A glimmer of hope
As we are daily faced with so much ignorance and negativism toward our Southern heritage and symbols, I'm sure you will find this refreshing.
Ever since reading a book by a noted historian who failed to correctly identify the Stars and Bars in his opening chapter, I have been presenting a program on the history of U.S. and Confederate flags to SCV camps, UDC chapters, public and private schools, historical societies, other civic organizations, and even on public television. But I had never presented the program to a virtually all-black audience.
Yesterday, April 29, 2009, my wife and I presented the program to the 4th and 5th grades at Cleveland Elementary School, an almost all-black inner city school in Spartanburg, South Carolina.
We had been invited by the librarian, Robin Chandler, with whom my wife had taught for nineteen years before her retirement. The principal is black, the assistant principal is black, most of the faculty are black, and all but three children in the five classes who were assembled in the library were black. Naturally we expected to be confronted by a hostile audience, but instead we got quite a refreshing surprise. No sooner had I begun to assemble some of my more than seventy flags on display than the assistant principle approached me and with a broad, cheerful smile informed me that she was a direct descendant of Oren Randolph Smith, one of the two men who claimed to have submitted to the Committee on Flag and Seal in 1861 the design that became the first national Confederate flag. Because I always do the program in my re-enactment uniform (Brigadier General), and because with my white beard I resemble General Lee, the lady introduced me to the students as "General Robert E. Lee, a very great man."
The little girls were especially interested in my wife's period dress and were delighted when she raised her skirt and showed them her bloomers.
Of special significance for me was the fact that when I held up a 15-star, 15-stripe U.S. flag, told the children that it was the flag that flew over Ft. McHenry during the British bombardment of that fort in the War of 1812, and asked if anyone knew who wrote the "Star Spangled Banner," a little black girl in one of the fifth-grade classes immediately raised her hand and said, "Francis Scott Key." And it was heartwarming that before the children left the room, that little girl and two others came up and gave me a hug.
After we had finished the program, we had lunch with the assistant principal at a special table set up for us in the library. And before we left, she invited us to come back next year.
Capt. Walter M. Bryson-George Mills Camp 70, SCV, Hendersonville, NC
Commanding officer, MacBeth Light Artillery, CSA