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As Supreme Court Debates Constitutionality of Confederate Flag on License Plates, A Reminder That The Flag Represents More Than Hate

Confederate Plates

As the Supreme Court deliberates on whether to allow Texas motorists to ride with license plates featuring the Confederate flag, perhaps it is the ideal time to understand the true nature of what it symbolizes.

That’s what Charles D. Ellison, political strategist and MSNBC “Hardball” panelist, contends.

In a scathing, fact-based column on The Root, Ellison calls for a history lesson on the flag that the Sons of the Confederate Veterans want prominently placed on Texas license plates. Voted down previously in 2010, the organization took its argument to the nine justices, citing free speech.

This notion charged Ellison to go into detail about what the Confederate flag represents, writing, among other things, that vanity plates with that symbol of hate and oppression was akin to citizens putting the terrorist group ISIS on their plates. It would be a treasonous act, which is what he contends is the same with the Confederate flag.

“We need to refresh ourselves on the history of that flag and expose it is a symbol of treason as defined by the U.S. Constitution (which armed Confederate troops, citizens and officials violated more than 150 years ago),” Ellison writes. “Article III, Section 3 of the Constitution states, “Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort.’

“Waving or displaying a rebel flag, which represented not only slavery but also the violent downfall of this great (imperfect) union that we enjoy today, could be interpreted as ‘adhering’ to enemies of the state and ‘giving them aid and comfort.’ Even Congress back then had sense enough to pass a Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871, viewing the Klan as domestic terrorists.”

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee was hardly pleased with the idea and went after Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

“Intended or not, why would African Americans want to be reminded of a legalized system of involuntary servitude, dehumanization, rape and mass murder?” she asked.

Sadly, a YouGov poll released this week indicated there’s actually a split over what the Confederate flag means and what should be done with it.

Forty percent of Americans approve of a rebel-flag vanity plate. In the West, which many believe is supposed to be more progressive, approval of the license plate is at 49 percent, which is more than the 41 percent in the South.

Considering today’s racial climate, many of the poll’s results are revealing and surprising. More whites view the flag as a symbol of “Southern pride” (47 percent) than of racism, with 40 percent of whites also approving of its display.

Ellison reminded that Son of Confederate Veterans is “back under the control of closeted racists attempting to rewrite history. Such groups pay homage to an armed insurrection that resulted in the deaths of more than 700,000 combined troops and civilians. They revere the leaders responsible for the lynching deaths of more than 4,800 mostly Black civilians between 1882 and 1968—at least those we know of as recorded by Tuskegee Institute archivists.”

He contends that the discussion on race in America is so low-level that “we tolerate open symbols of racist treason and white supremacy as extensions of harmless hate groups who wear ridiculous white hats. No wonder 51 percent of Americans, according to (a) YouGov poll, believe that we talk about race ‘too much.’”

Finally, Ellison wrote that America should “probably not” convict treasonous organizations, “for promoting their proud Southern heritage through front-yard Confederate flags and bumper stickers. . . But just as none of us would want enemies of the state like ISIS, also known as the Islamic State group, pimping vanity plates for their cause, we should also be drawing a hard line against state-approved or -funded symbols of a hateful cause that nearly destroyed a nation and enslaved every Black citizen within it.”


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