Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Yankee Rebels

While traveling across rural central New York, well off the beaten path of interstates and college towns, I noticed an odd thing.

It was on a state highway that connects three small cities with populations between 7,000 and 20,000, each one the seat of its respective county. The population density along the two-lane road was low; it wasn't uncommon to drive for a mile or two without seeing a house among the fields that alternated corn with unmown goldenrod.

But during a two-hour stretch of this type of country, I saw three Confederate flags (or, more accurately, the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia) flying from the fronts of houses. The first was the worst: a straight-up stars and bars hanging from a pole right next to an official U.S. flag.

The other two were flying by themselves and had some kind of other image atop the stars and bars. I finally stopped and took a picture when I came across the third one:

Here it is a bit closer up so you can be sure it really does have those blue bars and white stars, plus get an idea about the other art that's superimposed. (I think it's probably a bald eagle.)

Then at the end of the trip, when I had arrived in the last small city (population 14,000), I saw this on one of the streets:

The owner of this work of art was too lazy or uninformed to add the stars to the bars, but the concept is clear.

As I said, these sightings were all in central New York, a place that Colin Woodward says is about as much Yankee country as you can get, so what does it mean that this many people are flying the rebel flag, symbol of the Confederacy?

Are they all members of the Klan? Do they burn crosses in the yards of black people, if they even know where to find any black people? I doubt it, though they probably are down on immigrants.

My best guess is that they fly the flag as a pointed rejection of people they perceive as urban elites. It's a big "fuck you" to anyone perceived as not part of rural (and therefore the real) America. Maybe it's seen as synonymous with Second Amendment rights. After all, the South's secession and war with the Union army is the ultimate in using your weapons to fight something that was perceived as endangering a way of life.

To go along with all of this, here's a storefront window from one of the towns along that route:

The posters in the window read:

  • Stop Obama's HHS Mandate
  • Hands Off My Health Care
  • American Jobs for American Workers
  • Stand for Something Revolutionary - Protect Our Constitution
  • NO! Amnesty
  • Repeal NY's S.A.F.E. Act - Honor the 2nd Amendment
  • Tea Party Patriots
And on the door there are two copies of a bumper sticker that says "Second Amendment: The One Right that Secures Them All."


Michael Leddy said...

I’ve driven through rural central New York just once. I don’t recall any Confederate flags, but I share your sense of the territory. It doesn’t feel like “New York.”

I’m with that store owner though when it comes to standardized tests. : )

Gina said...

I can't imagine the Battle Flag in Otsego County at all, although it has its share of gun rights adherents. It's been so long since I've been there though (last time Aug. 1988) that I suppose it could have changed. A friend who lived in Oneonta described it as "Vietnam in upstate NY."