By McKenzie Jackson/CBM
The nationwide rally against Confederate symbols has hit the Golden State.
Sens. Steve Glazer (D-Contra Costa) and Bob Huff (R-San Dimas) last week announced a bill that would prohibit all public schools, buildings, parks, roadways, and other state-owned property from using names associated with the Confederate States of America, a group of seven southern and slave-holding states, that seceded from the United States beginning in 1861 and remained an unrecognized alliance until 1865 when they lost to the Union Army of the Northern states at the end of the American Civil War.
Huff says he co-authored the bill because California should have no interest in enshrining the names of Confederate leaders or the ideas and symbols that represent the secessionist movement.
“While it’s important to never forget the mistakes made in the past,” he said, “we shouldn’t be in the business of paying tribute to those mistakes.”
The Frederick Douglass Liberty Act – or Senate Bill 539 – comes to California amidst eruptions of similar movements across the country. In the wake of last month’s heinous murders of nine black parishioners at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC., the message opposing Confederate symbols is clear: ban the offensive star-crossed Confederate flag from our public spaces.
On June 17, 21-year-old alleged gunman Dylann Roof, who is White, shot and killed churchgoers after sitting with them in a bible study meeting. He confessed that he committed the killings because of his hate for African Americans and his wish to start a race war. Social media pictures of Roof that surfaced after the shooting shows him posing with a pistol in one hand and the Confederate battle flag, the most prominent sign of the segregated and racist Old South, in another.
Around the country, a spirited debate over the flag has ensued. South Carolina’s governor, Nikki Haley, President Barack Obama, and a host of other politicians have called for the flag’s removal from the grounds of the Palmetto State’s Capitol in Columbia.
But supporters of the Confederate flag and other Confederate symbols say the items represent southern pride and heritage and have nothing to do with racism. A pro-Confederate flag group, the Conservative Response Team, has even begun making robocalls to South Carolinians urging them to fight to keep the flag hoisted on the grounds of the state Capitol.
“Don’t think the PC haters will stop if Governor Haley gets her way, and the Confederate memorial is taken down and hidden away in a museum,” a transcript of the call reads. “Just like ISIS, Obama’s haters want our monuments down, graves dug up and schools, roads, towns, and counties renamed. They’ve even taken the ‘Dukes of Hazzard,’” referring to the 1979-1985 CBS television series wherein the General Lee a 1969 Dodge Charger has the confederate flag painted on its roof.
For others, like El Camino College history professor Daniel Walker, the case to get rid of confederate is not just about it being a racist symbol. He says there should be no Confederate symbols or associated names on public property in California since the Confederacy was an enemy nation that fought against the U.S. The research associate at the Center for Religion and Civic Culture at USC in Los Angles said the flying of the flag and naming of public property after Confederate leaders has never made any sense. He called it “asinine.”
“That is like having a Nazi flag up for German people who want to acknowledge their German heritage,” Walker said. “There is no reason anything should be named after or commemorate [the Confederate States]. It was a rogue nation, the enemy. It fought against the United States and because of it, lives were lost and property destroyed. Then, we add the slavery issue in there. They were fighting for this thing we now know as an anti-humanitarian issue.”
Walker called Roof’s crime and the subsequent debate over the Confederate flag a “flashpoint” in history for Black Californians. He said many Blacks over the age of 50 have strong connections to Southern states and a deep-seated awareness of what Confederate symbols represent since either they or their parents moved to the West Coast from the South.
“We know when we go and visit our cousins and family down in Mississippi that the Confederate flag is everywhere, but we just kind of allow it to happen. It is because there is not a considerable mass of people rising up and talking about it,” Walker said. “Now, gladly it happened. As opposed to disparaging people for how long it takes to get there, we have to be happy that we have had these flashpoints.”
Currently, there are two schools in California named after top Confederate General Robert E. Lee. One is located in San Diego and the other in Long Beach. Discussions about changing the names of the schools began to happen last month.
San Diego Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez called for the San Diego Unified School District to change the name of the school bearing Lee’s name. In a letter addressed to school system superintendent, Cindy Marten, Gonzalez said anyone associated with the Confederate army, which was linked to racism and hate, have no place in California schools.
“It is also important to note that the area in which the elementary school is located is truly representative of South San Diego – a vibrant, multiethnic community with a strong African-American presence that deserves a school named after someone we can all admire,” Gonzalez wrote. “Robert E. Lee is not that person.”
An article by a reporter at a local newspaper sparked the discussion in Long Beach. The reporter’s story called for the renaming the school that bears the name of the Confederate general and slave owner.
Huff and Glazer agree. The senators say its time for change because the use of Confederate-associated names on state-owned property promotes the discriminatory agenda characteristic of old Confederate states.
“The shooting deaths of nine African-American men and women at a church in South Carolina is clear proof that racial violence is alive and well in this country,” said Huff. “Images of the accused killer wrapping himself in the Confederate flag show that it’s become an emblem of cruel oppression and racial hatred. It’s become offensive to segments of our society.”