possibly offend him or hurt his feelings. He was and is a friend. So the flag came down.
I moved back to Sampson County in 1989. Until 2006, I stopped by the county courthouse just about every workday to pick up courier mail for work. Every one of those workdays, I would walk right by the Confederate soldier statue on my way to get or deposit courier mail. To be honest, I didn’t notice it. It was just a statue.
It’s not just a statue anymore. The statue, which was dedicated in 1916 in honor of Confederate soldiers who died during the Civil War has become, according to the local NAACP chapter, “a symbol of racism and prejudice.” I wasn’t there in 1916, but I imagine the Daughters of the Confederacy didn’t think of the statue in that way. I imagine that they wanted to honor fathers, grandfathers and relatives who died during the war, most of whom never owned a slave.
So the statue is now a symbol. To some, it may be a symbol of a heritage of loved ones lost in a war. To others, it may be a symbol of racism and prejudice. Honestly, I can see both sides. But it is just a symbol.
The fate of the statue will not have any effect on the devastation that drug abuse is causing in the lives of individuals and families. Whether the statue stays or goes will not affect the brain drain we are facing as so many of our youth go off to college and don’t return, seeking better opportunities elsewhere. Or the kids that are growing up without proper parental guidance. Or the kids growing up in poverty. In other words, the statue’s fate will have little or nothing to do with the real problems that this county faces every day.
But if we just pause for a moment and consider the feelings and concerns of others instead of ourselves, maybe we can find a solution. In the meantime, I’ll look forward to seeing my friend, Sonny, at church this Sunday.
Mac McPhail, raised in Sampson County, lives in Clinton and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.