Monday, August 3, 2020

‘Be brave for 30 seconds’ — and 159 years

Col. Elmer Ellsworth


     Elmer Ephraim Ellsworth and LaShandra Smith-Rayfield do not know each other. Yet. But I would like to introduce them. Well, at least I would like to introduce Col. Ellsworth to Ms. Smith-Rayfield.
     Sadly, I cannot likewise introduce Ms. Smith-Rayfield to Col. Ellsworth, time’s arrow being what it is. But I fancy he would have approved.
     Smith-Rayfield confronted a group displaying a large Confederate battle flag towel on the beach in Evanston last week. She didn’t just happen by. Those who just happened by did what most people do when just happening by something wrong: nothing.
     Smith-Rayfield hurried there and made a stand.
     ”It makes me uncomfortable in a place that I pay taxes and rent,” she told those sprawled before the rebel flag. “That right there is a racist symbol of hate.”
     Someone else at the beach — a “man of color” in Smith-Rayfield’s words — who later said he had hoped to have a private word with those displaying the flag, on the video says he’s a vet, he fought for free expression, the flag’s fine.
     “It’s not fine,” Smith-Rayfield replied. “It’s not fine. You teach your children to speak up about this kind of thing ... You fought for a flag that had 50 stars. They lost the battle.”

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8 comments:

  1. Great column. One question though. Doesn't "didn't just happen by" mean to be somewhere not by chance? Is that what you meant here? That Ms. Smith-Rayfield didn't come across the flag towel by chance, that she had, for instance, been told about it and went looking for it? Did you mean that she "didn't just pass on by"?

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  2. While I agree that the Confederate flag and other symbols both denote and connote racism, bigotry and white supremecy. The vet at the beach understands that he fought for people's constitutionally protected rights to speech and peaceful assembly. See national socialist party v village of Skokie from the supreme courts ruling regarding even Nazis having the same rights as everyone else.
    The statue and flags displayed on government property are a different aspect of this issue and should never been displayed. But individuals can sadly display these symbols. Legally and can be seen to be protected speech. Similar to neo Nazis.
    Other citizens certainly have the right to object and should. Within certain boundaries of the law.
    Hate speech using these symbols is another aspect to be considered. When used to threaten violence .
    It's all complicated and aggravating but the supreme court has made it pretty clear. People can do things other people find abhorrent. I'm grateful for this

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    1. And I'm grateful that people exercise the same right that bigot use to advertise their hatred to denounce them. Somehow, there is a tendency to take each instance of publicly endorsing treason and hatred as an opportunity to laud the 1st Amendment. That's a given. You might as well praise good nutrition while you're at it. Not a word about how someone should respond to these public displays. Which is the point.

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    2. Colonel Ellsworth paid the ultimate price as a soldier in a war for a cause that was ultimately born out in victory. His adversary also lost his life. I trust our judicial system will adequately adjudicate these disputes and citizens need not risk their lives by confronting assholes out trolling at the beach. File a lawsuit. We should avoid another civil war.

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    3. File a lawsuit on what grounds? As you point out, free speech is protected. But that protection is from the government, not from the censure of others. Free speech is not consequence-free speech.

      Having and exercising rights is not the same as being right. Having the courage to object to the objectionable is laudable.

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  3. What Ellsworth and Smith-Rayfield did won't elicit societal change right away. But every time a Confederate flag is removed, another step in suppressing the hatred is taken.
    There will always be ignorance and bigotry because the South were sore losers. The North took away their slaves.
    I long for the days before Trump, when it wasn't cool to show how ignorant, selfish, or bigoted one may be.
    That ilk needs to go back into hiding and our educators need to start working on teaching real American history. Freeing the slaves was just the start of the next phase of American greed.

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  4. Lighthouse Beach, right? At Central Street? The closest Evanston beach to Wilmette? I'm sure the folks with their Loser Flag thought they could get away with flying it with impunity up there. And make no mistake, by putting it on the fence, they were flying it. They were not drying it out in the sunshine.

    And they probably assumed there would be no people of color up there, and that nobody would open their white faces about it, and baby, what a big surprise they got! As did Smith-Rayfield. Betcha she never expected to see that sight in her own town. A sight about as likely as seeing a swastika in Skokie.

    I grew up near Evanston, and lived there as an adult for twelve years, so I know a good deal about its history. Went mostly to the beaches in Rogers Park as a kid and as a teen, and to Lighthouse Beach maybe once in my lifetime.

    Not many people are probably aware of the fact that South Boulevard Beach, at the opposite end of Evanston's lakefront, near Sheridan Road, was the only beach available to Evanston's Black community for decades. I do not believe there were any statutes prohibiting use of other beaches. The prohibition was enforced by local custom, rather than by law.

    I always thought that situation was rather ironic, as there were, and still are, many elegant residences adjacent to South Boulevard Beach. One of my mother's friends owned one, and lived there. That's how we got our Evanston beach tokens. Imagine living in a house with its own private elevator!

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