Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Removing the flag

When the publisher in New York was starting to work on the cover of my Civil War novel A Distant Flame in 2004, I had one demand: it must not show the confederate battle flag anywhere. I was adamant about this. My state of Georgia had recently done the right thing and removed that shameful, racist emblem from our state flag, and I wasn't about to have it on my book, which is about Southerners who were against the South's position in the war--and there were many of them.

So what was on the cover of the first draft of the dust jacket when it came? The confederate flag. My head nearly exploded, and I was ready to cancel the contract and return my advance and say to hell with the whole thing. Fortunately, it was a mistake. My sincere caveat never got passed on to the art department, and the cover was redesigned without the flag.

The book went on to win the national Michael Shaara Prize as the best Civil War novel published in the U.S. for 2004. It is a strong argument against slavery, but, more, against white southerners who were so morally blind that they supported a war for slavery--and that's what it was. Plantation owners convinced poor people that the economy trickled down--that if the rich could only be richer, then it would make every else rise. Of course that was a lie then, as it is a lie now.

Anyone who doesn't think that flag is a ruined, racist symbol never lived in the South, watched television, or read a newspaper or magazine. The fact that its sell-by date has finally been reached in 2015 is something we can praise, if it's true.

The shame here is that we've known this forever, and good, decent people haven't stood up and done the right thing, perhaps because they were afraid or busy doing something else. But we need to do this together, say out loud that racism is wrong, and its emblems cannot stand. Of course South Carolina should take the flag off the grounds of the Capitol (a place I've visited many times). Of course Wal-Mart and Ebay and other retails should top selling things with that flag on them.

We should be selling love, not hatred; peace, not war. I wrote A Distant Flame as an homage to the Civil Rights movement, a way to point out that people with good hearts can't be silent in the face of catastrophic darkness.

With the shootings at the church in Charleston, we have looked into the darkness. I've been to that church, been inside of it. And it's time to say enough is enough.

I'm a writer, and I try to stay away from political pronouncements in public because I want to be known for my books, not my positions on issues of the day. Who cares what I think? But this is too important to stay quiet.

We need to make this happen, here, now. It is the best chance we will ever have to let the true healing begin.

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