Before you go all crazy on me, calling for me to be silenced, lighting me up on social media, and whatever else people think is acceptable retribution for anyone who owns a “Rebel Flag”, allow me explain. To me, a Rebel Flag represented Southern Rock – period.
Growing up in the early 70s, the music scene was pretty clearly divided, slightly different from today where many bands are “crossover”. Today, many musicians are a mix between pop and country – think Taylor Swift, Jimmy Buffett and Darius Rucker – or even rap and pop. Guys like LL Cool J and Wiz Khalifa have had some interesting collaborations.
Back in the 70s, before it became Classic Rock, it was called Hard Rock. Bands like Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, AC/DC and The Who dominated the airwaves of the younger generation. Also popular back then was country with Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton. Then there was my mom – always listening to Big Bands from the 40s – many on 8-track tapes. The Mills Brothers, Glenn Miller Orchestra, Count Basie and Bobby Vinton were some of her favorites. Add to that MoTown, Jazz, Funk, Disco, Punk and Oldies and it was a pretty convoluted, but siloed music scene. And, remember, this was a time before 80s music was even invented!
In addition to all of those, there was another music genre that was pretty solid – and has seemed to fade away over the years – Southern Rock. Southern Rock was a combination of rock, country and blues – perhaps ahead of its time as the first crossover music. Bands that focused on this style of music originated in the south – places like Georgia, South Carolina and Florida. For some bizarre reason, Jacksonville FL seemed to be the cradle with bands like Lynyrd Skynyrd, Molly Hatchet and Blackfoot all calling the north Florida city home. Other bands that were associated with this new sound of music included Charlie Daniels, The Outlaws, ZZ Top, The Allman Brothers and many, many more.
I was a huge fan of this relatively new style of music in my early years. While I listened to Rock, Southern Rock was my choice of album purchases. Actually, more likely, album selection from the local radio station, Rock 107, that used to give away albums to the 7th caller. My collection was filled with bands from the south.
The first concert I ever attended was The Marshall Tucker Band, otherwise known as MTB. It was at the John Long Center at the University of Scranton.
I haven’t been able to find the exact date, but it had to be some time in the late 1970s or 1980 at the very latest. I would have been about 15 or 16 at the time. Perhaps the only reason I was able to go to the show at this young age, was that my mother was a huge fan of their popular hit, “Heard it in a Love Song”.
Check it out, as it sounded in 1981 – starting at the 8:00 mark.
From that show on, I was really hooked. Not only on Southern Rock, but attending live concerts.
Around the same time, my parents were travelling to Florida for vacation. I asked them to bring me back a “Rebel Flag” from the home of this genre of music. The image of the flag was always present at Southern Rock shows. Whether it was part of the show or part of the clothing being worn by the attendees. It was always there, and maybe I’m naïve, but it was never a racist symbol. Granted, I was 17 and living in a fairly non-diverse part of the city, let alone the country.
Over the years, I proudly brought my flag to numerous shows with the intent to get it autographed. And I was pretty lucky most of the time. I’d usually wait by the exit doors before or after the show. If the cops where there, I’d tell them who my father was, and they’d always let me stick around. Once the bands came in or out, it was easy to get them to oblige. Through the years it traveled to shows throughout northeastern PA and Southern NY. I’d seen MTB, Charlie Daniels, The Outlaws and spin-offs of many original Southern Rock Bands – bands like .38 Special, Rossington-Collins and The Danny Joe Brown Band to name a few.
All along, I was proud, yet naive, of my unique item that traveled with me to so many shows.
The years have passed and the ink has faded, but I can still count 8 signatures on my unique collectible. I can’t determine a couple of the names, but they were all Southern Rock artists. Notable names include Charlie Daniels, Donnie Van Zant, Paul T Riddle, LW (presumably Leon Wilkeson) and the most interesting, Gary Rossington.
Rossington was an original member of Lynyrd Skynyrd. After their plane went down in 1977, killing three band members, including lead singer, Ronnie Van Zant, there was a pact to not profit off of the Skynyrd name. Shortly after, the two remaining original members, Gary Rossington and Allen Collins, pulled the surviving members together and toured as The Rossington-Collins Band. Rossington would go on to revive Lynyrd Skynyrd years later.
Of all of the Southern Rock bands, Skynyrd was the most notable associated with the Rebel Flag.
But there was a turning point. In a 2012 interview, Rossington was quoted as saying that the flag had become an issue about race and they decided to move away from it. He said “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”.
He later clarified his position and stood by the flag claiming “Heritage, Not Hate”. Given the recent rise in media attention, it sounds like Skynyrd is standing by their support for the controversial flag.
For me however, the epiphany was an unforgettable experience in the early 80s.
We lived next to a church parking lot in a two story house. One day, after a show the night before, I hung the flag out of our upstairs window, facing the parking lot, in an effort to air it out from the odors it picked up the night before. You can imagine, at a concert in the 80s, there was all kinds of smoking and drinking happening – yes, inside the venue. So, I was genuinely trying to freshen up the flag.
Little did I know, my father, who was a police officer at the time, was meeting his partner at our house for lunch. The only notice I got was when he came storming in the house and screamed, “Get that flag out of the window”! What?!?! “Dad, I’m just airing it out”. “I don’t care, get it out of there NOW” he demanded. What’s the big deal I wondered?
“Get that flag out of the window”!
Just as I pulled it down, the second police car entered the parking lot. And out of the car pops none other than the only African American on the Scranton Police force at the time, Bobby Plunkett.
Our entire family loved Bobby. He was frequently at the house for lunch or just a cup of coffee. Sure, he had different colored skin than ours, but that never bothered us. He was a GREAT guy. Always smiling. Always laughing.
Even so, I still didn’t comprehend the reason for my dad’s reaction. Maybe his generation was more aware of the symbolism of the flag. To me, the flag meant nothing more than Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Free Bird or Molly Hatchet’s Dreams and the support for a style of music that was fighting for airtime. Never did I think it meant oppression and support for slavery.
My Great-Great Grandfather on my mother’s side fought in the Civil War for the North. Three tours in fact. He even made it through the bloodiest single day battle in American History, Antietam, as a part of the 132nd PA Infantry. Without him and others like him, the Confederate Flag may be flying high over the White House. But does that mean that slavery would still exist over 150 years later? I have a hard time believing that.
I’m no historian, but my limited research tells me a few things. The Confederate Flag was originally the design used in General Robert E Lee’s army in Northern Virginia. It later became a symbol of Southern pride and as a symbol to honor those that died in battle.
And yes, slavery was a major point of contention during the Civil War, but there were many other differences as well – primarily, State’s Rights and Tariffs. At the time, the Federal Government was making national laws and decisions. Many of these decisions negatively impacted the agriculturally driven south.
Don’t forget, the Stars and Bars American Flag flew over the Supreme Court in 1857, just four years prior to the Civil War. That’s when Chief Justice Roger Taney, a Democrat from a slave-owning family made his historic ruling on the Dred Scott case. At that time, Taney ruled to not allow citizenship to anyone with African American blood. Obviously a very short-sighted decision, but at the time, it seemed justified to the highest court in the land.
Another historic SCOTUS decision took place recently – equality for same-sex marriages. I have to wonder, 150 years from today, will there be an uprising to destroy the American flag since it was that flag that represented a nation that suppressed equality for 239 years?
My opinion? Don’t hate the flag. Aim your frustrations at those that use it as a reason to embrace ignorance, hate or racism. Ignorant people will always use excuses and symbols to support their message.
As Americans, we evolve. We learn. We adapt. We change. We get better.
My flag has been tucked away in storage for the past 30+ years. But today I wonder, “Now, what do I do?” Do I trash the flag because of its tie to slavery and someone finds it offensive? Or do I keep it because is means something entirely different to me and brings back so many great memories?
I’ll show some understanding and tolerance and won’t display my flag anywhere. I would appreciate if others show the same understanding and tolerance and not paint me as a racist for owning one. The two, in my mind, aren’t co-requisites.
God Bless America!