How many times have we heard from a member of the SCV or someone loosely associated with the organization that the Confederate flag is not a symbol of hate, but a symbol of heritage and pride in the service of Confederate ancestors? My goal with this post is not to rehash old arguments about whether the SCV or the Confederate flag is sufficiently inclusive to represent how the majority of Southerners perceive regional identification, but to inquire into the SCV’s silence over recent abuses of their revered flag. A number of news outlets are reporting on an increase in racial crimes and other incidents since last week’s election.
There are two stories in the news concerning high school students – one in East Alabama and the other in Bandera, Texas – who are wearing the Confederate flag in the wake of the election of Barack Obama. Even reputable institutions of higher learning such as Cal Poly are having to address the issue with their students. In this case students hung a Confederate flag and noose outside a window. A number of fellow bloggers reported on the North Carolina man who inverted an American flag and spray-painted an X through it to represent the Confederate flag.
This is a perfect opportunity for the SCV to issue a clear statement condemning these incidents; anything less is a tacit endorsement of the abuse of a symbol that they claim to hold dear. Their silence will likely make it that much more difficult to display their flag in ways that they deem to be proper and honorable. In those cases SCV leaders will no doubt argue that their heritage is being attacked, but what can they expect if the image that most Americans have (white and black) is of a flag used as a symbol of hate? This is the reason that I completely agree with John Coski who argues that the best place for the Confederate flag is in a museum where it can be properly interpreted. Allow it to circulate in our communities and you lose any claim of ownership or even authority in defining its “real” meaning.
I am looking forward to my talk in Fredericksburg next month on the anniversary of the battle. There will be a wreath-laying ceremony and the playing of taps. No doubt, there will be one or two Confederate flags involved. I have no problem with this as I am convinced that for many who will attend this ceremony the flag is a connection to ancestors that they believe deserve to be remembered. Of course, I say this as someone who does not view that flag simply as the symbol of the men who marched into battle, but as the flag of an army which fought under a nation created to perpetuate the institution of slavery. It is also the flag that was utilized as a symbol of “massive resistance” during the civil rights movement. The meaning of the flag, as is the case with most symbols, is never fixed. If the SCV continues to direct their energies and financial resources on silly projects such as the placement of large Confederate flags along major highways, such ceremonies as the one in Fredericksburg may soon be the only place where that flag has a chance of even being connected to the Civil War.