By Brian Ives
Today (July 6) South Carolina’s General Assembly meets to discuss what to do with the rebel flag that has flown over some part of the Statehouse for more than 50 years. It promises to be an emotional debate, and several other states that utilize some iteration of the Confederate flag will surely be paying attention.
Emotions on both sides of this debate run high. Those in favor of the flag feel that it does not represent any kind of racism, that instead it symbolizes Southern pride. Those against the flag obviously disagree vehemently. This past week there were clashes in South Carolina between protesters on both sides of the argument.
Last week, Radio.com spoke to Warren Haynes, a former member of the Allman Brothers Band and a native of North Carolina, which took down the Confederate flag from its own state Capitol building in 2013.
Haynes doesn’t hesitate when asked his take on the flag.
“I’ve been in favor for a long time of getting rid of any public display of the rebel flag,” Haynes tells Radio.com.
He does admit, though, that “there are still a lot of people who only associate it with positive thoughts, and the South, and Southern music.”
In fact, that perception extends outside of the borders of the United States of America. “We used to tour a lot in Europe, and when we played there, there’d be people flying rebel flags, and they’d be doing it to honor the music. But that’s not what it’s about.”
He continues: “When I look back and think that there were a lot of bands flying the flag in the old days, I guess we were just much more naive at that point, and didn’t realize how it is interpreted by the people who are offended. And that’s really what it’s all about. I’m a Southerner, I can’t tell you how long I’ve thought it was offensive.”
Recently, Haynes says, he was questioned about the debate during an overseas trip.
“I just spent a month in Europe, and in Germany people were asking about this,” he says. “[That type of symbolism] is a more magnified issue there, as you can imagine.” In Germany, for instance, it is illegal to show a swastika in public.
“But you don’t choose your family; you rise above,” Haynes continues. “And that’s what it’s all about: healing, rising above and learning from the past, not making the same mistakes twice.I’m really proud of what’s happening right now, like in Alabama, getting rid of the flag. One by one, the states are all starting to step up.”
He also notes a bit of historical context about the use of the flag in the South; the Confederate symbol was pretty much dormant until the late 1950s.
“The fact is, that flag didn’t start flying again at the end of the Civil War,” he says. “It started flying again towards the beginning of the Civil Rights movement as a way of showing defiance towards the Civil Rights movement. We need to be clear about the origin of flying that flag, when it happened and why it happened.”
And what of those in the South who feel the need to display pride in their southernness? “Be proud of who you are,” Haynes says. “You don’t need a symbol to be proud of who you are.”