Southern Cultures 11.2 (2005) 99-100
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Following in the time-honored tradition of Thomas Wolfe and Willie Morris, South Carolina native K. Michael Prince writes about the South from a self-imposed exile. In Prince's case, the exile is to Munich, Germany, where he is a free-lance writer and translator. His perspective on the South is typically conflicted: sentimental toward his homeland, yet disdainful of the South's "insularity and parochialism, its suspicious small-mindedness and it backslapping hypocrisy, from its stifling good-ol'-boy conformity, its rock-ribbed sanctimony, and its sometimes brutal intolerance." A child of the civil-rights era, Prince is a progressive, committed to integration as the key to the South's future and to its soul.
For Prince, integration does not simply mean the races living together in relative harmony, but entails "a truly integrated view of our collective past." The debate over the Confederate flag in South Carolina represents a measure of how well the South has achieved this integrated view. The flag debate, he writes, is all about "coming to terms with newer forms of integration. . . . The 'new integrationism' . . . involves finding commonalities—locating mutual interests where possible and agreeing to disagree where necessary. The process of working through this was what occupied South Carolina for over a decade."
Rally 'Round the Flag, Boys! is the story of that process. Prince offers a brief history of the Confederate battle flag, then follows the path by which South Carolina government officials gave the flag an honored place inside the state capitol building and, in 1962, on the capitol dome. He devotes more than one hundred pages to the prolonged struggle to bring down the flag from the capitol, culminating in the events of July 1, 2000, when the flag came down from the dome but [End Page 99] was raised on a pole beside the Confederate soldier monument on the capitol grounds.
Prince introduces and follows the large and colorful cast of characters who populated the flag debates: politicians from both sides of the issue, the leaders of pressure groups such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Sons of Confederate Veterans, the Council of Conservative Citizens, and citizen activists.
Finding a happy medium between historical analysis and contemporary reporting, the narrative is detailed enough to give readers a sense of the political wrangling, yet the author's deft writing spares readers the "flag fatigue" that South Carolina citizens suffered. Oral-history interviews with the principal players supplement newspaper accounts and present a variety of voices.
The narrative elaborates upon two introductory chapters that probe the opposing viewpoints in the flag debates. Prince objectively presents and dissects the cultural origins and natures of the pro- and anti-flag arguments. Particularly effective are quotations from Senator Glenn McConnell, the flag's most passionate defender in the state legislature. McConnell's insistence that Confederate soldiers defined the flag during the 1860s and that the flag needed no further definition puts in a nutshell the complex issue of semiotics that Prince follows throughout the book; McConnell both articulates one argument and begs the counterargument.
Prince not only makes judicious use of quotations but also laces the study with insights of his own. He offers some provocative thoughts about the place of the flag on the modern landscape. "The flag is, in its very essence, irresolute and contradictory. Wiping it out, eliminating it from view, would be just as wrong as hoisting it atop the highest flag-pole in the center of town—if only because it serves as a useful reminder of a past that failed and of an alternate future not taken." Although achieving a new and higher form of "integration" is his underlying goal, Prince approaches the subject with a healthy realism. "Reconciliation is a worthy goal. But we should not expect too much of it, nor press too far. Nor should...