Whose Confederate Heritage?
This story out of Haywood County, North Carolina about the display of the Confederate flag on public ground is perfect for helping us to move beyond the popular narratives of North v. South and black v. white. It’s a fairly straightforward story:
For years, David Crook had been making monthly rounds past the Confederate Memorial on the lawn of the historic courthouse and tucking a tiny flag into the ground at its base. And for years, an anonymous person who felt the flag carried negative symbolism had been pulling them up. “They kept disappearing,” said Thomas Shepard, whose own ancestors fought for the South. “So we kept replacing them.” The flag tug-of-war gradually ramped up, with a new one being put down and pulled up almost daily. The county was forced to wade into the fray in June, when a local attorney complained about the tiny flag display and asked the county to intervene.
County officials decided to remove the flags for good and this enraged those who see the flag as central to their understanding of the Southern/Confederate past. What I find interesting is the way in which this debate has been framed by the local newspaper. They refer to flag advocates as “Confederate supporters” but this tells us very little about the wide range of views held by white Southerners re: their past.
Despite the heated emotions on display in the comments section of the article no one in this dispute has a monopoly on Confederate heritage. It turns out that not all (perhaps not even a majority) of white Southerners have a deep need to see the Confederate flag on public property. This does not imply that they hate their past or are ashamed of it in any way. It doesn’t even necessarily imply that they have a problem with the Confederate flag. Are we really going to argue that the UDC has turned its back on standing up for a meaningful Confederate past simply because it refuses to press the issue on the Confederate flag? The UDC is the organization responsible for placing the marker on courthouse grounds in 1940. Does anyone else not see the UDC as the last line of defense against the trivialization of the Confederate flag by its so-called “supporters.” It must be upsetting to some that they can’t frame this debate along racial lines or even as a legacy of those meddling carpetbaggers. Even H.K. Edgerton and his fancy t-shirts seem just a little out of place here.
This is just another example of why extreme flag advocates have become gradually more marginalized in the South. It’s not because they are victims or because they are being discriminated against or even because others will not learn their history. Their mistake is in their assumption that the flag means the same thing to all people (even white Southerners) and that it is indispensable to maintaining a meaningful connection to the past.