Like much of the rest of East Tennessee, Greene County was heavily Unionist during the Civil War. When the state held a secession referendum in June 1861, 78.3% of voters from Greene County opposed leaving the Union.
Indeed, one Greene County resident became the most prominent Southern Unionist in the nation. Andrew Johnson—the only Southern senator to remain loyal to the U.S., military governor of Union-occupied Tennessee, and Lincoln’s second running mate—started his political career in Greeneville, and his home and grave are still there.
These are just a few of the reasons why County Commissioner James Randolph’s recent proposal to fly the Confederate battle flag at the courthouse made absolutely no sense.
He wants to see the Confederate flag displayed at the courthouse as a “historic exhibit,” his resolution states.
The resolution also states that the flag should be displayed to honor Tennesseans who fought for the Confederacy and that the flag represents “heritage and history that our county should be proud of.”
The Confederate flag’s display has proven to be a divisive issue, as some say it represents history and heritage while others see it as representative of slavery and oppression.
Randolph previously said in an interview with The Greeneville Sun that the State of South Carolina’s removal of the flag from its state capitol provoked him to propose the resolution.
Just so we’re clear here: Randolph thought it would be a good idea to fly the Confederate flag…
- at a courthouse
- where there was no traditional display of the flag
- to reflect pride in the history of a county whose residents were overwhelmingly opposed to secession in 1861
- and which boasts an outspoken Southern Unionist—Lincoln’s second VP, for crying out loud—as a native son
- in the wake of a massive groundswell of opposition to the display of Confederate symbols in public spaces
Little wonder that when Randolph’s fellow county commissioners got together to vote on his resolution a few hours ago, they roundly rejected it. In fact, the proposal received twenty negative votes, with just one in favor. (The “yea” vote, natch, was Randolph’s.) That’s even worse than Greene Co. Confederates’ showing in the ’61 referendum.
Of course, what people in the rest of the country will take away from this episode isn’t the commission’s 20-1 vote against Randolph’s resolution, but the fact that somebody made the resolution to begin with. And that’ll suffice to confirm every ignorant stereotype they have about East Tennessee in particular and the South in general.
I am so, so, so sick of these kerfuffles over the memory of the Civil War.