The Whole Story in a Single Photo

Clint Smith in The Atlantic:

On Wednesday afternoon, as insurrectionists assaulted the Capitol, a man wearing a brown vest over a black sweatshirt walked through the halls of Congress with the Confederate battle flag hanging over his shoulder. One widely circulated photo, taken by Mike Theiler of Reuters, captured him mid-stride, part of the flag almost glowing with the light coming from the hallway to his left.

The fact that this photo was taken the day after voters in Georgia chose the first Black person and the first Jewish person in the history of that state to serve in the Senate; that it shows a man walking past the portrait of a vice president who urged the country to sustain human bondage and another portrait of a senator who was nearly beaten to death for standing up to the slavocracy; that it portrays a man walking with a Confederate flag while a mob of insurrectionists pushed past police, broke windows, vandalized offices, stole property, and strolled through the halls of Congress for hours, forcing senators and representatives into hiding and stopping the certification of the electoral process—it is almost difficult to believe that so much of our history, and our current moment, was reflected in a single photograph. This photo seemed to capture the divide between who we purport to be and who we have actually been, the gap between our founding promises and our current reality.

The flag the man carried, which we have all come to associate with the Confederacy, was not the first that flew over the Confederate States of America. In 1861, following the election of Abraham Lincoln, southern states began seceding from the Union in order to perpetuate the institution of human bondage. As Mississippi said during its secession convention, “Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery—the greatest material interest of the world.”

More here.