Recently, my wife and I, who do a great deal of traveling of one sort or another, ventured through Chapmanville to Harts Creek and then back to Mud Fork where we then drove over the mountain to Dingess and then to 12-Pole Creek of Mingo County. From there we went to Wilsondale of Wayne County, before returning to my Mud Fork home at Verdunville. Besides winding roads that I’m used to traveling, I noticed a few things that appeared a little different than in times past when I have traversed these same roads — and that is Confederate flags.
The recent murders of innocent people in a South Carolina church has created a multitude of problems, most of which actually have been with us for a long time. It is simply called racism. And the fact is that it has been with us for all of our lives in one way or another. The Civil War that cost more American lives than any war this country has engaged in was mostly because of the slave issue. Despite the fact that Abraham Lincoln and the North won the Civil War and Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, there have always been problems between blacks and whites. Logan County, whose people predominantly supported the South in the Civil War — which ultimately led to the burning of the Logan Courthouse by Northern soldiers — still bleeds the blood of the old Confederacy. It is documented that some people owned slaves in our fair county.
Growing up, I was led to believe that African-Americans (who were called anything but that), were inferior and lesser individuals. My parents were not responsible for this way of thinking. Still, it was the general way people thought. I didn’t know any better, as there were no black people living on Mud Fork back then. It wasn’t until I attended junior high school in the 7th grade that I even met a black person. Always an open minded individual, I quickly became friends with several Negro students. Leroy Shaw and Gerald Dotson, who I believe are now preachers, immediately, come to mind. Still, I had friends who refused to accept anything to do with “black” people. It always seemed to me, the farther up a hollow one lived, the more prejudiced a person was. I believe it remains that way today, but to a lesser degree.
It was back in the 60’s and 70’s when it seemed popular for some people to have swastika flags or even tattoos about them. Some people had tattoos on their bodies, while others wore patches on their jeans. I am a far cry from being Jewish, but considering the terrible deaths that befell the Jewish people under the German leadership of Adolph Hitler, I always thought it wrong and disrespectful to display such swastika material. However, there were those who thought it to be “cool.” Many of these individuals, some of whom I must say were friends, probably could not tell you what the war was even about.
So it is today, that suddenly, deep in the hills of Logan, Mingo and Wayne Counties, where I recently trekked, it appears that many want to fly their Confederate flag. I saw numerous vehicles — mostly trucks — that were proudly displaying the Confederate flag. I’ve also recently noticed many properties that fly the old flag of the south. I have no problem with it. I feel it is their property, and therefore, their right to do so. Interestingly enough, some vehicles and places displayed the stars and stripes and the southern flag.
Logan County, which consists of only about two percent African-Americans — for the most part, has come a long way in regards to racism. When I think about it, it wasn’t until 1961 that southern leaders in such states as Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, etc., began to fly the Confederate flag to defy federal orders to integrate schools, restaurants, etc. There are probably many younger people who do not realize that black children were not allowed to attend white schools in years past, or to do such things as eat in the same restaurants. They may not know that there also were separate restroom facilities for whites and blacks. Today’s children and many adults probably do not realize that the Confederate flag is really only the result of the fact that the South’s original flag was so similar to the North’s flag with the stars and stripes, that it caused battlefield confusion; thus, leading to the current version of the Confederate flag.
Walmart, Target, Amazon.com and other retailers have stopped sales of items bearing the rebel flag. Even NASCAR, which was born in the south, has banned the flag from uses at races. The display of the flag may be offensive to African-Americans, but I do not believe everybody who happens to fly the Confederate flag is a racist. I certainly hope that flying a Confederate flag does not signal a belief that white people are superior beings in some way.
There are Confederate monuments spread throughout West Virginia, not to mention some in our Logan County graveyards — like that of Henry Clay Ragland, who is buried at the abandoned City cemetery in the town of Logan. Of course, there are schools and other places named after Confederate figures; the former Stonewall Jackson High School in Charleston being one example. There are those people wanting to change the names of state parks, etc., not only in West Virginia, but across the nation due to Confederate names. While some demands may be the logical or proper things to do, for the most part, I think it is ridiculous.
The Ku Klux Klan really fired up during the 50’s and 60’s as that crazy bunch, along with neo-Nazis, found a way to grab national attention and increase recruitment Lynchings and other types of brutal murders would follow involving innocent people guilty only of being black. What many people do not realize is that from a historical standpoint, most people living in what became the Confederacy did not own slaves. In fact, three-fourths of the people did not. Therefore, at least 40 percent of the southern voters (who were all white) voted against secession and were opposed to the war that ultimately followed. The truth is the South was deeply divided concerning the war. That division did not help in their war effort, either.
Now today, this nation, including our own Appalachian coal fields, is divided about the displaying of flags, monuments and certain historical names. I have crisscrossed our great state many times, visiting battlefield sites and nearly every town in West Virginia, many of which that have names or monuments honoring long lost soldiers or leaders. On the very grounds of the state Capitol in Charleston is a monument of Abraham Lincoln, who even before the Civil War was over, signed papers creating our state. Not far from there is another monument honoring Stonewall Jackson, Confederate General who fought in the war and opposed President Lincoln. Our own home county Governor Earl Ray Tomblin has no plans to make any changes in regard to either monument. And I know of no one who thinks there should be changes made.
As for Confederate flags being banned from NASCAR events, here’s what Dale Earnhardt Jr. had to say:
“I think it’s offensive to an entire race. It belongs in the history books and that’s about it.”
Oh, by the way, did I tell you about my grandson. His name is Parker Harrison Miller. He is the handsome bi-racial son of Jeff and Erin Williamson Miller. I hope by the time he is a teenager all of this nonsense will be over.
Dwight Williamson is a contributing writer and a former reporter for The Logan Banner. He currently serves as a Logan County Magistrate.