“. . . on the first day of January . . . all persons held as slaves within any State, or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.”

– President Abraham Lincoln, preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, September 22, 1862

It’s ironic that we are marking the 150th anniversary of the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation; it’s a presidential election year and the country has its first black President up for re-election. How far we have come as a nation;  the turmoil of a divided country at war fought by the South ultimately over the right to maintain its economy built on the backs of owning other human beings.

In the wake of the bloodiest day of the Civil War or any American war, President Abraham Lincoln issued on Sept. 22, 1862, a preliminary proclamation freeing all slaves in the Confederate states.

Lincoln’s edict ordered the military to help escaped slaves and to prohibit their return south, and, more important, symbolically elevated the abolition of slavery as one of the goals in crushing the Confederacy. While slavery wouldn’t officially be outlawed until passage of the 13th Amendment in 1865, Lincoln’s edict energized the abolitionist movement. A major voice in that cause was the Chicago Tribune, and its Page One editorial that day didn’t curb its enthusiasm, declaring the decree the “greatest proclamation ever issued by man.”

Yet here we are in 2012 a country still vexed by an inability to discuss race in a rational, unheated manner. In fact, poisonous, pointless, open racism continues to thrive around the U.S.  My guess it’s still very prevalent in private conversations since most people know it’s not acceptable to spew bigotry out loud. Just recently I engaged in an almost surreal conversation with someone — a self-proclaimed progressive — so clueless about their own racism and privilege (and epic denial of it) that it left me dumbfounded. We are SO not over this.

Proof positive —  the 2008 presidential election drew countless racists out in the open, so unhinged at the thought that we MIGHT elect a President of color, as if some sort of retribution was going to occur — the angry black descendants of slaves were going to rise up and take power, and kill/maim/take the wealth/guns of white society. Of course that didn’t occur, but here we are in 2012 and those sentiments are not just screeds of hate groups, but they are embedded in the dog whistle campaigns of the Republican Party.

In the wake of the Republican National Convention, a curiously color-free affair (except the lineup of tokens on stage for the cameras to underscore the fantasy of diversity in the party),  it wasn’t surprising to see the actions of an Austin, Texas resident. Bud Johnson was so enthralled by actor/director Clint Eastwood’s performance art at the convention — a rambling rant to Barack Obama, represented on stage by an empty chair — that Johnson decided to lynch a chair (with an American flag attached) in his front yard. Burnt Orange Report:

The homeowner has attached an American flag to the chair. If anyone wasn’t clear before that he meant the President, hopefully this decorative addition will make it clear: the homeowner is suggesting that Barack Obama be lynched.

This image should curdle the blood of all patriotic Americans regardless of partisan leanings. Our flag is a symbol of our great country, and the ideals of diversity and opportunity that make us a beacon of hope and democracy around the world. Generations of service members have fought and died to protect what that flag represents.

Yet because one sad, old racist can’t handle the fact that the President of the United States, Barack Hussein Obama, is African-American, he ties that same flag to a public display calling for that President’s violent, racially charged death.

Johnson’s response when asked by BOR’s Katherine Haenschen about the yard art?

I called the homeowner to ask about his display, citing my concerns as a fellow Austinite. He replied, and I quote, “I don’t really give a damn whether it disturbs you or not. You can take [your concerns] and go straight to hell and take Obama with you. I don’t give a shit. If you don’t like it, don’t come down my street.”

She also noted:

Lynching was a horrific and commonplace act in Reconstruction-era Texas and continued until the mid-1940′s, spurred on by Ku Klux Klan groups. Texas is third amongst all states — behind Mississippi and Georgia — in the total number of lynching victims between 1885 and 1942. Of those 468 victims, an overwhelming number were African-American.

God. Bless. America. Land of the Free. Home of the Brave.

We cannot even get over the Civil War and the Confederacy even in popular culture. Look what happened when the last surviving original member of Southern Rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd made a statement about the obvious —  part of band’s rebel appeal lies with its association with the notorious battle flag, an object well-known to also be associated with racism. [By the way, I am a native Southerner, and I happen to like "Sweet Home Alabama" - it's a great song (musically worthy of its legacy of frequently being sampled and covered); it's political commentary, a snapshot in time. It is what it is.] Gary Rossington in a CNN interview:

Through the years, people like the KKK and skinheads kinda kidnapped the Dixie or Southern flag from its tradition and the heritage of the soldiers. That’s what it was about. We didn’t want that to go to our fans or show the image like we agreed with any of the race stuff or any of the bad things.

Well, for some fans, this simple, sane statement was seen as a betrayal.

So y’all admit during the interview that the Confederate Flag represents history, heritage and the Confederate soldier, then you stop flying it because some misinformed people equate the flag with racism instead of continuing to educate people on our Southern symbol? Quoting Johnny Van Zant, “We speak for our fans, we speak for ourselves.” Well, you just lost a significant portion of your fans so continue to speak for yourself. Good luck with you next release..”Sweet home Massachusetts.” I am sure it will climb the charts with a bullet in yankee-land.

So they are done with the stars and bars? Never thought I would see the day. I guess it is true that everything must change. I wonder if they will have some other symbol of Southern pride displayed in their performance. I also wonder if by dropping the flag will they bring in a new audience that stayed away because it felt it was unwelcomed?

It’s a shame that instead of hiding the battle flag out of political correctness, they didn’t attempt to help educate the public about the rich history and heritage of the South. The last time I saw a story about the KKK, they were flying the Stars & Stripes. Yet in almost every picture you showed of LS in concert, they had Old Glory out there on stage. Does that mean they’re now KKK members? Of course not. But by ignoring and denying the flag that is part of their history, they are leaving a large segment of their fan base behind as well. It’s a shame that money is now more important than honor and heritage.

Wow. And apparently the good old boy blowback was so bad that Rossington took to the band’s web site:

I wanted to clarify the discussion of the Confederate Flag in our recent CNN interview. Myself, the past members and the present members (that are from the South), are all extremely proud of our heritage and being from the South. We know what the Dixie flag represents and its heritage; the Civil War was fought over States rights.

We still utilize the Confederate (Rebel) flag on stage every night in our shows, we are and always will be a Southern American Rock band, first and foremost. We also utilize the state flag of Alabama and the American flag as well, ‘cause at the end of the day, we are all Americans. I only stated my opinion that the confederate flag, at times, was unfairly being used as a symbol by various hate groups, which is something that we don’t support the flag being used for. The Confederate flag means something more to us, Heritage not Hate…

States rights. Yep. The right to own human beings.  It’s just not possible to spin away from that slavery was at the heart of the “War Between the States.” Had the South won, slavery would not have been abolished; there was no economic incentive to do it. Case closed. But Rossington’s attempt to smooth things over with the fan base was just too little, too late for some. In their hearts, it’s traitorous to denounce racism and the use of a historical object by domestic terrorists.

I just listened to the CNN interview and Gary and Johnny turned their backs on their fans and on their southern roots and their confederate flag. Ronnie would never have done it. He was the true soul of the band, not these imposters. Even though Gary was one of the originals he has turned his back on his roots and his true fans.

one word for you gary rossington and lynyrd skynyrd, C-O-W-A-R-D-S
true southerners look upon you with disdain and disappointment.we never thought you would sellout to keep your “meal ticket”..COWARDS

Do you think for one minute that they would denounce their Southern roots??YES! if being southern meant you were a “racist”, YES I absolutely believe they would. i am saddened that a group i grew up listening to ,who set neil young straight on his negative portrayal of the southern man,would fold under pressure from the P.C.POLICE.what cowards they have become.i never thought i would see the day. what a sad day it is.

What a sad day it is, indeed. In 2012 people are still enslaved in this country — shackled to their own racism, unwilling to see it challenged in any way.