What Will You Put Up In Its Place?

I get it.  The Confederate flag is offensive to many African Americans.  What has become something of a mantra within the black community is arguably the clearest example of a collective voice that for far too long was kept silent in discussions about how our Civil War ought to be remembered.  While I support calls to take down Confederate flags in a few select places I tend to resist the idea of tearing things down that provide windows into our nation’s past.  These calls almost always reveal deep frustration and bitterness, but they rarely involve education and understanding.  John Hennessy is correct in pointing out the deep chasm between white and black Americans when it comes to Civil War memory.

This most recent case in Atlanta concerning a Confederate flag situated next to a monument marking the graves of 400 soldiers is a perfect example.  The problem came to light following the funeral of SCLC President Rev. Howard Creecy, Jr.  Mourners noticed the flag in the distance and this led Rev. Benford Stellmacher to demand that the cemetery take the flag down.  He discovered, however, that the land is private property and belongs to the Sons of Confederate Veterans.  In my view, there is nothing inappropriate about the placement of this flag.  It’s not that I happen to agree with the SCLC in its recognition that this particular plot is private property or that it is not part of the cemetery itself it is that the flag marks a location that white residents decided to set aside for their fallen soldiers.

What Rev. Stellmacher never explains is what will be accomplished by pulling down this particular flag beyond his own emotional satisfaction.  What he should be doing, along with other African American leaders in the community, is figuring out how these sites can be incorporated into a narrative that encourages a closer identification and reconciliation with the past.  Monuments and other historic sites are always open to interpretation.  We can choose to be offended by these sites or we can figure out a way to incorporate them as our own.  In doing so, the site or object is not simply divested of its power to offend, but it becomes a catalyst to a richer understanding of one’s place within the community and the nation.

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Interestingly, the SCLC seems content to keep this dispute at arm’s length, letting Rev. Creecy fight this one on his own:

Meanwhile, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference itself says they do not have a problem with the flag because it is not flying over the cemetery.

“Unfortunately, the confederate flag was a part of American history,” said SCLC interim president Isaac Newton Farris, Jr. “So I don’t think you can ever have a scenario where you blot it from history.”

There aren’t any easy answers here, and I wouldn’t expect the SCV, which owns the property on which the Confederate veterans are buried and the flag displayed, will be any less strident or obstinate in its own position. We’ve seen it played out a thousand times before — all heat, no light, and (regardless of how the individual case is resolved) each side comes away more convinced than ever that it’s the real victim here.

I’m reminded of the reenactment of the swearing-in of Jeff Davis earlier this year in Montgomery, where local civil rights groups reportedly made a decision not to protest the event, reasoning that they weren’t going to stop it regardless, and making a big, public confrontation out of it would really only serve to give the event more public attention than it actually got. In that particular case, that strategy seems to have worked well, and is a useful reminder that there are other alternatives to following the same, tired script. One wonders if Southron heritage groups took a lesson from that, too.

Of course, the biggest problem with the Battle Flag is not the 1860s; it’s the 1960s (and 1940s,& 1950s). You don’t see the same reaction or, for the most part, ANY reaction to the First National Flag of the Confederacy or even the current South Carolina state flag which is very close if not identical to the flag that was raised in place of the US flag when South Carolina passed the first ordinance of secession. It’s the co-option of the Battle Flag as the symbol of Massive Resistance w/in the memories of many African-Americans and whites who are still alive today that, IMHO, gives it the emotional wallop that it does. I agree that trying to remove the Battle Flag from historic sites at which it is appropriate historically would be wrong, but the wounds that those who used in modern times inflicted are still raw. Care & sensitivity in dealing with those wounds is essential. Furthermore, the beliefs that caused those wounds are not gone. At one point, I was discussing the Flag controversy with one of my North Carolinian friends, not for the first time by a long shot. He was articulating the “heritage not hate” argument with great sincerity and passion. Finally, I asked him if he were a Black man walking along a road back home & he saw a big old pickup truck flying a big old Battle flag and filled with a bunch of good old boys making lots of noise, would his reaction be, “Oh good, reenactors” or “Oh my God, I’d better get out of her while I still can!”. He said, quietly, “I’d say, ‘Oh my God, I’d better get out of her while I still can!’ ”

On the other hand, as the SCLC recognized, one needs to pick one’s battles wisely. A Battle flag over a private, historic cemetery is not the same as if it flies over a government building, for instance.

the problem is the heritage is hate. they don’t celebrate the immense bravery of Lewis A Armistead and those that followed him to the wall.
Instead the heritage they celebrate is the hate of the United States,

The problem with the CBF is it is a very attractive flag.
if the only CSA flag was the S&B I think it would have faded away into obscurity and it wouldn’t be displayed everywhere as it is a very boring flag
I suppose I have little objection to it being placed on a soldiers grave.but on State capitol grounds it is an affront to America and not just Blacks.

Bravo, Ray, (and oops, Kevin),
The CBF is a part of our history, and as such may be appropriately displayed in a historical context. It is certainly every American’s right to display what they will on their own property. But that flag is indeed offensive to many of us who are not African-American. It is a symbol, and in this region a living symbol, not only of bondage, but of arms raised against our country. All of us ought to be offended by that. To imagine for a moment that it is the special and exclusive wound of African-Americans is to imagine that what it stands for was not a tragedy for us all.

I’m with y’all. The battle flag isn’t inappropriate in certain places. And of course people have the right to celebrate it or honor it all they want to. It just doesn’t need to be celebrated and honored over a statehouse or courthouse, or probably be a part of a state’s flag.

There is a context for displaying the Confed battle flag, and this seems to be it. The flag is part of history.

Flying it at the State Capitol is one thing, putting it next to a monument for dead Confederate soldiers is another.

Isn’t the Rev. Creecy the deceased? I think the name of the complainer got confused in Kevin’s posting.

Erected by the Confederate Veterans Association of Fulton County In Memory of Our Dead Comrades

Of Liberty Born Of A Patriots Dream Of A Storm Cradled Nation That Fell

They Shall Beat Their Swords Into Plough Shares
Nation Shall Not Rise Up Against Nation

And Their Spears Into Pruning Hooks
Neither Shall They Learn War Anymore

Kevin,
I just wanted to thank you for the link to Hennessy’s post. I just finished my summer research project on the African American memory of the Emancipation Proclamation and I wish I had found that post sooner about the rift between black and white Americans’ Civil War memory. But it brought up good points for me, personally and academically, and explained the concept in a way I haven’t seen yet.
-Snow

Hi Christian,

So glad to hear it proved helpful. Few NPS historians have done more to reach out to the African American community in their respective historians than John Hennessy.

Wow, so much to cover in this thread.

OK this cemetery is 35 miles from my house. 2 friends of mine drove by on 2 consecutive days to check things out. The day after the 3 Atlanta media outlets broke this huge non story, Rev Stellmacher was originally witnessed at the entrance to the cemetery. Groundstaff told him he must leave the property, which he didn’t. Atlanta PD came out 10 minutes after the initial confrontation and Rev Stellmacher retreated across the street to sit under a tree and call people on his cell phone. Alone.

There is a black man buried in alongside the 400 Confederates, by choice. He was shot dead just outside the cemetery as it is such a neighborhood. Eddie Page.

Cemetery contracts and Georgia Law protect the flags and cemetery plots against what Rev Stellmacher was attempting . While it is refreshing to hear the current SCLC take pause and display a cooler head, the same law that protects Confederate symbols and memorials to CS military figures was blatantly ignored in 2001 when (Colonel Turner) Ashby Street was renamed (SCLC Rev Joesph) Lowery Blvd. http://citycouncil.atlantaga.gov/2001/IMAGES/Adopted/0917/01O1310.pdf
(please note bold text)

Westview Cemetery also has a beautiful little memorial to the Battle of Ezra Church on site.

Lyle and Rob,
Relax my friends, there is no Confederate flags flying over any statehouses. Over a Confederate Memorial is most appropriate. But speaking of ‘statehouses’ and flags of a certain design (I assume you’re dancing around SC) We know what NAACP President Jealous has said of SC Gov Haley and the flag as of late. I came across this rebuttal 2 days ago.

http://thelinkpaper.ca/?p=9085

It has just opened up a whole new revelation to me on things I just took for granted. I will never look at Ghandi the same way again.

Whatever the flag meant, for a few / against a few, in the 50s and 60s (not everyone was waving it hatefully and not everyone was having it waved at them in violence) it holds far less of ‘that’ meaning today, yet this is what certain folks would have the hands of time frozen and that 1 specific meaning painted on it for the remainder of all time.

Perhaps you can explain how Ghandi is relevant to this story.

I don’t think anyone has suggested that “everyone” flew the flag as a symbol of racism in the 1950s and 60s, but what is clear is that it was used to send a clear message at important events and key places of political power. Given that fact, it is no surprise that for those who lived through that period the flag evokes strong feelings. Whether the flag will continue to evoke the same emotions has yet to be seen, but that is not up to any one individual to decide.

Ghandi, as applicable to this thread IMHO:

This thread is a story of Westview Cemetery, Rev Benford Stellmacher, his attempts at removal of memorial flags.

This paragraph from a companion article – Patch, written by Jamie Cox -
“…He (Stellmacher) and other demonstrators, some of whom have family buried at the landmark southwest Atlanta cemetery, 1680 Ralph David Abernathy Blvd., said they believe the flags should be removed.
“This is an egregious act,” said Stellmacher, gazing at the flag. “[It] insults the integrity of Dr. King’s whole theory.”

One of MLK’s methods was peaceful ‘non violent’ protesting taken from Ghandi teachings

Rob, Ray, and Lyle imply South Carolina Statehouse Confederate Flag flying.

Since the common links of King, SC Statehouse, and Flag removal efforts in this thread prior to my entry, I recalled the article I read recently rebutting NAACP Pres Jealous attack on Gov Nikki Haley http://thelinkpaper.ca/?p=9085 which goes way down deep into the history of Gov Haley’s people, Ghandi’s history, and lots of eye popping information I was not aware. I have grown up believing Ghandi and King were ‘joined at the hip’ in thier life struggles, after taking it for face value all my life, I have done some new brief (but will do more) research and now feel used and dirty on this bit of ‘history’ and felt such info needed to be shared.

Perhaps your posters already knew, perhaps not. I think I have tied Ghandi to this thread properly.

Perhaps you can explain who is engaging in violent acts. I don’t see that. I’ve already stated that folks have strong emotions over this symbol, which is why it is in the news – with the help of a mainstream media that feeds off these stories. I’ve been very clear about where I stand on this issue and don’t have anything more to add.

I still fail to see why we need to reference Gandhi.

Billy-Perhaps you could explain how the reasoning in your final paragraph applies to many, not a few, who are still alive from that era but that it does not apply to you and those who believe like you.. Whether your understanding of its meaning from the 1860s is correct or not, that definition is a century older than the one you want people to get over.

Miss Margaret,

Glad you asked!
OK I was born in 1964. My dad was career Army (48 active/civil service years) so our family bounced around the globe. My only experience with the US civil rights era is what I read in history books. I was never part of bussing, By the time I entered US schools integration had already been a way of life for over 12 years. I grew up alongside kids of all races and had black, hispanic and deaf/mute friends. All that social termoil never reached my house.

I acknowlege there was ‘racial strife and unrest’ in the 50s and 60s, but those were ‘crimes’ of people of my parents and grandparents generation. But it is also people of my parent’s and our generations that have ‘made things right’

I have worked in a chinese resturant and saw 1st hand the ‘racial strife and unrest’ that still exists between older chinese and japanese people (something to do with the whole WW2 thing) but the younger folks just rolled thier eyes. I kinda see what Rev Stellmachher reflects on when first glancing at a flag and recalling his youthful generation of 6 decades ago, but his actions towards a benign symbol in a peaceful context and actions against a conquered and long dead foe of the 50s and 60s because he must maintain a certain ‘activist’ lifestyle for continuing ‘street cred’ makes me roll my eyes.

I can say ‘lots who believe like me’ agree with Booker T. Washington’s 1910 quote on those who would keep old greivances of blacks in front of everyone’s attention so as to keep a job. See Sharpton, Jackson, and Stellmacher as great examples.

But the point is that for Rev. Stellmacher and many others that flag is not a “benign symbol” and never will be given its history. What I find interesting is that on the one hand you claim to maintain a strong personal connection to the past through identification with various symbols and yet you seem to disregard the same process at work in others when it conflicts with yours. You refer to it as “activist” as a way to de-legitimatize while you ask everyone else to honor your preferred interpretation as permanent and original.

Kevin.

I love you man! You are the greatest!
When I took interest in the 1861-1865 period and my Confederate ancestors, I was shown info on the creation of, reasons for, uses by, and meaning of the Confederate flag. I studied those original sources from Johnston, Miles and Beauregard and made it part of my mission to respect them as they were originally designed. I keep all my efforts directed towards that end. I can no more portray what a few nuts wanted the flag to mean for them in the 1960s than an Elvis Pressley impersonator can channel Metallica

Billy,

You said: “I can no more portray what a few nuts wanted the flag to mean for them in the 1960s than an Elvis Pressley impersonator can channel Metallica.” I suggest you read John Coski’s book on the history of the Confederate flag. I simply do not know how to respond to the assertion that the use of the flag as a symbol of massive resistance was the work of a “few nuts.” It suggest to me that you simply do not understand the history of the flag’s importance during that tumultuous period.

“…for Rev. Stellmacher and many others that flag is not a “benign symbol” and never will be given its history.”

You are correct. I happen to be one of those “many others.” I was born 11 years earlier than Mr. Bearden. From my childhood on that flag has symbolized, “Beware!-here-be-white-folks-who-mean-you-no-good.” It was true in Kansas of the ’50s and 60s, California in the ’70s and ’80s (it’s not all L.A. and San Francisco, y’know) and Missouri, where I now reside.

I have no issues with the flag being flown over a grave or in a private or memorial setting. Hell, I don’t even have an issue with my neigbor who uses it as curtains in one of the street-facing rooms of his house. But my question is this: If this flag is, as its defenders state, such a sacred symbol of “Southern heritage” why do they not speak out more against those who misuse said symbol as a statement and advertisement of racial and religious hatred and bigotry? Why is this never addressed? Could it be because such hatred and bigotry *are* a part of “Southern heritage?”

My experience overwhelmingly suggests that folks who wish to display the flag are not doing it as a symbol of racism. The problem, however, is that these tend to be the same people who argue that the symbolism of the flag can and should be disconnected from its dark past and that is something that no one has the right to insist.

Michael,

It does happen, more than you’ll ever know, but those stories just aren’t ‘salacious’ enough for the same media who prefers black and white conflicts. Life in America would be so much better were it not for what Rush terms “Drive By – media”

There is a regular poster on here , Arliegh Birchler, who went to Mississippi with Georgia Heritage Council member Jeff Davis and black Confederate activist Bob Harrison and opposed the KKK in a rally they held there. Another time of recent note another group went and opposed the klan at Sharpsburg. They have been openly opposed by flag supporters as long as I have been (10 years) in this activity – from Gettysburg to Florida to Texas. I have written a state kkk leader numerous times and added LTTEs in opposition.

What have I learned. The kkk is very very small. counter protestors always outnumber them. yet to hear it told they are still as strong as in the 1920s. Whatever they were back then isn’t the way it is now.

The KKK is not the only white supremacist group in the U.S. I agree that their time is over. But that bunch aren’t the only ones who use the CBF as a symbol of their bigotry and hatred. Their mantle has been taken up by the likes of Aryan Nations, National Alliance, White revolution, Volksfront, Hammerskins, etc.

My concern is that both sides in this dispute continue to focus on what they believe to be the most extreme elements. African Americans often assume that everyone who chooses to display a Confederate flag or honor an ancestor is somehow a racist while those in the Confederate camp often fail to acknowledge the complex history of this symbol and choose to believe that anyone who expresses concern is out destroy Southern heritage. On top of that we have a mainstream media which feeds off these stories. Both sides need to take a step back and learn to empathize just a bit.

An excellent point and valid concern, Kevin. Part of what I find attractive about your articles and comments is the element of (for lack of a better term) non-partisan neutrality that you bring to these subjects. These days I strive not to be reactionary about the image of the BCF. I don’t automatically assume that its display has racist intent.

Unfortunately, for me there will always be a certain visceral wariness upon seeing it. I’m not talking about cemeteries or memorials or even commemorative parades or private homes. I’m talking displays that experience and perception have taught me probably have less than honorable intent. Perhaps its a function of my age, perception, experience and location.

In any case, your observation is spot on for the most part.

While you are right that not all who fly the CBF are racist. for Blacks it is the symbol of oppression of lynching and riding in the back of the bus and those who fly it need to understand that.

what someone might think is harmless heritage scares the crap out of another. while displaying the CBF on a soldiers should be obviously a heritage thing, someone with it tattooed can be scary to a black.

Walpole High School in Walpole Ma calls it’s sports teams the Rebels and for years the CBF was the logo. in the late 90s it was changed to crossed sabres. Walpole wasn’t using the CBF to honor the CSA treason or for racial reasons. To them like many others it symbolizes rebelliousness and non-conformity and the tough grittiness the town prided itself on. but that doesn’t really fly anymore and these days everyone should realize that.

I am not necessarily denying anything that you’ve stated here. All I am suggesting is that when we make unqualified generalizations we are reinforcing our own fears and pushing away any chance to have a meaningful exchange.

Ray,
Nice try, but history shows that neither of the flags you link to were present on any field of battle over Confederate forces

The State Flags of BOTH Mississppi and Georgia have designated the stars on thier respective flags represent the 13 Original Colonies

The Confederate Veterans of Mississippi requested the ’13 Colony’ caveat when they created it in 1894, the politicians in Georgia specifically killed an amendment in 2004 to designate the 13 stars for Confederate States

While a technical point, the current Georgia flag is based on the ‘pre 56′ version flag, not a 1st National specifically. The Pre 56 flag was the one that State Rep Tyrone Brooks had submitted bills for 20 years to return to, and the organization that Tyrone Brooks represents Ga Association of Elected Black Officials urged all supporters to choose the current state flag instead of the previous blue Gov Barnes flag.

Further, the Ga Chamber of Commerce was a huge supporter of Gov Barnes efforts to change the flag, and squelch the old 1956 state flag. When Gov Perdue’s flag won, the GaCoC proclaimed victory – alongside GABEO.

As someone who lives in Georgia, I do not look upon the current flag as anything remotely close to ‘Confederate”

Ray,

I appreciate very much the visual aids. I grant you that , yes, they do in fact ‘look similar’
But you must admit that just because something ‘looks similar’ it doesn’t mean the same thing.
The Republic of West Florida flag is not the Bonnie Blue flag of Secession fever, Nor is the Bonnie Blue flag the National flag of Somalia – all 3 ‘look similar’ but the designation of the star alters its meaning and message. Mississippi and Georgia intentionally designated thier stars would be for the 13 colonies.
Other similarities in flags
http://boatsafe.com/nauticalknowhow/flags.htm
Scotland’s flag and letter ‘M’
French flag and letter ‘S’
Alabama state flag and letter ‘V’
Hardee Pattern Battle flag and #2

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