To the Editor:
A full-time resident of Pike County since 1991, I am far too often heartsick to see “Confederate” symbols displayed on local homes and vehicles and sold by area vendors. Why would those living in Pennsylvania — the “State of Independence” that lost 33,000 lives to defend the Union — want to tie themselves to so-called “rebels” who fought to continue the disgrace of slavery?
The excuse that this flag represents anything other than racism just does not stand up to historical fact. It doesn’t take much Googling to find out that the current “Dixie flag“ was actually rejected as the official Confederate banner. This flag, like the statues of Confederate “heroes,” began appearing more widely in Southern states decades after the war ended and into the 1960s, as Jim Crow laws were struck down, blacks gained more rights, and white supremacist groups, such as the Klu Klux Klan, emerged from the shadows.
Not that these symbols should be acceptable anywhere, but how could they possibly be justified here? As a now-deceased friend, a professor of history, often pointed out, Pennsylvania contributed more Union troops — a total of over 360,000 — than any other state. It also enlisted and lost more black soldiers. Many were already free, but risked torture, enslavement, and sometimes on-the-spot execution if captured. According to a 2016 article in the York County Dispatch, Pennsylvania was also the only state to specially honor its black troops, with a parade in Harrisburg on Nov. 14, 1865. (Six months earlier, they had been excluded from the Army’s victory march through Washington, D.C.) In all, more than 175,000 black troops served. Of these, 40,000 died in the war; their graves in historic cemeteries are often marked with “U.S.C.T” or “U.S.C.I.” (for United States Colored Troops or Infantry).
The York County Dispatch also reported what was said by Lt. Col. C.T. Trowbridge, the white commanding officer of one black regiment, as his men set out for home on Feb. 9, 1866: “The flag of our fathers, restored to its rightful significance, now floats over every foot of our territory, from Maine to California, and beholds only free men!...The church, the schoolhouse, and the right forever to be free are now secured to you, and every prospect before you is full of hope and encouragement.”
That “flag of our fathers” is, and was, the Stars and Stripes. This past week included celebrations on June 14 of Flag Day and of Juneteenth on June 19, the date in 1865 when Texas was the last state to recognize the abolishment of slavery, more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation. But this June 17 was also the fifth anniversary of the mass murder of black churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina; it took nearly a month before the Confederate flag was taken down from the South Carolina statehouse. We should not have to endure a tragedy to show that the Confederate flag has no place in Pennsylvania.
Would that we could all stand under the same flag and that the weeks ahead be full of hope and encouragement.