June 24, 2015

The Green House with the Red Flag

I was eight years old when I saw it on the news.  A tiny green house with a large flag displayed on the front porch.  I heard the news anchors talk about the Nazi and KKK memorabilia found inside the green house.  I knew who the Nazis were.  I was well versed in the Indiana Jones trilogy.  Nazis were always the bad guys, nasty and mean.  I wasn't sure exactly who the KKK were but I knew they burned crosses which confused me (I'm still confused by that).

If the Nazi connection didn't tip me off enough, there was something in the anchors' voices that told me the man that lived in that house was bad.  In every report they showed that green house with the red flag.  And there were many reports, at least on the local news.  See, the green house with the red flag was only miles from my own house in the tiny town of Signal Mountain, Tennessee.

That man was Byron De La Beckwith.

Byron De La Beckwith at his home on Signal Mountain.

De La Beckwith shot and killed civil rights activist Medger Evers, a husband and father of three, with an Enfield 1917 rifle just hours after John F. Kennedy's nationally televised Civil Rights Address on June 12, 1963 in Jackson, Mississippi.  A proud white supremacist, member of the White Citizens Council and KKK Klansman, De La Beckwith was prosecuted twice for the murder but both trials ended in hung (all white male) juries.

After new evidence emerged, Byron De La Beckwith was arrested in his Signal Mountain home on December 30, 1990 for the murder of Medger Evers.  According to the New York Times, De La Beckwith "wore a Confederate flag on his lapel during the trial. When the jury of eight blacks and four white people returned a guilty verdict on Feb. 5, 1994, he appeared dazed, as though not sure where he was."  He died in prison in 2001.

Byron De La Beckwith often boasted about murdering Evers at Klan meetings.  James Woods was nominated for an Oscar for hammily portraying him in (the not that great) Ghosts of Mississippi.  He even has a line where he tells a prosecutor, "Pretty soon Imma be back in my home on Signal Mountain and there ain't nothing you can do 'bout it."  

I have researched the history of the Confederate flag and read opinions for those that support it.  However, I have found nothing to redeem the flag or justify it being flown on government property.  There will be those who will continue to display it on their own property and that's their right.

To me, my opinion hasn't changed since I was eight years old.  I felt, and have always felt, there was something sinister about that red flag.  I feel it in my gut every time I see the Confederate flag.  It represents hate, division and white privilege.  Nothing, I repeat nothing, can or will redeem the Confederate flag.  As a Southerner, I'm ashamed of it and I hope that we can stop celebrating it.  In the words of Indiana Jones, "It belongs in a museum."  I say, let us learn from the mistakes and not glorify a hateful symbol that degrades people on the basis of color.

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