Honor the Flag

Our veterans, military deserve respect for their service

Protesting during the national anthem’s playing has turned into the United States’ latest culture war. On one side, Americans who have lived, witnessed, and experienced oppression are asking their countrymen to acknowledge their plight by kneeling during the anthem to call attention to the enduring pain and suffering they and their people have endured for nearly 400 years. On the other side are people who want to see the protest as an affront to the nation, flag and the men and women who have fought for what it is supposed to represent – freedom, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

It is a shame that those who cannot accept the protest for what it is are trying to twist the protesters’ motives. They are ignorant, willfully or not, of the suppression, violence, and difficulty of navigating the social mores of a country built on brutality toward those who are not traditionally white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestants. While whiteness has changed over the centuries – ask the Catholic, French, Irish, Italians, eastern Europeans, and so on if their forefathers were readily accepted into the fabric of American society upon their arrival – blackness, as in the qualification of one drop of “black” blood, has long been established and held to. With figurative blinders, they refuse to see and accept the historical reality of those who have been subdued by our government and society.

They also fail to recognize the contributions blacks and other minority groups have made to our country through their service, and the pattern of denying them full citizenship as Americans.

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African slaves were first brought to the British colonies that would become the United States in 1619. A Dutch ship transported about 20 slaves to Jamestown, Virginia, so the rich and powerful could have a cheaper labor source than poorer white, European indentured servants to produce lucrative cash crops. When the revolutionary spirit filled the colonies, a new nation was founded on the self-evident truths “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Crispus Attucks and Prince Hall had that revolutionary spirit and who bought into the ideas being put fourth by the new nation. Both were black men. Attucks was the first man killed during the Boston Massacre and thus the first casualty of the American Revolution. Hall organized the enlistment of both enslaved and freed blacks into the Continental Army. Historians believe nearly 5,000 black soldiers and sailors fought for American freedom during the Revolutionary War. They believed their participation in the revolution would help free their people from bondage and set them on the trail to equality, but their contributions were ignored.  

When New Orleans was under British attack in the War of 1812, Joseph Savary, an emigrant from Haiti and a veteran of the French Army, raised an all-black battalion of 256 men to assist Andrew Jackson’s defense of the city. Slaves also helped to fortify American positions in advance of the Battle of New Orleans. The city they helped to protect gave them the notorious Plessy v. Ferguson ruling, which allowed racial segregation under the guise of separate but “equal.”

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As the Civil War changed from a fight to control slavery to eliminate it, nearly 186,000 black soldiers served in the Union Army (around 10 percent of enlisted soldiers), with around 38,000 giving the ultimate sacrifice. An additional 30,000 served in the Navy. It took nearly 90 years, a war that killed an estimated 620,000 men, and the 13th, 14th, and 15thamendments to give blacks freedom, citizenship, and – for the men – the right to vote (Ladies of all colors had to wait until 1919 for the 19th Amendment to get the right to cast a ballot). Still, blacks weren’t considered equal. Men were pejoratively called “boy.” And crimes against blacks were overlooked for a century.

Reconstruction, the attempted transformation of the South following the war from 1863 to 1877, was ultimately as failure. Republican state legislatures set up after the war fell when the troops left, replaced in many cases by former Confederates who were given the right to vote and hold office. Efforts to disenfranchise, discriminate, and harass blacks (Jim Crow laws, segregation, poll taxes, literacy tests, grandfather clauses, lynchings, brutality, etc.) were enacted and enforced until President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Still, racial strife has continued to linger.

Still, during that time blacks continued to serve. The Buffalo Soldiers made a name in the Old West. Black soldiers were with Teddy Roosevelt and his Rough Riders as they stormed San Juan Hill in the Spanish-American War. In World War I about 367,000 black soldiers served U.S. military forces.

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In a Nov. 27, 2016 article, The New Yorker quoted a 1917 speech on the Senate floor by Mississippi Senator James K. Vardaman in which he “warned that the return of black veterans to the South would ‘inevitably lead to disaster.’ Once you ‘impress the negro with the fact that he is defending the flag’ and ‘inflate his untutored soul with military airs,’ Vardaman cautioned, it was a short step to the conclusion that ‘his political rights must be respected.’”

Despite that rhetoric, more than a million black soldiers, sailors, and airmen contributed to the nation’s defense in World War II. Still veterans, including men like Medgar Evers and James Meredith, were continually denied equal rights under Jim Crow laws. They were even denied many of the benefits of the G.I. Bill, which was supposed to assist veterans with mortgage support, college tuition, and business loans. They had to endure seeing the killings of Emmett Till; Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner; and the girls killed at the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing. They saw their sons disproportionately drafted to fight in Vietnam, fire bombings of the Freedom Riders’ busses, and attacks by water cannon and police dogs on people trying to secure their place in our society. When this is our history and blacks continue to be marginalized, it’s exactly why people are upset and pointing out discrepancies in our culture.

So when the many who say that those protesting are disrespecting our flag, our nation and those who have fought for our rights, I ask, what is more petulant, pointing out that Constitutionally-guaranteed rights have been denied or denying those Constitutionally guaranteed rights?



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