The Stars and Bars

Aurora M. Lewis is a retiree, having worked in finance for 40 years. In her fifties, she received a Certificate in Creative Writing-General Studies, with Honors from UCLA. Her recent work has been published by The Literary Hatchet, Jerry Jazz Musician, The Blue Nib, Trembling Scary Snippets, Copperfield Review and others.

I am a 70-year-old Black woman, born and raised in Los Angeles, California, until I was 37.  During those years, I lived in neighborhoods with different races.  I went to schools with friends of varying ethnicities.  I was never called a nigger, but once 3 Whites boys who were classmates, jokingly told me to go back to Africa.  The older brother of one of the boys heard them and demanded they apologize, which they did, and it never happened again.  When I graduated from high school, my family moved to predominately White Pomona, California.   There were hostilities toward Blacks, resulting in White Flight.  I lived in Pomona for a few months, moving back to Los Angeles to be around my friends, get a job, and be on my own, but mostly to get away from the racism.  In my late 20s, I resided in a predominately Black neighborhood and lived there until I relocated to Moreno Valley, California, with my daughter, who was 8.    

During all the years I lived in Los Angeles, and the short time in Pomona, I never say a Confederate flag displayed until I moved to Moreno Valley.  I knew little about this city, except it was thriving with new housing developments where I could afford to buy a home.  I had a Black childhood friend who moved there and a White woman friend who had been my manager on my job.  Both encouraged me to move here.  This is where I saw my first Confederate flag blazing on front lawns, garage doors, and pickup trucks.

Moreno Valley had a bastion of Whites who didn’t appreciate the influx of middle and upper-class Blacks.   The city was in sections, the Eastside where there were rundown, older homes of most Whites, the Northside, with high-end new homes of all races, and the West and Southsides, with middle-class new homes with different races.  There was a lot of resentment from the White residents living on the Eastside, towards outsiders moving into the new homes with their landscaped yards and new cars parked in their 3-car driveways.  I purchased a 4-bedroom house on the Southside, and for the most part, the White residents were cordial; some welcomed me to the neighborhood, and some looked at me with open hostility and disdain.  

One morning shortly after moving here, I was at the grocery store.  While standing in the checkout line, everyone became quiet, the cashier was looking down, not making eye contact with her customer.  An older Hispanic woman in line in front of me looked sideways at me and tilted her head, indicating I should look behind me.  I slowly turned and looked into the chest of a White, muscular, 6 feet, 6 inches young man wearing a red T-shirt with a swastika and the Confederate flag tattooed on both arms, crossed.

 My eyes slowly traveled upward, he was handsome, clean-shaven head and face.  He looked straight over everyone’s head with a condescending smile, knowing everyone in line felt intimidated.  He didn’t look at me for which I was grateful as I turned back around.  The other shoppers in line were White except for the Hispanic woman and me.  I wondered if anyone would assist us if this poster boy from the Aryan Nation attacked us, verbally or physically, as they looked as uncomfortable as we did.  The cashier moved her customers out of the store as fast as she could.  When I left, the Hispanic woman was still loading her groceries and looked over at me, shaking her head. I smiled back and got the hell away from there before the guy with the tattoos came out.

A few days later, I noticed Confederate flags were appearing on the flag poles of some houses. In nearby neighborhoods, I saw them covering the entire garage door of more than one.  On my drive from Moreno Valley to Los Angeles, about 70 miles, there were pickup trucks with the Confederate flags in the rear window or on bumper stickers. The drivers looked like “good old boys.” There were very few cars in the morning.  Sometimes, the drivers would glare at me, give me the finger, their passenger mooned me, or got in front of my vehicle and slowed down to a snail’s pace.  If I changed lanes, the driver would speed up and get in front of me again.  I kept my expression blank as if made of steel and would not look them in the face. I didn’t want them to know I was afraid.  As we’d get closer to Ontario, the driver would veer off the highway or speed away.  There would be more traffic, and the Highway patrol would start appearing. In a few years, the overt racists packed up their Confederate flags and moved out of Moreno Valley or were outnumbered and put their flag away.

The common denominator in all of these encounters was the Confederate flag, a symbol of racism and hatred for my race.  It brought fear in those early days of living in Moreno Valley, but now it disgusts me to see it.   I’ve never understood why it is allowed to fly anywhere in the open.  The Confederacy lost the war against the United States, which was treason.  It was a war to keep my ancestors enslaved no matter the reasons given to try and make it palpable and accepted.  Yes, it is a part of United States history, but it is an ugly part that should only be in the history books, not thrown in our faces.  Those who fought for the Confederacy should not be honored with statues, military bases paid, and maintained with tax dollars, my tax dollars.  We should follow the lead of Germany where it is against the law to give a Nazi salute; there are no monuments to Hitler and his ilk, no Third Reich flags flying.   That damn Confederate flag should be banished, it’s not freedom of speech, but treason.   

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