Furling the Battle Flag

Furling the Battle Flag

By Michael Jacobs / mjacobs@atljewishtimes.com

Michael Jacobs
Michael Jacobs

I have a confession: I grew up with the Confederate battle flag hanging in my bedroom.

I did so as a proud American and a proud Southerner. I was proud of my ancestors who joined their friends and neighbors in Mississippi and Alabama and took up arms to defend their homes.

I believe that my ancestors, like most Confederate soldiers, did not fight with the primary goal of protecting slavery, but they were, of course, defending a system built and dependent on slavery. It is possible to be proud of that family history and regional heritage without wishing the South had won.

Many Americans don’t understand why people in the South feel a need to express an identity separate from the rest of the nation. They think we cling to a lost cause and refuse to recognize that we lost the war.

The opposite is true. We know we lost. Until Vietnam, we were the only Americans who had tasted defeat in war, and we were treated as a conquered and occupied nation. We’ve felt other Americans looking down on us ever since.

The reaction to all of that — probably the overreaction— was the development of a Southern pride that doubled down on the differences Northerners noted and mocked. We needed a symbol to rally around, to declare that we were different from our fellow Americans, and that’s why that flag hung on my wall and in places public and private across the South.

Now it’s time to retire that flag to museums and history books. It’s a damaged symbol of a difficult past that understandably offends many of our friends and neighbors because of its use as a battle flag of hate since the 1950s. Its presence shuts down dialogue and serves to shame the ancestors many of us claim to honor with it.

The Charleston church massacre is not the reason to retire the flag; it’s a reminder that we should have lowered the flag long ago. After all, it’s a battle flag, and we’re smart enough in the South to know we are not at war.

On Vacation

This issue marks roughly the halfway point of the Atlanta Jewish Times’ first year under the ownership of Michael Morris, and we’re marking the occasion by taking a planned week off to rest, recharge and reflect on the first phase of the AJT’s revival.

In some ways, I hate taking a break now because we have been on a good roll, in part because of the contributions of our summer interns. Zach Itzkovitz has been with us since mid-May and has done incredible work in pulling together this week’s package on Jewish nonprofit innovators. Ariel Pinsky and Sophie Zelony have recently arrived and have made immediate contributions. Losing a week of their involvement is the biggest downside of going dark for a week.

On the other hand, Associate Editor David R. Cohen and I can use a break after going all out for six months, and this chance to catch our breath should help us keep improving the AJT in the second half of the year, when we have some big issues planned.

So please don’t be upset when you don’t receive a July 10 issue. We’ll be back with an issue July 17, and you’ll see the AJT every week the rest of the year.

The AJT office will be closed from July 3 through July 10, so we won’t be answering or returning phone calls. Many of us will be checking email, but don’t be surprised if it takes a few days to respond.

Thanks, and shalom.

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