The True Meaning of the Stars And Bars

The Stars and Bars of the Confederate nation was was raised over the South Carolina State House on April 11, 1961 to commemorate the centennial celebration of the War Between The States and a year later the state’s all-white legislators enacted a law to continue flying the flag as a protest against the civil rights movement. The rebel battle flag from the Citadel was transferred from atop the capitol dome to its present station as a compromise to indignant calls for its removal, however the flag was not lowered to half-mast after the recent mass killing of black church goers by a right-wing racist in Charleston.

Lowering the flag requires a super majority vote by the state’s legislature, although the CSA’s flag was banned after the all-black 55th Massachusetts regiment occupied the birthplace of secession in February 1965.

Many southerners argue that the flag is a monument to the fallen dead of the South, however its true meaning is best surmised by William Tappan Thompson, a pro-slavery writer in 1863.

“As a people, we are fighting to maintain the Heaven-ordained supremacy of the white man over the inferior or colored race.”

The Stars and Bars exists strictly as a symbol of institutional slavery and the continued repression of anyone who is not white.

ps William Tappan Thompson came from New York, which along with Rhode Island and Boston are the most racist regions of the Northeast.

pps the 55th Massachusetts regiment’s first acts upon entering Charleston were to restore order and put out the fires set by looters.

Ever-Victorious.

General Fowler’s Statue

Last weekend an exhibition portraying the possible renovation of General Fowler’s Triangle was presented to the residents of Fort Greene. The proposed alterations included new trees, larger public space, and changing the location of the General’s statue.

“I don’t know about that. I like the General just the way he is,” I told one of the reps for the plaza’s restoration. “I sit in Frank’s and stare out at the General and he stares back at me. He certainly is a comfort.”

“Moving him would create more room on the other end of the plaza.” The well-dressed man showed me the plans. He was right. There would be more room.

“Would you change the direction of his gaze?”

“Some people suggested down Fulton Street.” The middle-aged man must have sat at board meetings.

“Into the sun?” I shook my head. “Secondly all Civil War statues face the South to remind the living of those who fought to free the slaves.”

“I didn’t know that.”

“In New England every town has a statue facing south.” At least I thought they were facing south. “And every southern town has a Confederate facing north. Those things aren’t supposed to change.”

I recalled in Lewiston, Maine a florist raised money to redirect the Civil War monument from looking East to the City Hall to a southern gaze.

“I’ll mention that to the committee.”

I wandered away thinking that the committee had already decided what they were going to do without ever telling the public of their plans until now.

Later that afternoon I researched General Fowler. He had served as a colonel with Brooklyn’s 14th Regiment or the “Red-Legged Devils. His regiment fought at the First and Second Battles of Bull Run. At the later engagement the regiment suffered 90% casualties. After recovering Fowler was appointed commander of a military hospital, earning the gratitude of wounded soldiers from throughout the Union. Fowler returned to active service in the summer to 1863 to capture the Mississippi Brigade at Gettysburg. Subsequently his regiment fought with distinction during the Wilderness Campaign and the battle of Spotsylvania. He mustered out of the Army in late-1864 to reside in Brooklyn at 178 Fort Greene Place.

I also learned that the General had originally been erected in Fort Greene Park, however several attempts by scrap metal thieves to steal the statue from its lonely posting forced his relocation to the present setting in 1976.

That evening I was sitting at Frank’s Lounge with LA Larry and told him about the plans for the plaza and he laughed before taking a sip of cognac.

“Two years ago some of the new people to the neighborhood protested that the statue should be moved, because it was looking at Frank’s Lounge like he wanted a drink.”

“You’re joking?” Some people have nothing better to do.

“Not at all. I can’t blame the General for staring at Frank’s. It’s been here as long as he has and standing in all kinds of weather can work up a man’s thirst.”

“Better than pigeon pee.” Rosa quipped pouring me another Stella beer.

“But what’s starnge is that until that protest I hadn’t even noticed the statue.” LA Larry turned his head and raised a glass to the General. “Ten years of sitting on this stool and not even notice him. It’s not like it’s a small thing.”

“You watch other things out that window.” Rosa worked Sundays and Monday. Everyone liked drinking with the Chinese bartender. Her beauty was a sight for sore eyes and her sense of humor was as sharp as a meat cleaver.

“Not so loud. My wife had good ears.”

“All women do.” We clinked glasses and back home I checked about the protest thinking LA Larry might have been funning me, because I’m one of the new people too ie white ofay.

Sure enough a Martin Horowitz was urging the city to rotate a statue of Gen. Edward Fowler about 90 degrees so that he’ll properly greet oncoming traffic from his perch at the intersection of Lafayette Avenue and Fulton Street instead of Frank’s Cocktail Lounge.

I like seeing the General looking my way.

He was a good man.

And every time I see him I raise my glass to Old Ned.

It’s a good thing.

SOUTH OF THE POTOMAC by Peter Nolan Smith

My St. Patrick’s Day of 2011 ended at Frank’s Lounge on Fulton Street. Everyone at the bar knew my name and well they should, because I was the token white just like that Paul Benedict’s character in nearly all-black TV show THE JEFFERSONS.

Audience laughed hard whenever Mr. Jefferson slammed the door in the kindly Englishman’s face. Harry Bentley never showed any rancor and neither do I at Frank’s Lounge.

Since Day One I haven’t heard any of the regulars speaking badly behind my back, for they have the courage to speak their mind to my face.

Around 8pm I bought a round for the bar. It was the right thing to do.

“I knew Old Irish would show up here on St. Patrick’s Day,” Homer crowed in his thick Delta accent.

“This is my home away from home.” My apartment was only two blocks distant from my favorite stool. I wasn’t working the next day and I told Homer about traveling to Virginia in the morning to visit a sick friend. “Ms. Carolina lives on the Northern neck of Virginia.”

“Where’s that at?” Homer hailed from Philadelphia, Mississippi. He left that town after the police telling his momma that they wanted to speak to him. The year of that midnight departure was 1953. I was one year old at the time.

“Someplace east of I-95.” My geography of that region was limited to a teenage trip to Virginia Beach with my parents in 1966. “The Tidewater.”

“Cracker and peckerwood territory.” Homer shook his head. He swore that he had no trouble with white folks in the Delta, but said, “You be careful how you speak. They don’t have the same ideas as you do.”

Two white boys had been murdered with James Chaney, a black man from Meridian, Mississippi in 1964.

It wasn’t far from Philadelphia.

“Thanks for the warning.” I lifted my hand and ordered another round.

I got home at midnight and set the alarm for 7AM.

A southbound bus was leaving from Chinatown at 8. My bag was already packed with two days of clothing and I fell into bed like a bag of mashed potatoes. It had been a good St. Padraic’s Day and I slept like the dead.

But not for long.

6:54AM I opened my eyes. It was dark outside my window. Dawn was another hour away. Sweet sleep beckoned from the softness of my pillows. I resisted the siren call and left the house within minutes.

I made the 8AM bus with enough time to buy a bacon sandwich from the Chinese bakery. The bus departed on time for Washington DC, the nation’s capitol.

We arrived on time.

I rented a car at Ronald Reagan Airport. The drive to North Cape Point was 120 miles. The speed limit was 55. The traffic inched along the highway. I was stuck in the belly of the Fairfax County traffic monster.

Once off 95 there were no stoplights. I visited the Fredericksburg battlefield for a half-hour. The day was getting late. I had been on the road almost ten hours. I drove a little over the limit. County troopers manned speed traps. They weren’t catching me for nothing.

North Point Cape was 20 miles from the main road. Fallow fields were blue with ragweed. Winter weed was a thick carpet of green. The land dropped under my wheels and I entered the tidewater.

A land of marshy inlets and crooked tidal flows.

My phone service died two miles from my destination. Ms. Carolina and her husband waited at the door. She was as blonde as the first night I met her in New York. If I took off my glasses, she would be as young too. Her husband was a tall gentleman for whom looks had never been a problem even at 80. Ms. Carolina and Hal had been together 35 years. It showed with their every gesture.

Dinner was on the table.

My last food had been that Chinese croissant.

Hal put a drink in my hand.

>Dewar’s Scotch.

Ms. Carolina served a plate of corned beef and cabbage.

“I know it isn’t St Patrick’s day, but who’s counting.”

Not me.”

The meal was delicious. Hal and I conversed about hitchhiking, fathers, the death of our brothers, and his career as a gynecologist in the Bible Belt.

“Two people I can’t stand are Catholics and Jehovah Witnesses. Both are idiots when it comes to the matter of birth control and a woman’s health.”

“I’m a Catholic and I agree with you too.” My faith had been abandoned in my teens.

After dinner we walked onto the dock extending a hundred feet into the river. The air was soft as summer. No mosquitoes buzzed in our ears. Ms. Carolina hadn’t spoken much during the evening. Hal had dominated the conversation. She seemed to favor her right side. I blamed it on her last chemo session.

“That’s the last of winter, I think.” I was forever optimistic. “If it’s this warm tomorrow I’ll jump into the river.”

“Crazy-ass Northerner.” Ms. Carolina’s husband had met a caravan of his wife’s friends. Most were a little eccentric. I was rumored to be the most of the lot. She and I had traveled the world; Maine, Peru, Guatemala, and the Far West. People said we were lovers. They knew nothing. Friends for the road. Ms. Carolina was a good companion on the road.

‘Only in a good way. My people fought at St. Mary’s Heights.” The battle lasted most of the winter afternoon. 20,000 Union soldiers had been killed during the assault on a fortified ridge. Pure suicide. “I stood there today. They were lucky crazy ass-Northerners.”

“Not like Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg.” The Civil War was far from over in the South.

“No, the 20th Maine stopped the Texas and Alabama from taking Little Big Rock.” My recollection of that fateful day’s history depended on a faulty memory. “Joshua Chamberlain ordered a “right-wheel forward” maneuver. The ensuing bayonet charge saved the day and the Union.”

Hal muttered a curse under his breath. He was a serious church-goer. A doctor for women too. He supported a woman’s right for choice and birth control. A man of contradictions. I liked him fine. He was a true Man of the South.

I believed in no god. Ms. Carolina was in the hands of fate. I could tell by the way that she favored her right side.

On the walk back to the river house Ms. Carolina told me the worst. She had six months to a year to live.

It was something that I didn’t want to believe.

Back on the unlit porch Hal, Ms. Carolina, and I watched the rising of the moon over the Potomac River. A silver disc spread a scalloped path of light into heaven. We retired into the house for a last drink or two. Hal and I discussed our president. He used the n-word more than an entire CD-rack of ghetto rap hits.

“You think Obama is a Muslim?” I had voted for the president twice in 2008. Once in the East Village and another time on an absentee ballot from Thailand, following the venerable Tammany Hall adage, “Vote early, vote often.’

“100%.” Hal was a die-hard GOP supporter.

“And he is a member of Al-Quada.”

“I don’t know about that.”

“Well, what if he change his first name to Al for Al-Quada.”

“And why would he do that?” Ms. Carolina fell for my trap.

“Because then he would be Alobama and the state of Alabama would vote for him.”

“He won enough southern states thanks to the black vote.” Hal conceded 2008 without a recount. The contest for 2012 was still in the air.

“You know what Ford’s agricultural secretary gave as the reason for why Lincoln’s party didn’t get the black vote?”

“Earl Butz?” asked Hal.

Yes, he came from Indiana. The Hoosiers backed the KKK big in the 1920s and Earl said, “I’ll tell you what the coloreds want. It’s three things: first, a tight pussy; second, loose shoes; and third, a warm place to shit. I understood the comments about sex and the outhouse, but he lost me on the loose shoes.”

“Me too.”
Hal and I had more than Ms. Carolina in common. He was only 80. I was 58. The generation gap meant less now than it did in 1975. “Still like his saying about the Pope’s opposition to contraception.”

“”He no playa the game, he no maka the rules.” Hal proved his memory was as good as mine. We toasted the past and bid each other goodnight. Ms. Carolina went to her first-floor room. Hal had his room on the other side of the house.

“Hal snores like an out-of-control jack hammer.”

“I’m like a truck stuck on ice.” I took after my dearly departed father.

“The you two will snore in harmony.”

Only the living room separated us.

“Sleep well, dream better.” Ms. Carolina smiled with warmth. She was with her husband and an old traveling companion. Not many people came this far off the track to see her. Hal and I sat up watching NCAA basketball. I switched to wine and killed half a bottle. At 10 we called it a night.

“Thanks for coming down. She can use some cheering up.” Hal intoned that he didn’t want to discuss her health and I respected his feelings on that matter. We retreated to our bedrooms. It was very quiet and remained that way for the rest of the night

My telephone was out of range. My computer had no signal. This was the end of the world. All roads to somewhere other than here and I lay on the mattress with a heavy head. Ms. Carolina looked okay. Fenway’s mom knew that I was in the hicks or ban-nok as the Thais called the boondocks. I read two pages of A SAVAGE CITY.

A history of racist courts, police corruption, and black power revolution on the late-60s. The true explanation of the Summer of Love. My reincarnated youth existed for a couple of minutes. The full moon burned through my curtains. I felt like the Wolfman without a demon inside me. The book fell on my chest. Sleep was my paradise and I drifted into the clouds. There was no other place to go at this time of night in North Point Cape.

The morning started late. I woke and went back to sleep. Everyone else in the house was on a similar wavelength. I finally got out of bed and walked to the end of the dock. The warmth had departed from the wind. The temperature was below 50. Hal joined me with his dog.

“Cruiser’s bigger than I recall.”

“A cross between a wolf-hound and a mastiff.”

“Nice puppy.” I recounted the tale of my taking care of a crackhouse Airedale in Palm Beach. Pom Pom had weighed 95 pounds. She was on the hit list for bad dogs. I cured her insanity with beer on her Kibbles. Drunk dogs don’t pick fights. Hal wasn’t impressed with my story and asked, “You still thinking about going in the Potomac?”

“Not this instant.”

“Thought so.”

Ms. Carolina called us to the table.

Blueberry pancakes and bacon.

Corn syrup instead of maple.

I said nothing.

North Point was 600 miles from Vermont.

After breakfast Hal drove us on a tour of the area. Beaches, houses, fields for hunting, new forests, a cousin’s estate on the shore, the burial ground of Lee’s family, he never stopped talking. Manny liked to say that he had never met anyone who could speak more than me, but I had to admit Hal had me beat.

I heard about his Navy career in Key West and Norfolk, playing sports during high school, his father’s work as a car dealer.

“He had no cars. Only a book. People would come to his office and order a new car. A week later it was there. Daddy worked hard.”

Hal had read a book on mine. NORTH NORTH HOLLYWOOD. A tale about a New York hustler forced into a contract hit by two dirty cops. He fakes the murder and escapes into Death Valley with two lesbians making a movie about the last man of Earth. I thought that novel was going to make me famous.

“Porno. That’s what I remember about that book.”

“I gave the book to an agent. Her husband read it in a day. They had sex three times in a row. “Great.” I said, but the agent told me that she was divorcing her husband. End of NORTH NORTH HOLLYWOOD.”

Ms. Carolina promoted my writing. I’m beyond that task. After a lunch of grilled cheese sandwiches I looked at the dock.

“If not now, never.”

“You are going in the river?”

“In three minutes.” I changed into my shorts and white tee-shirt. I met Hal and Ms. Carolina on the dock. The wind was stiff from the north. The water looked cold. There was only one way of doing this and I handed my camera to Ms. Carolina.

“Record this.”

After several words I leaped off the dock. A ten-foot drop into the river. It wasn’t cold. It was freezing. I swam to the ladder like a survivor from the Titanic. The distance was only twenty feet. My feet lost feeling. My fingers grew numb. Ms. Carolina waited at the top of the steps with a towel.

“You are one crazy ass northerner.” Hal shook his head.

“That is right.”

Ms. Carolina laughter and her laughter was tonic to my ears, for laughter is the magic of life. Back in the house she reminded me about the doctor’s prognosis.

“Six months.” She lifted her shirt. The cancer had erupted on her skin. Tumors covered the right side of her chest. She dropped the shirt and I gave her a soft hug.

“You will always be beautiful to me.”

Hal stood in the doorway.

“And me too.” He was playing it tough.

Both of us were.

Tears were for a year away from now.

“Let’s have a drink.”

Whiskey and wine.

A good talk about life.

We were friends.

Until the end.

And for friends there was no place else to go on the North Point that evening.

The First Shot In Anger


150 years ago

At 4:30am on Friday, April 12, 1861 Brigadier General Beauregard ordered the secessionist troops manning the artillery batteries of Charleston, South Carolina to open fire on Fort Sumter housing 127 federal troops of which 13 were musicians. Two hours lapse before the Yankee commander allowed Captain Abner Doubleday, the inventor of baseball, to return a salvo of solid ball. No rebel or union soldiers died during the 34 hours of bombardment, although one rebel was mortally wounded after the misfiring of a cannon and two union troops gave up their lives on the 47th shot of a 100-shot salute after the surrender of the beleaguered fort.

The nearly-bloodless fight ill-prepared the divided nation for the four years of slaughter to come. I asked everyone at work of today’s importance. None of the employees at the diamond exchange had an answer. A good percentage of them are foreign-born. None of the native-born were aware of the date’s significance. The New York Times, the Daily News, and New York Post wrote articles about the battle, but 2 weeks ago is ancient history in the city that never sleeps.

My father’s side of the family fought in the Civil War. Hannibal Hamlin had been vice president under Lincoln. The first time I googled his name the first article to appear said that the Maine politician was reputed to be a negro, but then most white people at that time had negro blood in their veins after 200 years of slavery. They even paid painters to change their pigmentation in portraits to heighten their whiteness, but then the War Between the States was not about freeing the slaves, the casus bellum was ‘states rights’ according the the southerners of today and certainly more folks south of the Mason-Dixon Line recall the events of today than in the North.

To the victors go the glory of ignorance.

But in the Great State of Maine granite statues dot town squares. Immortal soldiers from the 10th Maine regiment, the 27th Maine, and Joshua Chamberlain’s heroic 20th Maine face in one direction and that direction is South. My family is from Westbrook, Maine. The attic of my grandmother’s house was a memorial to past wars. As a boy my older brother and I wore the uniforms of WWI and WWII. In my mind I remembered pulling on a blue coat of a Yankee. It was small. Almost the size of a young boy like myself. I telephoned my aunt to ask her, if she recollected a uniform dating back to the Civil War.

“You have such a special memory,” she laughed from her living room in Marblehead. Her husband agreed with her recollection, but men at any age agree with a woman if they know what’s good for them.

My older brother was my next call. His memory mirrored that of our aunt.

“What about seeing the last Union soldiers at a town parade on Memorial Day? About 1960?”

“Not a chance. The last surviving veteran was Albert Henry Woolson. He died in 1956.”

“How do you know that?”

“Because my son told me that today.”

His son was smart. He was graduating from U Penn. His field of studies was pre-med.

“And he also asked me to name the 9 battles in which over 20,000 troops died in the Civil War.”

“That’s easy; the 2nd Battle of Bull Run, Chancellorsville, the Wilderness, Gettysburg, Fredricksburg, Shiloh, Antietam, Stone River, Spotsylvania, and Chickamauga.” I had read Bruce Catton’s Civil War histories several times as a youth and adult.

I was right, although his wife thought that I read these names from a computer. She was wrong. The Civil War is in my blood. Last month I had driven south of the Potomac to visit Ms. Carolina. She was seriously ill. I wanted to see her before the turns of her travails worsened with the shortening of time. Her house was out on the Northern Neck of the Potomac. I drove down I-95 to route 3 and turned east. Fredricksburg was en route. I was drawn to St. Marye’s Heights. The Union Army had been broken on this ground. The 20th Maine had huddled behind the dead. Spring was another few weeks away, but I stood next to the old cannons and mourned the dead.

Theirs and ours.

150 years is a long time. We are still enemies, yet still the same for the Union survived those four dreadful years and this country will be challenged by the present division sundering our connections, for at the end we are all Americans and nobody says it better than Maine’s Joshua Chamberlain, who was present during the Surrender at Appomattox. He met with General Gordon of the CSA.

“I am from General Gordon. General Lee desires a cessation of hostilities until he can hear from General Grant as to the proposed surrender.”

Chamberlain recounted the ceremony in his memoir and the moment when he ordered the 20th Maine to “carry arms” as a show of respect.

“Gordon, at the head of the marching column, outdoes us in courtesy. He was riding with downcast eyes and more than pensive look; but at this clatter of arms he raises his eyes and instantly catching the significance, wheels his horse with that superb grace of which he is master, drops the point of his sword to his stirrup, gives a command, at which the great Confederate ensign following him is dipped and his decimated brigades, as they reach our right, respond to the ‘carry.’ All the while on our part not a sound of trumpet or drum, not a cheer, nor a word nor motion of man, but awful stillness as if it were the passing of the dead.”

Johnny, it’s always good to put that gun down.

We are one nation.

150 years ago as much as today.

The Siege Of 45

The Trump White House has portrayed the first two month’s of 45′s presidency as a complete success. 220,000 jobs have been added, $100 billion have been shaved from the national debt, and Trump has claimed progress in the war against the Islamic fundamentalists, ISIS.

The President has replaced his old phone to broaden the reach of his executive missive.

The Mainstream Media has earned his wrath.

“Just heard Fake News CNN is doing polls again despite the fact that their election polls were a WAY OFF disaster. Much higher ratings at Fox.”

His accusations of leaks are aimed at the other branches of the government.

“The real story that Congress, the FBI and all others should be looking into is the leaking of Classified information. Must find leaker now!”

His grasp of diplomacy flipflops with his attention span.

“Despite what you have heard from the FAKE NEWS, I had a GREAT meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Nevertheless, Germany owes vast sums of money to NATO & the United States must be paid more for the powerful, and very expensive, defense it provides to Germany!”

And let’s not forget his No Health Care Plan.

“Great progress on healthcare. Improvements being made – Republicans coming together!”

Needless to say Trump triumphs over all.

What a man.