After being cooped up for three months due to the pandemic, we knew our nephews, who live in suburban Indianapolis, would enjoy some time at our home in the woods of southern Indiana.
They had great fun 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 on the shore of the lake. It was almost enough 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. The flags ominously hang from trees, fly from houses, stick to truck bumpers and decorate front porches.
While roasting marshmallows one evening, I asked 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 sadly, “They wish the South won the war and that there was still slavery.” Despite the warmth of the fire, a chill went down my spine.
A few days later, I read a quote by Martin Luther King, Jr. that 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 wrote my column for our local newspaper. It 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 remove Confederate flags from your property.
Confederate flags have generated controversy and impassioned debates for 155 years. What made me ask such a thing now?
Because right now we are emerging from the unique stillness and unexpected consequences of a quarantine. The Coronavirus forced us to take a collective time-out. Without our usual distractions, we are in a heightened state of awareness and clarity, allowing us 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 root causes of racial injustice, pain and division. It will take much more than removing Confederate flags, but that 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 deserve to run among the wildflowers, jump in the lake and feel welcomed when they visit the rural countryside of America’s Heartland. §