The Confederate flag and me

In 1968, a year after I was born in the South Side of Chicago at Michael Reese hospital, Bobby Rush founded the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party. Institutionalized violence against black men in urban areas in the U.S. was so severe that Rush and his fellows felt compelled to arm themselves to protect their communities.

But there were no Confederate flags displayed in the city at that time — at least I can’t remember any.

In 1970, my family moved to gilded La Jolla, California, where Jews had been excluded from buying property until a University of California campus was established there in 1960.

There was only one black kid in my class at Bird Rock Elementary. His name was Michael Green and he and I were friends.

There were no Confederate flags there — at least that I can remember.

When I turned 18, I left La Jolla for good and moved to Los Angeles where I attended UCLA. By my early twenties, I was alternating school years and summers between Italy and Los Angeles. And when I turned 30, I completed my doctorate and moved to New York City, where I lived until my fortieth birthday.

I can’t ever remember seeing a Confederate flag displayed, non sans ironie, in that whole time.

At 41 years of age, I met my future wife and mother of my children, Tracie P. And I moved to Austin, Texas to be with her before we got engaged the following spring and later married.

That was the first time in my adult life that I remember seeing a Confederate flag displayed in earnest. It happened while Tracie P and I were driving east across Texas from Austin (in central Texas) to visit her parents and extended family in Orange, the last town on the 10 freeway, on the Louisiana border.

That was nearly seven years ago. Today, the Sons of Confederate Veterans are planning to build a Confederate memorial there. If the project comes to fruition, it will be visible from the 10 freeway. The memorial developers plan to display the flags of each of the Confederate states as well as the Confederate flag.

There are a number of Confederate flags displayed on Texas highway 290, which leads from Austin to Houston. Some of them are incorporated into commercial advertising (including billboards). In Orange, where Tracie P grew up, I saw a Confederate flag displayed outside someone’s home — the first time I remember seeing anything like that in my adult life.

But it wasn’t until we moved to Houston in February 2014 that the sight of the flag inspired fear in my heart.

We had just moved here and I was driving along a main corridor, Bellfort St., that leads from Interstate 610 (a loop of the 10) to our rented house in a middle-class neighborhood southwest of Houston proper.

A middle-aged man driving a pickup truck was in the lane next to mine. His truck had a Confederate flag painted on the rear window of the cab.

As we pulled up to a light, I saw two elderly black women seated at a bus stop (a stone’s throw from where our older daughter Georgia P attends pre-school).

It was at that moment that I felt a chill run down my spine as I realized how terrible it must have been for those women to see this symbol of hate displayed so brazenly, so nonchalantly.

The Supreme Court recently ruled “that Texas [state government] did not violate the First Amendment when it refused to allow specialty license plates bearing the Confederate battle flag.”

Thank goodness for that. Texas, like California in the 1970s when my family moved there, is becoming one of the most diverse states in the union. There’s no place for symbols of hate in state-sanctioned media.

But it’s also time for my fellow Texans to take a stand against the morally indefensible display of this ugly icon.

This is not South Carolina; this is not Mississippi, where there are already calls to remove the Confederate flag from the state flag.

This is Texas, where the state has already shown decency and common sense in banning the image from state-sanctioned media and where the love of liberty and the shared spirit of freedom should mean that every one of its citizens has the right to live without fear.

Thanks for reading…

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