An online journal of Mannie Gentile, a National Park Service interpretive ranger working at our nation's finest National Battlefield: Antietam.
DISCLAIMER: please note that this blog represents only my views and not those of my various employers.
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Saturday, June 21, 2008
The heritage door swings both ways
I know that the Confederate battle flag of Civil War days was, usually, square, unlike the two segregation era rectangular ones mounted on the pickup truck that went spraying gravel down my otherwise quiet road this evening. The three would be Nathan Bedsheet Forrests in its cab were regaling our quiet mountainside neighborhood with post-adolescent rebel yells and other such fiercesome uulations. Yikes!
Happy Juneteenth, Boonsboro!
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Today at the battlefield I was involved in a very long conversation with a very enthusiastic visitor who had lots of questions and interesting opinions as well as many shop-worn assumptions about the battle of Antietam. He was asking those questions that always seem to begin with; "Were they stupid back then..." usually referring to the manner in which mid 19th century soldiers fought, or "Why didn't General_____ just..." the preamble to an assessment of the, now obvious, mistakes made by Union or Confederate field commanders.
I always enjoy these conversations as they are opportunities for a good discussion of how a little humility can go a long way in trying to understand or interpret the events of the past.
It was a nice conversation, but then it took, quite out of the blue, an awkward turn which caused me, in my capacity as a public servant, to have to find other things to attend to.
The gentleman was telling me of his membership in a very cool sounding Confederate Cavalry reenacting group, and not one of those dopey "dismounted" organizations, this guy's group was the real deal with horses and everything. He went on to say how they got to participate in the Tournament of Roses parade in Pasadena a few years ago, and how exciting that was.
Then his face clouded and he said "But, of course [of course], they [they] wouldn't allow us to carry the Confederate battle flag."
"How very unfortunate for you" I responded.
"Yeah, we couldn't carry the Confederate battle flag in the parade, but they let the Buffalo Soldiers participate."
"Buffalo Soldiers?" I replied, wary of where this was going.
"Yes" he went on "Black reenactors could march but we couldn't carry our flag".
"Oh my", I interrupted, "look at the time, I've got a tour to get ready for!" and with that I left him in the hands of a volunteer who was more at liberty to pursue that line of reasoning to a suitable conclusion.
So I'm left wondering, if the Confederate battle flag has nothing to do with racism then why did this nice man equate the exclusion of a Confederate symbol with the inclusion of black people?
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It was, by the way, while I was relating this to my wife over dinner, that the above mentioned rebel heritage pickup truck went barreling past our drive.