Funny what you do and don’t remember from your childhood.
As someone who grew up in Georgia in the 1960s, I have no concrete memory of ever pledging allegiance to the American flag in school. Maybe we did it every day, and did it so routinely and mechanically that there was nothing memorable about doing it.
(In the same vein, I don’t remember putting on my pants every morning before school – except the one morning when there was a scorpion in my jeans, something which I remember very well indeed – yet, I’m confident I never went to school pantsless. Despite all those dreams.)
It makes me wonder whether we actually ever did recite the pledge, as many conservative friends so often fondly recollect doing, if their Facebook comments are to be believed. I really do wonder.
What I do remember very plainly from those days was the glorification of a different flag.
Regularly, we students at Southwestern Elementary would gather in the cafeteria to watch educational films. These are the kinds of seriously earnest films that many might be considered hokey today. I remember only a couple.
One was “A Desk for Billie”, a story about a bright, young girl named Billie from a migrant family (in this case a family of Depression-era agricultural workers constantly on the move from place to place across the country) and how a sympathetic teacher helped her adjust to yet another new school and unfamiliar classmates. At least, that’s how I remember it. Another film was about a man who failed to heed his own wise and fatherly advice to his children about safe driving habits and got himself killed.
In any case, every one of these edifying little movies we watched began with a few seconds giving credit to the Georgia Department of Education for providing the film. These few seconds consisted of the image of the state flag of Georgia suddenly filling the screen, while the blackface minstrel tune “Dixie” blared from the speakers.
It is one thing I clearly remember from my school days. It’s as if it was seared into my brain. Which, of course, was the purpose. Keep in mind that, at the time, the Georgia state flag mostly consisted of the Confederate battle flag, a favorite symbol, then as now, among white supremacist groups.
That symbol had been added to the state flag just a few years before I started school, during a time of increased agitation over segregation (the American version of apartheid). The US government was in the process of trying to end segregation. The Georgia government was trying to keep it intact and resented any interference from Washington in the matter.
By prominently exposing (you might say “subjecting”) school kids to the new, segregationist flag – all to the accompanist of “Dixie” – the state government no doubt hoped to drive home a certain message. And it was not that “all men are created equal”.
The fact that I don’t remember a morning ritual of pledging allegiance to the American flag, but can still vividly recall the propagandization of a symbol of racism makes me wonder: where exactly were we impressible kids being taught our allegiance should lie.