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Raw racism gets a black eye in the Senate.

Rookie Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun, D-Ill., went head-to-head last month with Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., in his effort to renew the patent for the United Daughters of the Confederacy insignia - the Confederate flag. Helms had passed an earlier vote when an outraged Moseley-Braun, arguing that symbols matter, said flatly in the Senate chamber: "This vote is about race."

Her speech turned the Senate around, 75-25, and sent Helms reeling. It was a moment likely to be remembered in history.

An edited transcript of Moseley-Braun's remarks follows:

It is just my day to get to talk about race. I have to tell you this vote is about race. It is about racial symbols, the racial past, and the single most painful episode in American history.

In committee yesterday I leaned over to my colleague (Sen.) Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif) and said, "You know, Dianne, I am stunned about how often and how much race comes up in conversation and debate in this general assembly and how I have to, on many occasions, as the only African-American here, constrain myself to be calm, to be laid back, to talk about these issues in very intellectual, nonemotional terms. That is what I do on a regular basis. That is part and parcel of my daily existence.

But at the same time, when the issue of the design patent extension for the United Daughters of the Confederacy first came up, I looked at it, and I said, "Well, I am not going to vote for that."

When I announced I was not going to vote for it, the chairman, as is his due, began to poll the members. We talked about it, and I found myself getting drawn into a debate that I frankly never expected. Who would have expected a design patent for the Confederate flag?. And there are those in this body who say this really is not the Confederate flag.

I did my research, and I looked it up as I am wont to do, and guess what? That is the real Confederate flag. There is some history on this issue. I would like to read the following quote from the Flag Book of the United States.

"The real flowering of the Southern flag began in November 1860, when the election of Lincoln to the presidency caused widespread fear the federal government would try to make changes in the institution of slavery. The winter of 1860 to 1861, rallies and speeches were held throughout the South and finally the United States flag was replaced by a local banner."

This flag is the real flag of the Confederacy. If there is anybody in this chamber - anybody - indeed anybody in this world - that has a doubt that the Confederate effort was about preserving the institution of slavery, I am prepared - and I believe history is prepared - to dispute them to the nth (degree).

There is no question but that battle was fought to try to preserve our nation, to keep the states from separating themselves over the issue of whether or not my ancestors could be held as property, as chattel, as objects of commerce and trade in this country.

And people died. More Americans died in the Civil War than any war they have gone through since. People died over the proposition that, indeed, these United States stood for the proposition that every person was created equal without regard to race, that we all are American citizens.

I am sorry. ... I will lower my voice. I am getting excited, because quite frankly, that is the very issue. The issue is whether or not Americans, such as myself, who believe strongly and who are patriots in this country, will have to suffer the indignity of being reminded time and time again, that at one point in this country's history we were human chattel. We were property. We could be traded, bought and sold.

Now, to suggest as a matter of revisionist history that this flag is not about slavery flies in the face of history.

I was not going to get inflammatory. ... I was dispassionate and tried my level best not to be emotional and lawyering about and not get into calling names and talking about race and racism. (She holds a speech.) I did not use it to begin with. I do want to share it now. It is a speech by the Vice President of the Confederate States of America, March 21, 1861, delivered in Savannah, Ga., (titled) "Slavery, the Cornerstone of the Confederacy."

This man goes on to say: "The new Confederate constitution has put to rest forever all agitation questions relating to our peculiar |institution,'" (which is what they called it), "African slavery as it exists among us, the proper status of a Negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution.

"The prevailing ideas entertained by Thomas Jefferson and most of the leading statesmen at the time of the formation of the old Constitution were that the enslavement of the African was in violation of the laws of nature, that (slavery) was wrong in principle, socially, morally and politically."

And then (the Confederate vice-president) goes on to say:

"Our new government is founded upon exactly 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."

This was a statement by the vice president of the Confederate States of America.

Across the room, on the other side, is the (Confederate) flag. I say to you it is outrageous. It is an absolute outrage that this body would adopt as an amendment to this legislation a symbol of this point of view and, Madam President (Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.), I say to you that it is an important issue. It is a symbolic issue. There is no way you can get around it.

The reason for my emotion - I have been here almost seven months now, and my colleagues will tell you there is not a more congenial, laid-back, even person in this entire body, who makes it a point to try to get along with everybody.

But I say to you, Madam President, on this issue there can be no consensus. It is an outrage. It is an insult. It is absolutely unacceptable to me and to millions of Americans, black or white, that we would put the imprimatur of the United States Senate on a symbol of this kind of idea.

I am going to continue because I am going to call it like I see it, as I always do. I was appalled - appalled - at a segment of my own Democratic Party that would go take a walk and vote for something like this.

The reason the Republican Party got run out on a rail the last time is the American people sensed intolerance in that party. The American people, African-Americans, sensed there was not room for them in that party. Folks looked at the convention and said, "My God, what are these people standing for? This is not America." And they turned around and voted for change. They elected Bill Clinton president and the rest of us to this chamber.

The change they were speaking out for was a change that said we have to get past racism. We have to get past sexism, the many issues that divide us as Americans, and come together as Americans so we can make this country be what it can be in the 21st century.

That is the real reason I am here today. My state has less than 12 percent African-Americans in it, but the people of Illinois had no real problem voting for a candidate that was African-American because they thought they were doing the same thing (speaking out for change).

And so, just as our country is moving forward, to have this king of symbol shoved in your face - shoved in my face - shoved in the faces of all the Americans who want to see a chance for us to get beyond racism, is singularly inappropriate.

I say to you, Madam President, that this is no small matter. This is not a matter of little old ladies walking around doing good deeds. There is no reason why these little old ladies cannot do good deeds anyway. If they choose to wave the Confederate flag, that certainly is their right. Because I care about the fact that this is a free country. Free speech is the cornerstone of democracy. People are supposed to be able to say what they want to say. They are supposed to be able to join associations and organizations that express their views.

But I daresay that following the Civil War, and following the victory of the United States and the coming together of our country, that that peculiar institution was put to rest for once and for all; that the division in our nation, the North versus the South, was put to rest once and for all. And the people of this country do not want to see a day in which flags like that are underwritten, underscored, adopted and approved by this U.S. Senate.

That is what this vote is all about. That is what this vote is all about.

I will yield momentarily to my colleague from California, Madam President, because I think this is an issue that I am not going ... if I have to stand here until this room freezers over ... I am not going to see this amendment put on this legislation which has to do with national service ... because this is something that has no place in our modern times. It has no place in the Senate. It has no place in our society.

The fact is, Madam President, I would encourage may colleagues on both sides of the aisle who though, "Well, we are just going to do this, you know, because it is no big deal" to understand it is a very big deal, indeed. The imprimatur being sought here today sends a sign out to the rest of this country that that peculiar institution has not been put to bed once and for all; that, indeed, like Dracula, it has come back to haunt us time and time again; and that, in spite of the fact that we have made strides forward, the fact of the matter is that there are those who would keep us slipping back into the darkness of division, into the snake pit of racial hatred, or racial antagonism and of support for symbols - symbols of the struggle to keep African-Americans, Americans of American descent, in bondage.
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Title Annotation:U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun's speech against United Daughters of the Confederacy insignia
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Transcript
Date:Aug 13, 1993
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