This morning I visited the Appomattox Walmart, which is located not two miles from the old Appomattox Court House where Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant and the Federal Army.
Earlier this year, in light of the sesquicentennial of that event, the store stocked a bunch of “Appomattox 150th” t-shirts. This is a picture of one such shirt:
Today, upon orders issued by Walmart corporate HQ, because this shirt contains a picture of the Confederate battle flag, it is being removed from the store immediately — despite the fact that the flag’s significance on this shirt, at this time, and in this setting cannot possibly be misunderstood.
Context, people. A flag signifies one thing when it is raised over a Capitol dome in anti-Civil Rights defiance, quite another when it appears on a shirt marking an important historical event — where, significantly, the various parties, victors and defeated alike, acted with respect, dignity, and grace.
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Well, you have to credit them for getting to their talking points.
President Obama said of Charleston killer Dylann Roof: “He had no trouble getting a gun.”
Rick Santorum said: “This was an assault on religious liberty.”
Rand Paul said: “There’s something terribly wrong, but it isn’t going to be fixed by your government.”
The Charleston shooting is unspeakably sad. It is not, however, a case where we’re left to wonder what caused it — or to answer “why?” with politically useful speculations. Mr. Roof was quite clear: “I have to do it. You rape our women, you are taking over our country, and you have to go.” The images are right out of lurid antebellum nightmares about bloody slave insurrections, the editorials and speeches of the fear-mongering newspapermen and politicians of the Reconstruction-era South, and the thousands of false indictments of black men handed down in the last decades of the 19th century and the first decades of the 20th.
The echoes of the long centuries when white Americans clung to their European ancestors’ most unpleasant legacy — White Supremacy — have not yet died. Sometimes the echoes grow fainter; on other days they resound like thunder. It’s been a while, though, since I’ve heard the echo with such revolting clarity as today.
Rev. Clementa C. Pinckney, recently-departed members of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church: Rest in peace.
Christ, have mercy upon us.
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