State Fair Confederate Railroad

Country music fans are reflected in the glasses of Southern rock group Confederate Railroad lead singer Danny Shirley during a June 12, 2000, concert in Nashville, Tenn.

History is written by the victors. Good victors allow for gray areas. In our current Outrage Culture, there's no gray area.

So in the absence of that gray area lies the band Confederate Railroad, a working band that's been pounding the road since their 1992 debut album. If you're in Illinois, odds are excellent that Confederate Railroad has played within a 45-minute drive of where you are. Multiple times, even. According to our records, they played the Decatur-Macon County Fair in 2008.

They were scheduled to play the DuQuoin State Fair until someone within Gov. J.B. Pritzker's circle pointed out the group's name and its iconography.

Now, before we get too deep into this discussion, let's be clear: The flag of the Confederate States of America is part of the image associated with the band Confederate Railroad. There's no dicing of that statement. The band members themselves and what appears to be the majority of their supporters make that clear.

Rich Miller of Capitol Fax, whose column appears Sundays in the Herald & Review, posed a question on his blog about whether Confederate Railroad was a proper choice, writing, “A band named Confederate Railroad. In Illinois. The Land of Lincoln. Playing at a state-owned facility. ... Appropriate or not?”

State officials quietly canceled the performance, but that wasn't going to stay quiet for long. Offered the chance to backtrack, Pritzker doubled down.

"The Confederate flag is a symbol of not just slavery, but of treason against the United States," Pritzker said. "It is also a symbol of murder, of kidnapping, of rape. That's what happened under the banner of the Confederate flag many years ago in this country. It is today a symbol of racists, of white nationalists, of the alt-right. I cannot think that the state of Illinois should be sponsoring something that is amplifying that symbol. That is why we took the action we did."

And remember, Pritzker won the election.

Pritzker also said, "Remember it was under the banner of the Confederate flag that the assassin of Abraham Lincoln, our favorite son, the son of Illinois, was murdered.”

Fellow country music acts raised the hyperbole even further when they supported Confederate Railroad by throwing out the predictable language of Those Who Are Offended At the Offense You Have Taken. These responses included past Decatur Celebration headliner Charlie Daniels, who railed about “political correctness” and misspelled “fascism” (I looked it up to get it right) and feared our freedom is disappearing piece by piece.

Isn't it amusing that “fascism” has a chance of being a word of the year, because it's gone to so quickly when we're arguing right and wrong?

As if that weren't enough — and don't you think it ought to be? — state Rep. Terri Bryant, R-Murphysboro, weighed in with the opinion that if Confederate Railroad couldn't play at a state event, then neither could Snoop Dogg, whose 2017 release “Make America Crip Again” featured a flag-draped body with a toe-tag saying “Trump.” Yet the album cover mimics Ice Cube's 1991 release “Death Certificate,” where the toe tag hangs on "Uncle Sam."

Doesn't it sometimes seem as though we daily drift further from what was consider the right society? Doesn't it sometimes seem as though we've been so divided by our differences that we don't even want to look at our similarities anymore? We become so resolute in our positions that our foundations are in concrete.

What Snoop Dogg is saying with that cover photo is generally impossible to understand if you empathize when Confederate Railroad gives its defenses of the flag iconography. They don't believe in some of the things that flag represented, and it represents entirely different things to them. The governor's people managed to split a hair by saying Snoop Dogg's cover is political satire and the flag is hate.

If you're opposed to Confederate Railroad, it's only logical to reject Snoop Dogg. And vice versa. Be aware, though, that either decision will lead to discussions about the government endorsing hate speech.

Tom Petty got it when he stopped using the flag as a backdrop in concert. Petty said, “People just need to think about how it looks to a black person. It’s just awful. It’s like how a swastika looks to a Jewish person. It just shouldn’t be on flagpoles.”

But the person who lives on one side of that argument is going to have a lot of trouble understanding the thoughts and concerns of people on the other side.

There's been no public move to cancel Snoop Dogg's performance.  

These are growing pains, and they're going to form a frame of what our society turns into. Evolution really can't be stopped. It has to be endured and dealt with as time goes by.

Consider what you're fighting for and against. Consider our lack of gray areas, and how much any of the examples in this case could lie in them. There doesn't have to be outrage. There could be discussion. It's just a matter of the choice of words.

Are the absolutes on either side of issue places you're willing to plant your flag and die defending?

Contact Tim Cain at (217) 421-6908. Follow him on Twitter: @timcainhr


Entertainment Reporter

Entertainment reporter for Lee Enterprises Central Illinois.

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