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Rod Watson: The South shall rise again ... on a corner in Tonawanda

Rod Watson

From Mississippi to South Carolina and across much of the South, the Confederate flag is being taken down and stashed out of sight.

State flags were even taken from the tunnel at the U.S. Capitol last year as a means of getting rid of the controversial Mississippi flag that featured the Confederate battle emblem.

Across the land, such symbols of the Confederacy are being removed as a nation comes to grips with the meaning behind the imagery.

But not on a corner lot in the Town of Tonawanda, where the homeowner proudly flies the flag that draws so much enmity.

There was hope when the Confederate banner temporarily disappeared from the Parker Boulevard home a few weeks ago. Given what’s happening around the country, the thought was that perhaps Floyd E. Bimber III had a change of heart, an awakening of sorts. Perhaps he realized that the flag inextricably linked with the racist degradation of other human beings and treason against the United States was not something he wanted to proudly fly anymore.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t it.

Instead, he said, someone ripped his flag pole out of the ground in the middle of the night. Police said they’d had no complaints of vandalism at the address. In any case, the flag is back up again.

Why would someone rip it down?

"Because they’re ignorant," Bimber said. "The flag itself is not racist."

Before he could explain further, he terminated the brief phone conversation, saying he had to get back to work. He never called back, nor did he respond to a follow-up voicemail.

That leaves the rest of us to fill in the blanks on what the Confederate flag flying in the Town of Tonawanda really means.

"I hate it. I despise it," town Supervisor Joseph H. Emminger said.

But Emminger said police tell him there is nothing the town can do because – unlike cases in which the flag is on public property – this one is on private property, and the right to fly it is protected by the U.S. Constitution.

Nor has he gotten many complaints – maybe two in the two years he has been supervisor, he said.

"The Town Board is more upset about it than anyone else," Emminger said.

Apparently, he’s right,

Some of Bimber’s neighbors don’t see anything wrong with flying the symbol of the Confederacy – in fact, they claimed not to even see the flag itself.

One man who lives down the street said he usually travels in the opposite direction from Bimber’s house and had never even noticed the Confederate flag. He mused that if he had grown up in the South, he could see how it could represent the sacrifices of ancestors, not racism.

A guy who lives almost directly across the street also said he had never noticed the Rebel flag flapping in the breeze, with its eye-catching red background, blue "x" and white stars. After it was pointed out, he had no strong feelings one way or the other, chalking up its display to "freedom of speech."

And a neighbor a few doors down said the flag is "about history" not racism, and complained that "people have gotten soft."

That "history" includes fighting to preserve a way of life and an economy predicated on human bondage, as well as the flag’s adoption decades later by Dixiecrats intent on maintaining segregation. That’s the "heritage" the Confederate flag represents.

And we haven’t even gotten to the treason. The South, after all, fought the United States of America to preserve its "way of life." Perhaps Bimber is confused about that, seeing as how he flies the Confederate flag right below the U.S. flag – as if the Civil War’s more than 620,000 deaths never happened.

Emminger said town police try to keep an eye on the property whenever national events put symbols of the Confederacy back in the spotlight. That’s wise. Vandalism can’t be tolerated.

But once you strip away all the rationalizations, you have to wonder about attitudes that make it so comfortable for someone to fly the Rebel flag in Tonawanda without even a murmur of protest about what it really stands for.

Anyone looking down their nose at efforts to preserve such symbols down South may be looking way too far away.


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