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Jewish World Review Nov. 17, 1999 /8 Kislev, 5760

Walter Williams

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Misplaced priorities --
NOW THAT THE SCHOOLS that black youngsters attend are educating well, the devastating crime rate in black communities has abated and the black family has recovered its past stability, the NAACP can now focus on perceived indignities such as the Confederate battle flag flying over the Capitol Dome of South Carolina.

The NAACP has done just that with a proclamation that calls for boycotts and economic sanctions against South Carolina. Surely, the NAACP leadership can't really believe that blacks have reached a point where we can now focus attention and expend resources on social fine-tuning.

It must be ignorance, an ignorance I once shared. The NAACP crowd sees the Confederate battle flag as a flag of slavery. If that's so, the United States flag is even more so. Slavery thrived under the United States flag from 1776 to 1865, while under the Confederate flag a mere four years.

The birth of both flags had little or nothing to do with slavery. Both flags saw their birth in a violent and proud struggle for independence and self governance. However, if one sees the War for Southern Independence solely or chiefly as a struggle for slavery, then it's natural to resent the Confederate battle flag.

The idea that President Abraham Lincoln waged war against the South to abolish slavery is fiction created by the victors. Here's an oft-repeated sentiment by President Lincoln: "I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the states where it exists.

I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so." Slavery simply emerged as a moral front for northern aggression.

A more plausible source of North-South antagonism is suggested in an 1831 speech by South Carolina Sen. John C. Calhoun where he said, "Stripped of all its covering, the naked question is whether ours is a federal or consolidated government; a constitutional or absolute one; a government resting solidly on the basis of the sovereignty of the States, or on the unrestrained will of a majority; a form of government, as in all other unlimited ones, in which injustice, violence and force must ultimately prevail."

A significant source of Southern discontent was tariffs Congress enacted to protect Northern manufacturing interests. Referring to those tariffs, Calhoun said, "The North has adopted a system of revenue and disbursements in which an undue proportion of the burden of taxation has been imposed on the South, and an undue proportion of its proceeds appropriated to the North." Among other Southern grievances were Northern actions similar to King George III's Navigation Acts, which drove our Founders to the 1776 War of Independence.

Though it's not politically correct for our history books to report, black slaves and free blacks were among the men who fought and died heroically for the cause of the Confederacy. Professor Edward Smith, director of American studies at American University, says Stonewall Jackson had 3,000 fully-equipped black troops scattered throughout his corps at Antietam -- the war's bloodiest battle. Smith calculates that between 60,000 and 93,000 blacks served the Confederacy in some capacity. These black Confederate soldiers no more fought to preserve slavery than their successors fought in WWI and WWII to preserve Jim Crow and segregation. They fought because their homeland was attacked and fought in the hope that the future would be better and they'd be rewarded for their patriotism."

If the NAACP leadership just has to commit resources to issues surrounding the Confederacy, I'd like to see them make an effort to see to it that black Confederate soldiers are memorialized and honored.

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©1999, Creators Syndicate