More poetry from the fight for racial equality – Ed Madden’s “Confederates”

Ed Madden’s poem for the rally against the Confederate flag reminds us of his earlier poem “Confederates,” which appeared in Signals (2008).  The poem is set just months before the 2000 removal of the flag from the South Carolina statehouse dome.  “Confederates” offers a poet’s take on the historical and cultural context of the move of the flag then, and perhaps a comment on the issue now.


The poem takes place between a MLK Day rally against the flag in January 2000 and the removal of the Confederate flag from the South Carolina Statehouse dome that July.  Referenced here is an incident in 1970 when a mob of white protestors in Lamar, South Carolina, overturned a school bus of black children on its way to the newly integrated public school.





going north on I-95, March 2000


Bert stops at the BP for gas.

I go in for coffee while he pays.

He’s fixing to say something, but doesn’t—

the television above us stops him,

a man with a flag saying: Learn your history. 

You better learn real history.


After the march, a woman asked us: Where you from?

Meaning, why are nice young men like you

marching with them, the river of black folk

purling around us, the flag

a bright flame in a cold sky.


Early March and we watch the road unfurl

behind us. We tell each other stories:

only boys when it all happened—

that bus full of kids overturned

by a white mob on a Darlington County road,

or that girl in Arkansas, escorted into school with guns.


To us, that flag’s just something to do

with Lynyrd Skynyrd, old pickup trucks,

guys with long hair and tight jeans.


A gray fog haunts the highway.

Bert adjusts the rearview mirror.

Our friends are waiting at the next exit.


© 2008 University of South Carolina. “Confederates” was published in Signals by Ed Madden, winner of the 2007 South Carolina Poetry Book Award and a finalist for the 2009 Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance Award for Poetry. The poem appears with publisher and author permission.



Comments are closed.