The past and its symbols have a way of impinging on the present. Consider the Confederacy and its battle flag.
South Carolina moved that emblem from atop its state capitol to the front of a Confederate war-memorial building on capitol grounds. That's still too prominent a place for blacks, who see it as a symbol of slavery.
Greater sensitivity in such matters is on the rise in the South, spurred by growing black political clout. Virginia this year stopped the practice of observing Martin Luther King Day on the same date as a state holiday commemorating the birthdays of Confederate Gens. Robert E. Lee and Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson.
Other states - Georgia and Mississipi - are wrestling with flag issues. In each, the need is to keep history in its place - and that place is a museum. Confederate symbols have their place in understanding America and shouldn't be forgotten. But for the sake of respect for all citizens, these states should cleanly break with a past tarnished by racial discrimination and drop official use of secessionist, divisive symbols.
Americans must come to terms with their shared history in a way that builds national unity.
(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society