After three months of being cooped up due to the Coronavirus lockdown, we knew our nephews, who live north of Indianapolis, would enjoy a couple of days visiting our home in the woods of southern Indiana.
They filled their stay to the brim with boating, fishing, swimming and kayaking. Wide-eyed, they watched a deer amble into the yard early one morning. Under the setting sun, they saw four young foxes play with abandon on the shore of the lake. It was almost enough fun to take their minds off these uncertain, tumultuous and frightening times.
When they arrived, the boys tumbled out of the car and asked curiously, “Why are there so many Confederate flags around here?” My heart sunk. I hoped they’d be too busy playing on their phones to notice the symbol that dots the hilly drive to our home.
Along the country roads, at least a dozen Confederate flags proudly hang from trees, fly from houses, stick to truck bumpers and decorate front porches. (Note that Indiana was not part of the Confederacy, and the ubiquitous design seen on the Rebel flag never actually represented the Confederacy.)
While roasting marshmallows one evening, I asked the boys what the Confederate flag meant to them. My eleven-year-old nephew quietly said, “It means they hate black people.” His thirteen-year-old brother added so softly it was nearly inaudible, “They wish the South won the Civil War and that there was still slavery.” Despite the warmth of the fire, a chill went down my spine.
A few days later, something I read by Martin Luther King, Jr. demanded my action, “We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late. This is no time for apathy or complacency.”
Fueled by the fierce urgency of now, I submitted my column to our local newspaper, unsure if it would be published, which read in part –
This is neither a history lesson nor a political discussion. Rather, it is a plea to consider what that flag means to the people who pass by your house or vehicle. Neighbor to neighbor, it is a huge and humble request to consider removing Confederate flags from your property.
The editor of the paper emailed me back almost immediately. She thanked me for my column and assured me it would be featured in the next issue. She also invited me to be part of a newly formed county commission for human rights and told me about an upcoming solidarity rally for racial justice to be held that weekend smack in the middle of Brown County, Indiana.
The Confederate flag has generated controversy and impassioned debates for 155 years. What makes this time any different?
Because right now we are emerging from the unique stillness of a quarantine. Thanks to the pandemic, we were forced to take a collective time-out. Without our usual distractions, we are in a heighten state of awareness to better see the realities of our country and ourselves.
The headlines aren’t any different. But we are.
We find ourselves in what may be a once-in-a-lifetime position to finally open our eyes to the causes of racial injustice, pain and division. It will take much more than removing Confederate flags, but it would be a tangible start to making positive, lasting change for our children and our grandchildren.
And for my nephews – smart, kind, beautiful brown boys – who simply deserve to run among the wildflowers, jump in the lake and feel welcomed when they visit the joyful rural countryside of America’s Heartland.