Thirty community activists and about a dozen reporters gathered this afternoon inside the Cornwallis Street Baptist Church for a call to ban a notoriously racist symbol’s public display in Nova Scotia.
Organized by the loosely-connected “Nova Scotian Citizens Against White Supremacy,” the conference featured remarks from community leaders such as Dalhousie University history professor Isaac Saney, longtime social activist Lynn Jones and the James Robinson Johnston Chair in black Canadian studies at Dal, Afua Cooper.
The event spins off of renewed recognition in America and around the world that the Confederate battle flag’s veneer of representing historical southern culture can’t excuse its more popular use as a symbol of racial oppression.
Last month, white supremacist Dylann Roof killed nine worshippers at the Emanual African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. The tragedy (along with continual, unyielding protest) eventually caused that state’s government to remove the Confederate flag that had unbelievably still been flying on state capital grounds.
Because people are terrible, there’s also been opposition to removing a symbol of hate from government property. There have been 132 pro-Confederate flag rallies since Charleston, along with actual honest-to-god Ku Klux Klan marches. A reminder; white extremists are the biggest terrorist threat facing the United States.
“The flag is not just a symbol, it had a material impact in society," said Saney at today’s press conference. “The flag itself represents something odious. That’s why certain fascist symbols coming out of World War II were banned, because they had a material impact.”
What does this outdated symbol of racial oppression in America’s south have to do with Nova Scotia? Well, nothing—which is why it’s so baffling to see the flag on display here.
At today’s event Lynn Jones recounted her recent experience coming across a Confederate-flag wrapped truck in Truro.
"I was shocked. I shook, I literally shook," Jones said. "I thought, this is really, really scary. I was afraid."
Let’s be clear, the Confederate flag is pointless. It’s origins come not from fighting an unfair government (you know, that wanted to outlaw the owning of people), but from protesting the Civil Rights movement. It is, in effect, a polite replacement for the swastika. Any stretch of the imagination that makes raising it up as a symbol of history still has virtually nothing to do with Nova Scotia. Yet the speakers today—who’ve been putting up posters and asking for signatures on a petition—say they’ve faced harsh resistance online and in the streets.
The only history the Confederate flag has in this province is from the escaped southern slaves who settled centuries ago in Nova Scotia—some of whom can draw a direct familial connection to South Carolina and Charleston. That’s the heritage which should not be forgotten.
It’s unlikely the Confederate flag will be “banned” from Nova Scotia. The legality of putting that into effect doesn’t even seem possible. But exposing the symbol’s history and its hateful meaning can ban the Confederate flag in practice—irradiating it from ever being innocently strapped to a pick-up truck or slapped on a belt buckle. Education and some justified shaming will push the symbol away from any misplaced pride and towards its rightful place along white-hooded faces and cowardly anonymous graffiti.
"It may very well be that person does not know the history of that flag," Afua Cooper said today. "It may very well be that they think it's somehow some symbol of southern pride, or being a redneck or whatever. But, part of this is about education...What I hope will result, besides legislation that will actually ban these symbols, is an education of people who will say 'I want no part of delivering that kind of message. I want no part of spreading this kind of hatred, and so I will not display that flag.'"