Disclaimer: While I am not apologetic in my stance on the Confederate Flag issue and wish for its removal, I understand this post may feature some material bound to offend a significant part of the US population, particularly in the South. And while the Confederate Flag has been taken down at the South Carolina state house, plenty of such flags remain in the area such as in Mississippi. Seriously, the Confederate Flag only belongs in museums, historical sites, Civil War media, and cemeteries. No where else. Nevertheless, I’ve done my research on this. So don’t say that I don’t know my history if the flag offends me. Because I know my history and can completely understand why that flag offends people. Also, anyone offended by the picture should know that I’m not praising the Confederate Flag in any way. In fact, this is an article on me debunking excuses people make on keeping it.
Now in my “Thoughts on Charleston” post, I discussed how the Charleston Church shooting was racially motivated and why it was a problem. I also discussed a bit on why the Confederate Flag needs to be removed. However, while the South Carolina state house agreed to remove the flag from its state legislature, there was a substantial number of white people who weren’t happy about it. In fact, they were quite angry. And this led to a spat between the Klu Klux Klan and the Black Panthers nearby over last weekend. Others may think that we should worry about bigger things other than removing a flag, especially when it comes to stopping terror. However, many of these people either have no idea what this flag really stands for or conveniently ignore that fact. Many tend to keep Confederate Flags just to express their southern pride or love for Southern Rock groups. Some may keep a Confederate Flag thinking it’s a cool symbol of rebelling against authority. And many are quick to defend that the Confederate Flag is a symbol of heritage, not hate. Not to mention, in states like Georgia, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina have laws banning the public mutilation, defilement, and cast of contempt on this flag. But such laws were overruled by the US Supreme Court in 1989 and aren’t enforceable anyway. But I’m sure they’re still on the books. However, hate to let ya’ll down, but the Confederate Flag is nothing more than a symbol of white supremacy and history shows this. Always has been, always will be. It’s not hard to figure out the American Civil War was over slavery and a lot of powerful white Southerners were really big fans of it. Nevertheless, I present to you many of worst excuses that people make about keeping the Confederate Flag.
- “The Confederate Flag is a symbol of Southern heritage and pride.”
While the Confederate Flag is a symbol of Southern heritage, it’s one that embodies some of the worst aspects in the history of the American South. Basically it represents a region that split with the country in the name of preserving and expanding an institution where blacks were coerced into a lifetime of involuntary servitude with no rights or compensation. Here is an engraving of a slave auction in Virginia where this mother and daughter are unlikely to see each other again.
Well, if you feel that a Confederate Flag is a symbol of Southern pride, then I think you might want to find yourself a better way to express that. But while I agree that the Confederate Flag is a symbol of Southern heritage, but in a way that reflects the worst of what it represents. By this, I mean a time in which the South was run by a wealthy elite who owned large plantations manned by a large underclass of blacks who either were or among descendants of kidnap victims and subjugated under a lifetime of involuntary servitude, which they depended on. And they tend to use a rationale that blacks were lazy and inferior simpletons in order to justify it. Now many of the Northern states on the other hand, had outlawed this notorious institution and was a realm of many anti-slavery activities that these Southern aristocrats didn’t like. This was especially the case since the cotton gin led to an economic boom in the region which made these rich guys even more dependent to keep blacks in a lifetime state of involuntary servitude. Of course, it also explains why Mississippi was home to the most millionaires in 1860. So tensions build up over the years which result in a bunch of political dysfunction and sporadic moments of violence. It soon got to the point that these wealthy elites became so distressed about the North being no fan of enslaving black people, that they decided to split from the country to form their own so they never have to worry about such encroachment again. Of course, the North didn’t like them leaving the country and so commences a bloody 4-year war, which the North won by the way. And the white Southerners were very bitter that this war helped outlaw such practices so they went to great lengths to make sure that blacks could never gain any social, political, or economic power. Of course, they managed to get away with such practices for decades until blacks started demonstrating during the 1950s and 1960s. But it doesn’t stop the white Southerners from romanticizing the days when wealthy plantation owners forced black people to work for them so they didn’t have to abide to certain whitey hiring regulations other than perhaps the occasional overseer. They don’t want to think about the highly unethical implications and human rights violations pertaining to forced black labor as well as other anti-black policies so they conveniently choose to forget that. But still, you get the idea what the Confederate Flag sort of represents.
- “The Confederate Flag is a symbol of freedom and states’ rights.”
While Confederate Flag supporters often say that the American Civil War was about states’ rights, moments like the Fugitive Slave Act and the Dred Scott Decision show this wasn’t the case. Sure the South wanted to preserve slavery and their way of life. But they also wanted to expand it into the territories and force the North to return runaway slaves. Since Northern states had banned slavery for quite some time, it didn’t want to comply. Now this is a poster warning free blacks in Boston to be wary of slave catchers and kidnappers who might want to enslave them.
Yes, but this flag represents the Confederacy which split from the Union in 1860-1861, but the “freedom” and “states’ rights” in this pertained to the idea that a white person was free to own slaves who were usually black. Besides, those who think the American Civil War was fought over states’ rights should really look up the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, which required that all escaped slaves were to be returned to their masters upon capture and that citizens and officials had to cooperate, even in free states. Then there’s the Dred Scott Decision that centered on a black man who tried to sue for his and his family’s freedom on account that his master had died in a free territory. But the Supreme Court denied that request in which Chief Justice Roger Taney said that blacks were, “beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations, and so far inferior that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.” You should also take into account that thanks to the 3/5ths Compromise in the Constitution, the Southern states had a lot of political influence and representation in Congress, but industrialization, urbanization, and immigration would give the North much more political power. Now both the Fugitive Slave Act and the Dred Scott Decision took place before 1860 and were heavily favorable to slave owners in the South. But they also both reveal that the South didn’t just want to keep slavery within their borders (and they were in no position to abandon it either). They wanted to expand it to the territories and force the North to support that institution against their will. Abraham Lincoln and his fellow Republicans opposed both these measures in 1860 which led to the South seceding from the Union after Lincoln’s election to president in 1860. So much for states’ rights.
Dred Scott was a slave who tried to sue the government for his and his family’s freedom on account that he spent time in a free territory. However, the Supreme Court ruled against him on account that blacks weren’t considered US citizens and had no right to sue. Also, the Missouri Compromise of 1850 was declared unconstitutional which carried a designation of free territories in the first place. It has been known as the worst US Supreme court ruling in history. And it’s no surprise that a few of the justices at the time were slave owners.
We should also take into account that documents pertaining to the South’s split from the union because they refused to be in a country that was turning them into second-class citizens and refused to honor one of their most cherished beliefs, that slavery was beneficial to the negro. And it’s very clear that the Confederates weren’t in any way shy about this since the right to own slaves was written into their constitution. Besides, Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens said it himself in his “Cornerstone” speech, “Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner- stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth…” And in Texas’s secession declaration, slavery is mentioned at a whopping 21 times as well as said that governments and states of the nation were established, “exclusively by the white race, for themselves and their posterity,” and this didn’t apply to black people. So to say that the Confederate Flag was a symbol any other freedom than for whites to treat African Americans as property as well as force them to work for them against their will and with no compensation, then that argument is relatively weak. Besides, most historians think that the South played the states’ rights card only when they disagreed with federal policy and only when the rights in question applied to their states.
- “My ancestors fought under that flag.”
Southern Unionism was widespread throughout the Confederacy during the American Civil War. Southern Unionists comprised of 25% of Union Forces including my 3rd great-grandfather from East Tennessee and at least 3 of his brothers. This is an engraving of Southern Unionist refugees from Georgia in East Tennessee, a hotbed for Union sympathizers. However, in the “Lost Cause” myth, these people tend to be totally erased.
Are you sure about that? The National Park Service has a database listing American Civil War soldiers and sailors so you can look up your ancestors there. But even if your Civil War ancestors were white and resided in the Confederacy, there’s a substantial chance that they might not have fought for the side you previously thought. Unionism was widespread in the Confederacy during the Civil War (explaining the existence of West Virginia) and 25% of Union soldiers also resided in a secessionist state. So perhaps flying a Confederate Flag at your front porch may not actually be your way to honor the memory of your ancestors than possibly giving them the finger on the cause and country they fought for. This is especially the case if you find out that your 3rd great-grandfather from Arkansas actually fought for the Army of the Tennessee instead of the Army of Tennessee according to family legend.
Southern Unionists were often targets of violence by Confederates during the American Civil War (mostly for resisting draft laws but many were arrested as well). This is an engraving of a mass hanging of Southern Unionists in Gainesville, Texas. Like black troops, Southern Unionists who also fought for the Union also risked execution upon capture. Sometimes this would lead their families consigned to the not-so-tender mercies of their often unforgiving neighbors. After the Civil War, many Southern Unionists continued to be persecuted for their wartime beliefs after Reconstruction as well as targets of the Klu Klux Klan.
Nevertheless, there are plenty of descendants of Confederate veterans who don’t want anything to do with the Confederate Flag. Of course, many of these sons of Confederate veterans tend to be black and would want no part in honoring what their ancestors fought for. Not surprisingly, these guys were white and most likely owned slaves as well.
These are the official and military flags used by the Confederacy during the American Civil War. Though never used in any official capacity, the Confederate Battle Flag was used as an unofficial emblem of the Confederacy. This was because it was a very recognizable design from long distances.
Even so, the Confederate Flag we know today was actually used as the Battle Flag for the Army of Northern Virginia but the design wouldn’t be incorporated in the official Confederate Flag design until 1863 with the “Stainless Banner” flag as well as in the “Blood-Stained Banner” in 1865. But both these flags have the Confederate Battle insignia in the upper left corner. But before these two flags, there was the “Stars and Bars” flag which had 3 stripes in red and white as well as a blue square with 13 stars. But this would later be disowned since it was too similar to the Union Flag and caused confusion during the 1st Battle of Bull Run (especially at long distances). So let’s just say if your Confederate ancestors fought under that flag, it was more or less on an unofficial basis. So it’s no surprise why the Confederate Battle Flag has become a widely recognized symbol of the American South since it was the Confederacy’s most recognized flag during most of the war. And the later flag designs both show this. But as far as we know the Confederate Flag was never adopted by the Confederate Congress, was never officially used for Confederate veterans groups, and never flew over state capitols during the Confederacy. So for the descendants of Confederate veterans, I’ll rule this as partially true.
- “Even if it is racist, the meaning of words and symbols is relative to the individual.”
The swastika is a good example of how symbols can be interpreted in many different ways. In Jainism, Hinduism, and Buddhism, it’s a sacred and auspicious symbol as well as a good luck charm. But try to explain that to Westerns who link it with Nazism, Anti-Semitism, totalitarianism, racism, hate, and mass slaughter. Of course, the Nazi swastika is turned, but still. Nevertheless, unlike Americans with the Confederate Flag, Asians can still play the culture card for the swastika because they’ve used it way long before it became associated with Nazism.
Yes, words and symbols can mean a variety of different things depending on the individual. But even though you may fly a Confederate Flag showing your love for Lynyrd Skynyrd doesn’t mean that your neighbors would interpret it that way. But most of the time words and symbols carry meanings that stand independently of any individual’s subjective interpretation. Such that it might lead your passionate but non-racist Rebel Flag waving Lynyrd Skynyrd fan to be mistaken for racist or believing that any pursuit of white supremacy isn’t wrong and may be worthy of celebration. This is especially true when a symbol or term has very negative connotations for a certain group of people explaining why many people want the Washington Redskins to change their name. It also explains why nobody in the West no longer uses swastikas for decoration.
- “Taking down the Confederate Flag will rewrite history.”
Whenever Confederate Flag supporters complain how removing this banner would rewrite history, what they really mean is that it will change the American Civil War history as they remember it. Of course, it’s no surprise that many of these Confederate Flag supporters believe in the myth of the “Lost Cause” which is a virulently racist and very distorting pseudo-history viewpoint. Of course, Birth of a Nation basically shows the worst of the “Lost Cause” myth and the ideology it supports.
Actually, when we’re talking about taking down the Confederate Flag, it will still be used in a historic capacity such as being displayed in museums and historic sites, Civil War media, and Civil War reenactments. Not sure if displaying them on Confederate Civil War memorials and monuments is acceptable, but I’ll leave it. Let’s just say Confederate Flag removal will only apply to places like government buildings, state and national parks (save Civil War battlefields), public schools and colleges, and other public places. Still, taking down the Confederate Flag may not rewrite history but it will help put the Neo-Confederate “Lost Cause” myth to rest since it was only made up to justify the oppression of African Americans in the South with Jim Crow laws and extralegal violence. I think removing the Confederate Flag might help Americans come to terms with an ugly part of their history, which many tend to ignore. So removing it might rewrite history to an extent, but only in a way that brings down the “Lost Cause” myth which continues to be influential in media and in schools despite that it’s a major distortion of history used to serve a very racist political agenda. And sometimes historic distortions need to be corrected by removing symbols of hate from where they don’t belong.
- “Even if it is racist, meanings of words and symbols can change over time.”
It’s illegal in Germany to wave a Nazi flag. But it’s a perfect illustration of how once symbols acquire a negative interpretation to them, it usually stays that way. And the fact people still make excuses of keeping the Confederate Flag just makes it more disturbing. Nevertheless, an American keeping a Confederate Flag is certainly equivalent to a German keeping a Nazi one.
They may but if a symbol acquires a highly negative meaning, it tends to stay that way. And at its most benign, it’s been used by the historically-ignorant without being fully cognizant of its implications. But whether it represented a defunct government whose reason for existence was to preserve slavery or as a symbolic embodiment of the so-called “Lost Cause” myth, you can’t take pride in such a flag without tacitly endorsing a racist view or being remarkably clueless. Even if your ancestors fought for the Confederacy. And since the American Civil War, Southern whites tended to use the Neo-Confederate “Lost Cause” myth as their history just to enact Jim Crow laws as well as keep black people from any form of social, political, or economic power. The Confederate Flag is an artifact from that history as the “Lost Cause” myth continues to be propagated by Sons of the Confederate Veterans as well as United Daughters of the Confederacy. However, these two organizations as well as other historical societies tend to be among the more mild offenders.
FILE – “In this April 14, 1964 black-and-white file photo, a man holds a Confederate flag at right, as demonstrators, including one carrying a sign saying: “More than 300,000 Negroes are Denied Vote in Ala”, demonstrate in front of an Indianapolis hotel where then-Alabama Governor George Wallace was staying.” The Confederate Flag enjoyed a resurgence of popularity after World War II, particularly to white supremacists who saw the rising Civil Rights Movement as a threat. Let’s just say white segregationists’ use of the Confederate Flag was no accident.
Yet, after World War II, the Confederate Flag enjoyed a resurgence of popularity in the South used by segregationist whites to protest integration especially with the ruling of Brown v. Board of Education which declared school segregation unconstitutional. Southern states tended to use the Confederate Flag in their public pageantry during the Civil Rights Movement with the South Carolina raising flag at their state capitol in 1961. Two notable groups who used this as a symbol were the Dixiecrats and the Klu Klux Klan, both noted for white supremacy and opposition to the Civil Rights Movement. As Southern historian Gordon Rhea said: “It is no accident that Confederate symbols have been the mainstay of white supremacist organizations, from the Ku Klux Klan to the skinheads. They did not appropriate the Confederate battle flag simply because it was pretty. They picked it because it was the flag of a nation dedicated to their ideals: ‘that the negro is not equal to the white man’. The Confederate flag, we are told, represents heritage, not hate. But why should we celebrate a heritage grounded in hate, a heritage whose self-avowed reason for existence was the exploitation and debasement of a sizeable segment of its population?”
- “Just because I keep a Confederate Flag doesn’t mean I’m racist.”
I’m not saying that Confederate Flag supporters are racists. It’s just that I find it a hard time to consider them not to be when I see them waving a flag that’s clearly a symbol for white supremacy by any means necessary. Seriously, this flag has been used to justify racist policies in the South, opposition to the Civil Rights Movement, and extralegal violence against African Americans. So I don’t think Confederate Flag supporters are helping their case.
Maybe, but as I said time words and symbols carry meanings that stand independently of any individual’s subjective interpretation. Just ask any Asian Hindu and Buddhist who’s denied Anti-Semitism while wearing a swastika T-shirt. You may not see yourself as a racist, but try convincing your cringing black neighbors that whenever they see the Confederate Flag flying outside your porch. Sure you might fly it in the name of southern pride or that you’re a fan of Lynyrd Skynyrd. But most of the African American community and others identify it as a symbol of white supremacy, as well as political repression and violence against blacks. Many people also identify it as a symbol of treason in which a power elite of rich white guys seceded from the union in order to preserve a way of life that benefited no one but themselves as well as subjugated 40% the region’s population to a lifetime of involuntary servitude and a legal designation of property.
- “The Confederate Flag has nothing to do with racism.”
Uh, yes, the Confederate Flag has everything to do with racism. In fact, it’s been always used as a symbol of racism from the moment of its inception. In fact, the guy who designed it said it himself and he certainly wasn’t in the closet about his white supremacy.
Really? But even in the antebellum American South, most Southern whites didn’t own slaves either. But most of them supported slavery anyway and a lot of them fought for the Confederacy. In the Antebellum South, white supremacy was accepted by almost all white Southerners of all classes which made slavery seem natural, legitimate, and essential for a civilized society. The whole Old South had a system of preserving slavery with elaborate codes of speech, behavior, or practices illustrating the subordination of blacks to whites. Southern whites serving on “slave patrols” and “overseers” were offered positions of power and honor. Such positions gave poor white Southerners the authority to stop, search, whip, maim, and even kill any slave traveling outside their plantation. “Slave patrols” were institutions bringing Southern whites of all classes in support of the prevailing economic and racial order. Oh, and policing and punishing slaves who transgressed the regimentation of slave society at the time was seen as community service. Not to mention, there was a constant fear of free blacks threatening law and order in the Old South as well. Also, there was no secret ballot so a poorer white guy voting against the wishes of the establishment ran the chance of facing social ostracism. Many Southern whites were linked to extensive kinship networks and/or depended on white Southern planters economically. Then there’s the fact many non-slaveholders perceived the possibility of owning slaves one day with the opening of the territories and how slavery gave poor whites some sense that they weren’t at the bottom of the Southern plantation society. So how could the Confederate Flag have nothing to do with racism, then how could it represent a society built around the idea of white supremacy?
- “The Confederate Flag doesn’t represent hate and violence.”
For over a century, the Confederate Flag has has stood for the idea that African Americans are less-than-equal members of the political community and that using any illegal violence against their interest is justified and that it’s noble to fight and die for the purpose of enslaving black people even if it means betraying the country. White supremacist organizations like the Klu Klux Klan have been known to use these flags as their symbols. Since it has inspired acts of violence such as lynchings and terrorism toward African Americans, its use is no accident. Still, if the Confederate Flag isn’t a symbol of hate and violence, then I don’t know what is.
Seriously? Uh, for over a century it has inspired Southern whites to systematically discriminate and commit violence against African Americans. In fact, Southern whites split from the country and started a war because they so strongly viewed that blacks were inferior to human beings and should be put in their place through any means necessary (even though a significant number of white Southerners wanted no such thing like my Tennessee ancestors). For over a century, the Confederate Flag has stood for the idea that African Americans are less-than-equal members of the political community and that using any illegal violence against their interest is justified and that it’s noble to fight and die for the purpose of enslaving black people even if it means betraying the country. Such violence has involved hate crimes like lynchings and acts of terror by groups like the Klu Klux Klan and white supremacist groups. And for a long time Southern whites got away with it because the legal system always ruled in favor of white interests that African Americans would be put in jail for even the most trivial offenses. Nevertheless, if the Confederate Flag doesn’t represent hate and violence, then I don’t know what does.
- “The Confederate Flag is a symbol of the proud, distinctive heritage and gentility of the Old South.”
Contrary to the images of elegant plantations, happy slaves, proper Southern gentlemen, and beautiful Southern belles, life in the Old South wasn’t the kind of society people imagine it. The Old South consisted of a society built on white supremacy, slavery, and rule of a rich wealthy elite wanting to preserve a way of life that benefited no one but themselves. Anyone who wasn’t rich or white meant politically nothing.
Really? What the Confederate Flag symbolizes of the Old South is a heritage that’s distinctive all right. But it’s not genteel in any way and not something for Southerners to be proud of. The heritage the Confederate Flag symbolizes is an ugly one in which society is controlled by a wealthy slave owning elite with whites of all classes united under a doctrine of white supremacy and economic dependency. It represents the idea of blacks being inferior and should be kept in their place by any means necessary. It represents poorer whites who accepted the status quo that was against their own interests under the threat of social ostracism. Not to mention, education was only available to those who could afford it and many poor whites made less than their Northern counterparts. But they embraced racism since their skin color gave them more rights and opportunities than even the most well-off free blacks who had no civil rights (and it didn’t help that most free blacks were very poor and marginalized). Not to mention, the unrealistic prospect that they can be part of the white Southern elite if they can work hard enough. But nevertheless, the Old South was a society that worked mainly in the interests of the white rich guys who ran it. And by the eve of the Civil War, that wealth would be more concentrated. Thus, the kind of society of the Old South was based on the notion of slaves and land being status symbols, concentration of wealth and power at the hands of a few rich white guys, the idea that blacks were property and inferior to whites, and that unless you were a rich white guy who owned a plantation, you meant politically nothing.
- “The cry to take the Confederate Flag down is unjustified.”
During the Jim Crow Era, it wasn’t uncommon for blacks to be targets for lynchings, especially in the South. These were meant to keep black people in their place as an act of terror and intimidation. And yes, the Confederate Flag was used to justify this since it was seen as the emblem for the notoriously racist myth of the “Lost Cause.” If this horrific scene doesn’t justify calls to remove the Confederate Flag, then I don’t know what does.
Seriously? Sure many whites think the Confederate flag is a symbol of Southern pride and heritage, which has been hijacked by white supremacist groups. But as history tells us, there was never a time in which the Confederate flag was used to represent anything other than the right for whites to subjugate black people and perpetuate slavery. And when slavery was outlawed, it was used as a banner for white supremacy through any means whether it meant instilling Jim Crow laws, acts of extralegal terror, or opposing the Civil Rights Movement. It’s no wonder why so many people think it’s a racist symbol, particularly most African Americans who’ve seen it as nothing but a symbol of oppression and terror. The sheer presence and endorsement of such a flag by state governments promotes the idea that black lives don’t matter under any circumstance. And it doesn’t help that many Southern states have enacted laws that work against the best interests of the poor and minorities, particularly Voter ID laws, regressive taxes, welfare drug tests, right to work laws, and Stand Your Ground. So I’m sure that there’s nothing unjustified about removing a symbol that has denoted nothing more than white supremacy. This is especially if such ideas kept you from exercising your constitutional rights or in a system in which the odds of receiving justice weren’t in your favor.
- “If the Confederate Flag was used as a national flag, then how could it represent slavery and racism?”
In his “Cornerstone Speech,” Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens declared that African slavery was the “immediate cause” of secession and that the Confederate Constitution had put to rest, “agitating questions” as to the “proper status of the negro in our form of civilization.” Naturally the Article 1 Section 9 (4) in the Confederate Constitution says: “No bill of attainder, ex post facto law, or law denying or impairing the right of property in negro slaves shall be passed.” So the chief and immediate cause of the American Civil War was slavery. As Alex Stephens said it himself. Ironically, he was also friends with a little-known Illinois politician named Abraham Lincoln.
First off, the Confederate Flag we know was officially used as a Battle flag and was only a national flag in an unofficial capacity. Secondly, preservation and expansion of slavery was the most important reason why the South seceded from the Union to form the Confederacy in the first place. Slavery was even called “the cornerstone of the Confederacy” for God’s sake. And obviously, you can’t enslave blacks without having some justification that it’s perfectly fine to do so. Thus, that’s where racism and white supremacy kick in, especially when it comes to getting poorer whites to accept and defend the status quo even if it’s not in their best interests to do so.
- “The Confederate Flag is a quaint historical artifact and a memorial to those who’ve fought gallantly and bravely (even in a service of a cause no longer considered virtuous).”
Had the Confederate Flag been confined to be used for educational, historical, and memorial purposes, it would’ve remained a quaint artifact of history. Unfortunately, white Southerners who supported the Confederate cause never got over racism or losing the Civil War. So instead they made the Confederate Flag an emblem for the “Lost Cause” myth which they used to justify the systematic discrimination and violence against African Americans for decades.
Now I am not against anyone honoring their ancestors for their gallantry and bravery, even if it wasn’t on the right side or in service of a cause I wouldn’t consider virtuous. However, if the Confederate Flag was just used as a quaint historical artifact and memorial only shown in museums, historical societies, soldiers’ reunions, or soldiers’ graves, then I’d have little to no problem with it. Unfortunately, people don’t always learn their lessons and even when slavery was outlawed in the US, the virulent ideas of white supremacy remained, especially in the South. We know this because many Southern whites were so vehemently opposed to Reconstruction policies that they’d commit acts of terror to make sure African Americans didn’t exercise their rights. And when these guys returned to power, they passed significant legislation to segregate, disenfranchise, as well as deny them any kind of opportunity for advancement. They also justified such actions through an ideology known as the “Lost Cause” which painted blacks as loyal, benevolent, and subservient slaves to their masters as well as claimed that the American Civil War was fought over states’ rights, not slavery. It also reinforced notions that Jim Crow laws were a proper solution to Reconstruction racial tensions, Confederate soldiers were good, Union soldiers were bad, the Klu Klux Klan were heroic vigilantes, Robert E. Lee was an infallible icon, African American freedom and political power was bad, and any violence committed against blacks was justified no matter how illegal. The Confederate Flag was often seen as a symbol for the “Lost Cause” which promoted such ideas as well as remained an influential narrative of the Civil War for years since it was a history that many white Southerners were comfortable with. Plus, most textbook companies usually cater to Texas anyway. But the “Lost Cause” mythology’s key characteristic was the use of white supremacy as a means to an end. So while the Confederate Flag may be seen as historic artifact by some to honor Confederate soldiers, it’s also been used for far more sinister purposes such as oppressing black people for decades.
- “Slavery and racism wasn’t just limited to the Old South.”
Yes, slavery existed in the North as well as the South during the Colonial and Revolutionary Eras. And I’m aware racism in the North has existed as well. However, between 1777 to 1804, Northern states have taken steps to outlaw the practice, though most took gradual steps.
Yes, I’m well aware that slavery and racism have existed in the North as well as still does to a certain extent. And yes, I know that doesn’t get much attention in the history books as it should (but you can say the same for a lot of stuff in American history, unfortunately). But most of the racism in the North had more to do with economics, political representation, and housing combined with the fact that they were viewed as inferior because they looked different from everyone else. But the racism was nonetheless destructive, systematic, and pervasive as anyone would know from the life of Malcolm X. And yes, white supremacy terrorism, lynchings, and other extralegal violence did take place there, too. Still, while the North had segregation, too, African Americans had more political rights and economic opportunities than they would’ve in the South (for instance, the right to vote). You can also say the same for the West as well (where the African American population has been way underrepresented in western movies).
While slavery was practiced in the North during the Colonial Era and the American Revolution, it was never as widely practiced or seen as anything economically important as in the South. This chart shows the right and restrictions of Northern slaves.
However, while the North isn’t completely innocent of racial injustices either (as I can testify), it was never to the extent that they saw slavery as a cornerstone to the social order which must be preserved by any means necessary. In fact, between 1777 to 1804, every state north of the Ohio River and the Mason-Dixon Line have passed anti-slavery laws and constitutions though for many it was a gradual process. But this didn’t mean the North didn’t have any economic interests in slavery or that Northern free blacks were treated equal to whites prior to the Civil War, which was certainly not the case. Nor did it mean that all of the abolitionists weren’t racist for that wasn’t the case either (with a notable exceptions of Frederick Douglass and John Brown). It wasn’t uncommon for Northerners to oppose slavery due to the view that it was incompatible with free labor.
John C. Calhoun was an influential politician during the Antebellum Era as well as one of the most terrible who ever lived. His most important contributions are ideas that states can declare federal laws null and void that they believed unconstitutional as well as the notion of slavery being a positive good. Such views would be influential in South’s escalating threats of and eventual secession.
The South, on the other hand, had an economic system that depended on slavery that they developed a militant pro-slavery ideology that Southerners responded waged vitriolic responses to political change in the North, especially when it came to slavery in the territories and runaways in the North. The fact Abraham Lincoln came from a party opposed to slavery expansion led several southern states to secede from the Union. When slavery was outlawed, white Southerners weren’t at all happy that they did whatever it took to return to power and do whatever it took to make sure African Americans didn’t exercise their political or economic rights. When African Americans tried to defy them, Southern whites responded with terrorism and violence as long as they could get away with it. And despite the strides blacks took during the Civil Rights Movement, it’s still the case in many ways but in a different form. Yes, the North isn’t above committing racial injustices. But racism was never so ingrained or central in Northern society that it would be willing to divide the country over the right to subjugate a group of people into a lifetime of involuntary servitude due to the color of their skin.
- “But slavery existed in America long before the Confederate Flag.”
Yes, the US had slavery long before the Confederate Flag. But the United States was founded on the ideas of life, liberty, equality, and the pursuit of happiness. And it was these ideas that helped influence the Abolitionist Movement dedicated to outlaw slavery throughout the Union during the Antebellum years. Did they think black people were equal? No, but that’s beside the point.
Yes, but the United States wasn’t founded on the idea of preserving or expanding an institution dedicated to subjugating black people to a lifetime of involuntary servitude. Sure many of the Founding Fathers owned slaves and held racist views. But as any school child knows, the US was founded as nation based on the ideas of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as well as that “all men are created equal.” Many of our Founding Fathers may not have believed it in the strictest sense but such ideas have inspired a spirit present in movements related to abolitionism, feminism, civil rights, organized labor, LGBT rights, and other social reforms. Sure there may be Americans who have funny ideas about liberty but in some ways, these ideals have inspired a lot of positive things in this country. And it’s these ideals that have helped made the US flag such a sacred symbol of our nation that embodies them. On the other hand, the Confederacy was founded on preserving and expanding an institution that denied blacks any recognition of humanity and justified even illegal violence to keep it that way.
- “But the Confederate Flag is on the state flag of Mississippi.”
This is the state flag of Mississippi. The Confederate Flag square on the top left represents states longing for a time in their history when they were the state with the most millionaires. Of course, knowing Mississippi you can guess why. Not surprisingly, it has been this state’s flag since 1894 so it was adopted by an all-white legislature bent on making sure that blacks have no economic or political power.
Yes, but that’s a problem for the state government of Mississippi to sort out. But if you want to show your love for Mississippi then I see no reason for you to fly it (but I recommend that you put on a disclaimer). Just remember that the Confederate Battle Flag was put on it in 1894 at a time when the state’s black residents were denied political rights and economic opportunities thanks to white supremacists politicians.
- “The Confederate Flag is a symbol of resistance against an oppressive authority.”
While Confederate Flag supporters tend to argue that the South seceded due to Northern economic and cultural aggression, it’s really not the case. In fact, it had more to do with the fact that the North didn’t want to cooperate or expand slavery and had successfully retaliated by electing Abraham Lincoln as president in 1860. This shows the caning of Massachusetts US Senator Charles Sumner by South Carolina US Congressman Preston Brooks in the Senate chamber. Yes, the South was usually the aggressor when it came to the years leading up to the American Civil War.
People tend to use the Confederate Flag thinking it a symbol of rebellion and sticking it to the man, thanks to the “Lost Cause” ideology that painted the North as an oppressive authority that just steamrolled them with superior resources and manpower (even though these weren’t the only reasons the North beat the South). And that the South split from the Union over Northern economic and cultural aggression over the Southern way of life. But contrary to popular belief, both North and South supported states’ rights only when it was convenient to do so. This is especially true with slavery an institution they not only wanted to protect but also expand and didn’t give a shit what the North thought about it as long as the area didn’t become powerful enough to overtake their influence on the federal government. As Brooks Adams noted: “Between the slave power and states’ rights there was no necessary connection. The slave power, when in control, was a centralizing influence, and all the most considerable encroachments on states’ rights were its acts. The acquisition and admission of Louisiana; the Embargo; the War of 1812; the annexation of Texas “by joint resolution” [rather than treaty]; the war with Mexico, declared by the mere announcement of President Polk; the Fugitive Slave Law; the Dred Scott decision — all triumphs of the slave power — did far more than either tariffs or internal improvements, which in their origin were also southern measures, to destroy the very memory of states’ rights as they existed in 1789. Whenever a question arose of extending or protecting slavery, the slaveholders became friends of centralized power, and used that dangerous weapon with a kind of frenzy. Slavery in fact required centralization in order to maintain and protect itself, but it required to control the centralized machine; it needed despotic principles of government, but it needed them exclusively for its own use. Thus, in truth, states’ rights were the protection of the free states, and as a matter of fact, during the domination of the slave power, Massachusetts appealed to this protecting principle as often and almost as loudly as South Carolina.”
Whenever it came to states’ rights in the years leading up to the American Civil War, it was only Southern states’ rights that the South really cared about. To them, infringing their northern neighbors’ rights not to support slavery was fair game to them. This was demonstrated with their support for the Fugitive Slave Act and the Dred Scott Decision. As with any states’ rights proponent, Southerners only supported states’ rights when it suited them, particularly on policies they didn’t like.
Historian William C. Davis explained the Confederate Constitution’s protection at the national level as: “To the old Union they had said that the Federal power had no authority to interfere with slavery issues in a state. To their new nation they would declare that the state had no power to interfere with a federal protection of slavery. Of all the many testimonials to the fact that slavery, and not states’ rights, really lay at the heart of their movement, this was the most eloquent of all.” So the kind of “economic and cultural aggression” the South was rebelling against was that the North simply didn’t want the Southern way of life encroaching on their states’ rights. In fact, the South wanted to remain dominant in the federal government in order to protect and expand slavery. When they failed to maintain dominance of the federal government through democratic means (as demonstrated by Abraham Lincoln’s election as president), they sought other means such as military aggression by right of force and coercion. Thus, the Civil War occurred. Nevertheless, who was the aggressor in the Civil War is very hard to say, but in the decades leading up to it, I’m certain it wasn’t the North.
- “But you see many black people with a Confederate Flag. So how can it be racist?”
Now Confederate Flag defenders love to show black people with the banner they love to prove it’s not racist. However, symbols and words can carry a different meaning than what the individual intends. Such actions don’t disprove the Confederate Flag as a racist symbol regardless of the individual’s race or ethnicity. In fact, most African Americans view the Confederate Flag as racist. So sorry, Kanye West.
Like I said, symbols and words can carry meanings that stand independently of any individual’s subjective interpretation. There may be African Americans who may not think the Confederate Flag is a racist symbol. But this doesn’t mean that all blacks share this view. In fact, most blacks usually link the Confederate Flag to white supremacy as well as anti-black suppression and terrorism. And history shows that they have a compelling reason to believe this since the “Lost Cause” myth as well as its use by politicians
- “But various Southern Rock groups used the Confederate Flag like Lynyrd Skynyrd.”
Since the 1960s and 1970s, many Southern Rock bands have used Confederate Flag imagery. Lynyrd Skynyrd is the most famous among them. However, since 2012, the band has stopped using the flag on their albums and promotional materials due to racist connotations. Same goes for Wal Mart and NASCAR in recent years.
Yes, but Lynyrd Skynyrd has distanced themselves from that symbol since 2012 and has stopped using the flag on their albums and promotional materials. This was over the racist connotations. And since the Charleston shooting, it has been dropped by various retailers, flag manufacturers, and NASCAR.
- “The Civil War’s been over for 150 years so why waste our time over arguing about the Confederate Flag?”
As long as people revere and celebrate the Confederate Flag, then they shall carry the banner of a heritage that embodies nothing but the worst of their history. The Confederate Flag is nothing but a white supremacist symbol that advocates racism, hate, and violence against African Americans. It always has been and always will. We need to take it down for good.
Yes, slavery may be over. But the racism is still alive and well which affects those victimized by it whether it be through violence or the system. Blacks still find themselves discriminated against, undervalued, and negatively stereotyped, especially in the South. And whenever African Americans demonstrated in Ferguson and Baltimore over unlawful police killings saying “Black Lives Matter,” there were plenty of whites who saw them as nothing but disrespectful thugs (which may be true for some but that’s beside the point). White supremacy groups still remain in this country and they still do terrible things. Even though many may not be violent or perhaps racist, many still display the Confederate Flag believing it represents something that it doesn’t. And we still have Americans still expressing reverence for the “Lost Cause” myth which is still taught in American schools, especially since textbook companies still cater to Texas. But if we didn’t have slavery, the Civil War, and Martin Luther King Day, then I’m sure that much of African American history would be ignored in the classroom. Not to mention, when it comes to antebellum slavery, schoolchildren are more likely to read Uncle Tom’s Cabin than The Autobiography of Frederick Douglass: American Slave. Not only that, but the “Lost Cause” myth also distorts the American Civil War that paints a picture of the conflict which had nothing to do with the reality.