Kentucky City Government Says No to Flying the Rebel Flag

gerald watkins

Gerald Watkins

Flying the Rebel Flag

The Paducah, Kentucky, City Commission has voted unanimously to oppose the flying of a large Confederate battle flag along busy Interstate 24 near the city.

“That flag stands for slavery and hate,” said Commissioner Gerald Watkins, who proposed the resolution. “This is in-your-face racism and prejudice. It does not reflect the views of 90 percent of the people of our community.”

Acting Mayor Gayle Kaler and Commissioner Richard Abraham supported Watkins’ resolution.

Watkins is a political science professor at West Kentucky Community and Technical College in Paducah, population 25,000. He said he heard the flag would be hoisted in an 11 a.m. Saturday ceremony.

“That’s why I wanted us to go on record beforehand,” he said. “I thank commissioners Kaler and Abraham for their support.”

Mayor Bill Paxton and Commissioner Carol Gault were absent. “But I am confident they would have voted for the resolution, too,” said Watkins, a three-term commissioner and lifelong Paducah resident who is running for the state legislature.

The flag will fly over private property in Reidland, a suburb east of Paducah.

The landowner is descended from Confederate soldiers, according to news reports. The Sons of Confederate Veterans organization favors the flag.

“The flag was created to distinguish Confederate soldiers in the war,” the Associated Press quoted Ben Sewell, Sons of Confederate Veterans national executive director.

“Quite frankly, that is all it has ever stood for. It’s other people who have put that stigma on it. It is a historical war flag.”

Watkins doesn’t buy it. “The Confederate states seceded from the union because they were afraid President Lincoln and the Republicans were about to free the slaves.
The Confederacy was all about slavery.

“Groups like the Sons of Confederate Veterans say the Civil War was about ‘states’ rights.’ But when the Confederates hollered ‘states’ rights,’ they meant the right of their states to have slaves.”

berry craigWatkins, who says his ancestors include Henry Clay, Kentucky’s most famous politician, backed up his claim by citing a trio of historians and Confederate Vice President Alexander H. Stephens himself.

He said James M. McPherson of Princeton University, one of the country’s leading Civil War scholars, told the Washington Post that “slavery was at the core of the events that provoked the secession of the first seven states from December 1860 to February 1861. If it had not been for the election of an antislavery party to the presidency, there would have been no secession, no firing on Fort Sumter , and no secession by the other four states…that followed the first seven out after Fort Sumter.”

Watkins added that Bill Schell, a history professor at nearby Murray, Kentucky , State University explained that “apologists for the Confederacy claim the issue at stake was states’ rights. This ignores the fact that the only right at stake was the ‘right’ to own, buy and sell human beings as if they were cattle.”

John Hennen, a history professor at Morehead, Kentucky, State University, pointed out that starting in the 1890s, when segregation and race discrimination became the law and the social order in the old Confederate States — and in border states like Kentucky — “there was a conscious effort by white Southerners to deny that the Civil War had anything to do with slavery. Oh, no, they said they fought in defense of local sovereignty.”

Hennen added that “local sovereignty” in the antebellum South meant preserving slavery and white supremacy.

Soon after he took office, Stephens, a Georgian, claimed the Declaration of Independence was wrong about all men being created equal. Said Stephens: “Our new Government is founded exactly upon the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and moral condition.”

Watkins said other foes of the flag evidently are planning a protest rally on Saturday. He said anti-flag petitions are apparently being circulated.

Berry Craig“The state highway department says 30,000 cars a day pass by where that flag will be,” Watkins said. “I can just imagine what people will think of our community when they see it.”

Watkins said the flag will hurt Paducah’s attempts to lure industry. “Our city government has spent thousands of dollars trying to bring in good factory jobs. If I were considering putting a plant in here and saw that flag, I’d think twice about it. That flag will make our job of trying to bring in plants a lot more difficult.”

Berry Craig

About Berry Craig

Berry Craig is an emeritus professor of history at the West Kentucky Community and Technical College in Paducah and a freelance writer. He is a member of American Federation of Teachers Local 1360, the recording secretary for the Western Kentucky Area Council, AFL-CIO, and the author of True Tales of Old-Time Kentucky Politics: Bombast, Bourbon and Burgoo, Hidden History of Kentucky in the Civil War, Hidden History of Kentucky Soldiers and Hidden History of Western Kentucky. He is a native of Mayfield, Ky., where he lives with his wife of 33 years and their 20-year-old son.

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