In his entire life of 14 years, he had never once seen an African slave or a
plantation; but William Noah Thomson knew racial bigotry. He had suffered
the impact of cruel jokes because of his mother's heritage. In America of
the mid-1800s, the offspring of an Irishman and his Cherokee spouse became
the target of all the hatred felt for the parents.
And yet, he understood that to be a part of the new nation forming he must
make sacrifice, force himself to forge ahead and declare his freedom from
the past. And so, in 1861, he joined the ranks of the Confederacy in what he
perceived as a fight for states' rights and the freedom of the individual
When he returned five years later, he vowed to never again raise a weapon
against another human. It was a decision his father had made almost 20 years
previous when he left Down County, Ireland. As a member of the Irish
Republican Brotherhood, Joseph Thomson had taken the lives of British
soldiers in a fight for Ireland's freedom until the night that he held a
young officer in his arms and watched him die. The next day, with a fresh
fervor for life in his heart, he left for a new future in America.
Both of these ancestors of mine fought a war of personal conviction, not
political expediency. When they realized that the cause they fought for was
lost and its pursuit would lead to further harm, they gave up the fight,
accepted their current condition and devoted all of their energy to the
future. It is a lesson that certain modern heritage groups would do well to
The people of Georgia and Columbia County have spoken in a loud,
intelligible voice and said "enough! The flag stays." Yet some groups want
to keep that wound open and bleeding. With the celebration of St. Patrick's
Day and this event being almost consecutive, it awakens some new realization
of what both actually symbolize.
My pride in my heritage comes from respect of the character and moral
fortitude my ancestors possessed, in the dedication they had to those
values, and from their willingness to fight in order to defend what they
conceived as a threat to their freedoms. It is a respect that was engrained
in my character by my parents, and it cannot be erased with the changing of
a flag or the smudging of historical facts.
My heritage is not encompassed in the shape, color or design of the state
flag. The celebration of our ancestors should be marked by our own character
and devotion to their ethics - not by the color of a piece of cloth.
The fact that some groups feel their heritage threatened by this change
reveals two flaws in their own evaluation of the event. They have exposed by
their actions both a false sense of conviction, as well as a
misunderstanding of their own state's history. If these groups have so
little faith in the worth of their ancestors that the changing of the flag
will destroy that faith, then they are fighting a losing cause based on a
weak sense of conviction.
Secondly, by insisting that their own heritage be the representative symbol
for the state of Georgia, they discount the ancestry of thousands of
Georgians. The same pride that I feel for my Cherokee, Irish or Confederate
forefathers is felt by my neighbor for his own African, Spanish or Chinese
ancestors; and no doubt their forefathers made equal contributions to this
state and this area. I cannot negate the justification of my neighbor's
feelings by making my own paramount.
It is time for these groups to recognize what our forefathers came to
realize so long ago: the good general knows when the battle is lost, gathers
his troops and marches in another direction. This state is faced with vast
problems in education, budget, crime and environment. Our prisons are
overcrowded, our children are faced with violence in school and the nation
is under threat of attack every day. It is time that we cease glorifying our
disharmony and celebrate our unification as a people.
There are other, more important fights that must be fought with enemies
hidden and intangible. In the same way that our Confederate ancestors rolled
up their sleeves and grabbed their plows, the people of this state need to
devote their energies toward the work lying ahead of us. We need to embrace
the future more than we savor the past.
(Dennis Jones is a Martinez resident.)
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