Driving up Hillsborough Street in Raleigh, it is easy to imagine the original intent of the city architect: a Southern ideal, lined with stately homes and tall oaks, a boulevard leading to our State Capitol.
It was above the Capitol, just to the left of the dome that has achieved such perfect patina, that I noticed a strange flag flying last Wednesday. It bore the same red and white stripes of our national flag, but fewer of them. And in the blue field, there was a circle of white stars. It was the Stars and Bars, or First National Flag of the Confederacy if you prefer. And it is hoisted every year on Confederate Memorial Day, the day reserved to remember North Carolina's Confederate dead.
I got out of my car and walked onto the Capitol grounds, where some workmen were constructing platforms and putting up tents.
"So," I asked, "isn't that the Confederate flag flying up there?"
"Naw," one workman answered, "that's the North Carolina state flag."
"Is that the Confederate flag?" I asked another workman.
"That," he said "is a flag that is like that," he pointed to our largest, most recently constructed military memorial, "and the stars represent our military departments, like Army and Marines and such."
"Are you sure?" I asked. "That seems like more stars than we'd need."
"I'm sure," he said.
"And you know what the Confederate flag looks like?"
"Yes, and that isn't it," he said.
I crossed the street to where some state employees were taking a smoke break and asked them the same question.
"I think that's the first American flag," one woman said, "you know, with the stars for the colonies."
I hmmmmed at her, then turned to another woman. "Is that the Confederate flag up there?" I asked.
"I don't know," the woman said, "I don't see a flag."