The Virginia Flaggers Have Overreached

Virginia Flaggers

Virginia Flagger founder, Susan Hathaway, defending Confederate heritage.

Update: Andy Hall is now weighing in on the Virginia Flaggers desperate bid for attention.

The I-95 project isn’t over-reach, but quite the opposite — it’s grabbing the low-hanging fruit. It’s confirmation that, for all their efforts to promote themselves as being in the vanguard of “restoring the honor” of Confederate veterans, the Virginia Flaggers are no more innovative or successful than a half-dozen SCV camps that have completed (or are working on) similar highway flag projects, from Florida to Texas. The I-95 project doesn’t challenge any institutional or powerful interests. It doesn’t require a successful challenge to authority or overturning any rule or regulation or city ordinance, and doesn’t require winning widespread public support. There are no great legal, administrative or public opinion obstacles to be overcome if your goal is limited to putting up a big-ass flag on private property — even in Lexington. The I-95 project just requires a relatively small amount of money and some willing supporters, both of which are easily obtained. It’s an easy and highly-visible accomplishment that, among the Flaggers’ supporters, will divert attention away from the resources invested in two high-profile disputes that have consumed thousands of volunteer hours and dollars, and have precious little to show for it – nor are ever likely to.

Yep. That pretty much says it all.

Brooks Simpson is spot on with his analysis of the decision on the part of the Virginia Flaggers to raise a large Confederate flag on I-95 and its likely consequences. This point, however, deserves a bit more attention.

Moreover, for all of the Flaggers’ talk about heritage, their choice of symbol and location leaves much to be desired, precisely because the flag is presented without context. Sure, Confederate heritage folks will see it as honoring the heritage they say so much about (although at times they are painfully vague about defining that heritage). However, other people will see it in different terms, and it will not help when some Flaggers make comments that define heritage in ways that others may find offensive.

This protest began over the removal by the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts of the Confederate flag from the Soldiers’ Home chapel in Richmond roughly three years ago. Let’s ignore for now whether the museum was justified in changing the terms of the lease that allowed a local SCV chapter to continue to utilize the building, but without the display of the Confederate flag. From the beginning I’ve stated that a good case can be made for some kind of display of the Confederate flag. After all, the ground and building were utilized by Confederate veterans and the flag remained an important symbol of the Lost Cause. Any flag display could easily be historically contextualized. Of course, that might involve working with museum officials to come up with some kind of compromise, but from the beginning the Flaggers have chosen to parade in front of the VMFA, stage conflicts with security and cry that their heritage is being attacked.

In all their time on the Boulevard the Flaggers have done nothing (beyond talking with passerbyes) to work to improve interpretation of the grounds or take seriously the need to educate the general public. Instead, they chose to protest the opening of the new branch of the Museum of the Confederacy at Appomattox for not flying a Confederate flag out front. At that point the group lost much of its credibility. It just didn’t make much sense to “synthetic flag” an organization that has devoted resources to preserving and interpreting historic Confederate flags. Or we could look at Virginia Flagger founder, Susan Hathaway’s protest of the Virginia Sesquicentennial Commission’s History Mobile in Fredericksburg not too long ago even though she never stepped one foot inside nor has she ever demonstrated any real knowledge of Civil War history beyond the tired platitudes that you will find cut and pasted on the Internet.

Which brings us to the planned I-95 flag pole. As Brooks correctly notes, this would be a flag without any historical context apart from the fact that it is flying in full view of the former Confederate capital. Richmonders and travelers will be free to interpret it in any way they choose. Flying a large Confederate flag will no doubt provide a cheap thrill for the group and garner even more media attention, but ultimately for the vast majority of people it will represent little more than a nameless reactionary movement with a flag fetish.

It bears no resemblance to the Flaggers’ initial calling in front of the Confederate Memorial Chapel, where serious work could have been done to preserve a small piece of Richmond’s rich history in the name of the Confederate soldier. This project has absolutely nothing to do with the Civil War soldier.

Prediction: There will be no Confederate flag on I-95 near Richmond.

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46 comments… add one
  • Joe Fiffick Aug 28, 2013 @ 12:26

    It’s funny you say they stole your flag. The KKK was a result of the South’s defeat and it was a way for former Confederates to the former slave population through violence and intimidation. The Confederacy is worse than the KKK because of it’s intent to enslave the black population, not to merely control it. I’m curious to what you want back? The right to rape, beat, sell and murder with impunity fellow Americans, whose only difference is the color of their skin?

  • R. Alex Raines Aug 28, 2013 @ 12:17

    Wow. I’m fairly impressed by the volume of hijacking of this thread that’s occurred.

    I’ve got an idea that will make millions for Civil War Memory. We need to be able to buy toilet paper with the C.S.A. Battle Flag on it.

    * Please note – At least I’m discussing the C.S.A. Battle Flag.

  • Joe Fiffick Aug 28, 2013 @ 12:10

    Problem is that the Heritage folks want to distance themselves from the issue of Slavery. If they embraced the fact that they were fighting for slavery then I have no problem with heritage argument.

  • Joe Fiffick Aug 28, 2013 @ 9:52

    Regading Steve comment about the slave trade and the Constitution. The Confederate Constitution did not end it because of some benevolent reason. It is because the Upper South States had a surplus of slaves and made a lot of money selling it to the lower South. Any importation of slaves from African would have depressed slave prices. Also participation in the slave trade was punishable by death since 1820 in the United States. Lincoln had a slave trader, Nathaniel Gordon executed on February 21, 1862 for that crime. I would say that effectively stopped the trading as the 74 cases that were tried before Gordon got only light sentences or none at all from Pro-slavery Presidents before Lincoln.

    • Steve Aug 28, 2013 @ 16:09


      Kevin Levin

  • Joe Fiffick Aug 28, 2013 @ 9:38

    You made the comment Steve that it took two years for the slavery issue to come to the forefront. That is not the case. The Crittenden Compromise(1860)was a last ditch effort to resolve the secession crisis was all about Slavery. The Peace Conference of 1861 which also tried to solve the crisis was all about slavery. Lincoln First Inaugural Addresses talks about the cause of the war, Slavery. You have the Southern Press and Secession Commisioners saying they were leaving the Union over Slavery. The First and Second Confiscation Act took away slaves from rebellious southerneres. Lincoln then issued the preliminary Emmancipation Proclamamtion which said either end the rebellion or you will forfeit your slaves. They did not. So the importance of the Emancipation Proclamation was to finally make it a war aim of the military to free slaves and to arm them as soldiers.

  • Joe Aug 23, 2013 @ 17:54

    What caused the war and what Lincoln fought for are two different things altogether. They do not need to be linked. Also Kevin points out that all you have to do is read the Secession commissioners and they will tell you what the war is about, Slavery. Yet I have not heard one comment from Steve Smith, Cmarsh or Caldwell about this. All you do is talk around this damning piece of evidence.

  • Steve smith Aug 22, 2013 @ 20:23

    Kevin, if the war was fought to end slavery, please explain West Virgine. Jan 1863 the proclamation of emancipation became effective, June 1863, West Virgina joined the union as as a slave state. A newly formed slave states at that! If the South wanted to keep slavery, then the southern states could of rejoined the union and kept the slaves. Along with the other slave states that did not secede and join the confederacy. 22 February 1863, the Constitution of the Confederate States stopped the importation and of Africans for slavery, it did allow the trading of slaves with in the Confederate states and only Confederate States.

    • Kevin Levin Aug 23, 2013 @ 2:46

      I believe the war was fought to preserve the Union. For many Northerners ending slavery helped to achieve this goal and ultimately made it a more secure nation given its founding principles.

      • Steve smith Aug 23, 2013 @ 21:18

        I believe the war was fought by the Yankees to preserve the union, yes. Free the slaves no! If it was to free the slaves, again explain West Virginia! How do you start a war, invade a sovereign nation to ” free” slaves yet have slave states in your own country and allow a new state to join as a slave state? Where were the slaves to go? Almost every Yankee state had laws forbidding blacks to settle in the state! If the war was to stop slavery, why
        was Grant not forced to free his slaves? I believe the war was more about preserving the union and getting the black race out! Yankees wanted a ” white” country!

        • Kevin Levin Aug 24, 2013 @ 1:11

          After 1863 preserving the Union and freeing the slaves were intertwined. It’s impossible to distinguish between the two given the scope of the Emancipation Proclamation. I suggest reading it. Beyond that your comment lacks any historical context.

          • Steve Smith Aug 25, 2013 @ 8:18

            Historical context? Let me get this straight, if in 1863 preserve the union and “freeing the slaves” became intertwined, why the initial invasion of the South in 1861? Why did it take two years for the slavery issue to come to the front? The constitution of the Confederacy stopped the importation of Africans for slavery in 1862. The northern states had no intentions of allowing the free men of color to stay in the northern states, the Missouri constitution of 1820 prohibited free blacks from entering the state. 1857, the Oregon territory also prohibited free blacks from entering, in addition to, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin. Iowa, kansas, Minnesota as well was California, Colorado and New Mexico had passed measures to keep blacks out. Where were the free slaves to go? Was the proclamation of emancipation a response to Lincoln’s failed original constitutional amendment of 1862 to buy and deport the slaves?

            • Joe Fiffick Aug 28, 2013 @ 7:52

              On your earlier post, Grant did not have to free his slaves because he did not own any. He got the one slave from his wife’s family when they were married which he freed before the war. He gave that slave his freedom instead of selling him back into bondage even though he was in financial straits himself. His father-in-law wouldn’t give Grant any more slaves because he knew he would free them. During the war when the slaves emancipated themselves on the Dent plantation, he did nothing to stop it.

  • Cmarsh Aug 21, 2013 @ 21:06

    I have to say Kevin that I think you were losing on this conversation. I happen to know quite a bit of information myself about Lincoln, the Dred Scott case, and Lincoln’s opinions about slavery before the Civil War and I think Caldwell had you beat on this discussion.

    • Kevin Levin Aug 22, 2013 @ 1:31

      I was clearly way out my league. 🙂

  • Caldwell Aug 18, 2013 @ 15:38

    Then you badly misunderstand both Dred Scott and the proposed 13th amendment that Lincoln referenced in his first inaugural. Lincoln loathed Dredd Scott and was publicly committed to reversing it. Dredd Scott had nothing to do with Lincoln’s commitment to protecting slavery.

  • Caldwell Aug 18, 2013 @ 15:22

    The Preamble to the Confederate Constitution has not one word about slavery. Not a single word. And insofar as period speeches are concerned, I do find it interesting that Lincoln fully supported a constitutional amendment that would have made slavery perpetual and irrevocable. I would think that that would upset you greatly, as concerned about slavery as you are.

    • Kevin Levin Aug 18, 2013 @ 15:26

      Read further.

      Of course he did. Lincoln also helped to bring about the end of slavery by 1865. It was Buchanan who asked Congress to formulate the amendment. As I understand it the amendment would have reaffirmed the Dred Scott ruling. Yes, Lincoln supported it. You seem to think that this is some major revelation. Finally, way to duck the content of the speeches from the likes of Davis, Stephens, etc. as well as the secession documents from the states that founded the Confederacy by February 1861.

    • Brooks D. Simpson Aug 22, 2013 @ 10:23

      “I do find it interesting that Lincoln fully supported a constitutional amendment that would have made slavery perpetual and irrevocable.”

      This is a common misreading of the text of the proposed Corwin Amendment, which would have restricted congressional power to mandate abolition. There were, of course, other ways to get at slavery, and secessionists understood that.

  • Caldwell Aug 18, 2013 @ 14:45

    No one doubts that the Confederates also founded an imperfect Nation. I notice you use The Preamble to the U.S. Constitution as an expression of why the United States was established. In like manner I will, of course, use the Confederate Preamble for the same purpose:

    “…in order to form a permanent Federal government, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity…”

    These are the reasons the Confederate States of America was ordained and established. Not a single word about slavery.

    • Kevin Levin Aug 18, 2013 @ 14:56

      I would suggest that you take another look. You should also take a look at the speeches of its leaders at the moment of its founding.

  • Caldwell Aug 18, 2013 @ 14:12

    Both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson owned, quite literally, hundreds and hundreds of slaves. They exploited them, beat them, sold them, and they raped them (well Jefferson did anyway). When viewing and visiting these locations, is it really possible to distinguish between those despicable and dishonorable acts, and their respective Patriotic efforts in seceding from Great Britain and securing American independence? And if it is possible to make that distinction, then it is certainly just as possible to make the same distinction between slavery in the Confederacy, and its own Patriotic efforts to secede and secure political independence.

    • Kevin Levin Aug 18, 2013 @ 14:16

      Washington and Jefferson established an imperfect nation. No one doubts this. Even the Constitution begins by noting this obvious fact (“In order to form a more perfect Union…”). Remember that? The Confederacy was founded specifically to protect slavery. It was founded on principles of inequality that were meant to be perpetual. It was intended to do what many in the South believed the United States was no longer willing to do.

    • Rob Baker Aug 18, 2013 @ 15:21

      In addition to Kevin’s points, Jefferson did not “beat,” or “rape” his slaves but actually fits the oxymoron narrative of a “good slave owner.” The one slave was Sally Hemmings, and research resoundingly recognizes the relationship as consensual.

  • Caldwell Aug 18, 2013 @ 12:53

    The obvious social value in any display of the Confedetare Flag is its ability to stimulate discussions on slavery. It is an opportunity to remind the general population that when the war was fought, slavery was perfectly legal in both the United States and the Confederate States. It is an opportunity to ask the anti-Flag censors “if the purpose is to destroy and eradicate symbols of slavery, racism, and white supremacy, why not demand the removal and destruction of the Washington Monument, the Jefferson Memorial, and the Lincoln Memorial”? Additionally, the presence of the Confederate Flag provides an opportunity to ask the censors “if the presence of institutional slavery undermined the Confederate right to political independence in 1861, why didn’t the presence of institutional slavery, and worse, the presence of the odious and nefarious New England slave trade, undermine the colonists right to political independence in 1776”?

    These questions, of course, only scratch the surface of the issue. So it is deeply disturbing that the anti-Flag censors seek to supress the first amendment rights of those wishing to both honor their ancestry and advance a poignant national discourse.

    • Kevin Levin Aug 18, 2013 @ 12:58

      The Washington Monument, Jefferson Memorial are not symbols of slavery. The Confederate flag ultimately represented a nation that was founded to protect and expand slavery. No one is attempting to “suppress” the First Amendment rights of anyone. The Flaggers have every right to fly their flag on private property and those who are against it have the right to speak out and even try to prevent it within legal means that do not violate the right to free speech.

  • TF Smith Aug 18, 2013 @ 11:37

    I’m trying to come up with an analogous group within modern day white, working-to-middle-class America, that are so obsessed with a fictitious interpretation of a losing political cause from 150 years ago that this is how they chose to spend their leisure time…

    Are there (cripes, I dunno) LDS reenactors lobbying for the right to commemorate their polygamous ancestors (real or imagined) alongside the interstate in Utah? Molly Maguire re-enactors in Pennsylvania?

    What is the sociological or psychological diagnosis for this sort of phenomenon?

    • Bob McDonald Aug 18, 2013 @ 19:44
      • TF Smith Aug 19, 2013 @ 6:34

        That about sums it up…

    • Patrick Young Aug 19, 2013 @ 7:30

      TF Smith, I don’t know of Molly Maguire reenactors, but I know people who defend them as well as the Haymarket anarchists as defenders of the rights of workers. The Molly Maguires were the subject of two moderately popular songs in the 1960s, Make Way for the Molly Maguires and (the more disapproving) Lament for the Molly Maguires.

      Down the mines no sunlight shines
      Those pits they’re black as hell
      In modest style they do their time
      It’s Paddy’s prison cell
      And they curse the day they travelled far
      And drown their tears with a jar

      Make way for the Molly Maguires
      They’re drinkers, they’re liars, but they’re men
      Make way for the Molly Maguires
      You’ll never see the likes of them again

      The Haymarket anarchists are commemorated yearly in the international celebration of May Day by workers around the world.

      Go figure.

    • Steve Jan 1, 2014 @ 2:02

      We are not white, we are black, white, Native American, Chinese and Hispanic. We do not seek nor require your approval, opinion, or guidance on how we, Southerners honor our ancestors. Why are you guys so obsessed with folks who honor Our southern heritage? Are you as concerned about other ethnic groups that came to America because their homelands sucked so bad they left?

      • Kevin Levin Jan 1, 2014 @ 3:29

        So Southerners are now an ethnic group? Now I’ve heard everything.

        • Steve Jan 5, 2014 @ 16:37

          I like the way you deflect the question(s) and focus on minute portions or you miss the entire subject matter of the question(s). I have seen several of your answers where you twisted the question to make the answer completely off subject, leads me to believe A) your reading comprehension is not very good- I find hard to believe or B) you do not have a good answer so your only recourse is to twist the question – more believable. I simply asked a question about why do you focus on people who honor their Confederate / Southern ancestry? That was the question. Do they offend you?

  • southernhistorian Aug 18, 2013 @ 10:58

    Hmm, a CSA flag along I-95. Makes sense. Didn’t Lee’s men take that highway to Sharpsburg?

    • Kevin Levin Aug 18, 2013 @ 11:01

      Of course, because they could always stop at Cracker Barrel along the way.

      • Brooks D. Simpson Aug 18, 2013 @ 11:17

        Actually, the last time Confederates were in the area under discussion, they were leaving for a week-long trip westward.

      • Philip Clark Smith Sep 10, 2013 @ 14:32

        There were numerous military engagements in the area along the I-95 corridor south of Richmond. You are a scholar. Sarcasm does not add to your discussion.

        • Kevin Levin Sep 10, 2013 @ 14:54

          Thanks for the advice. 🙂

          • Jerry Dunford Dec 25, 2013 @ 10:13

            While the postings may be older, they never the less give a clear picture of the one sided, erroneous, statements to belittle, and slander those brave soldiers, who sacrificed all to defend their states and families, against the hordes of FEDERAL INVADERS that were in Virginia to rob, pillage and steal what they could, to burn and destroy personal property. Little men like Levin, Simpson, Meyer, Dick, Mackey, and the other gang of homo’s who have nothing accurate to say, so they just blog their sarcasm and lies.
            These little guys have no balls, no guts, no courage, had they been alive then, not a damn one of these would have volunteered to go into the army, unless their was some gay group that serviced the soldiers back in the rear, that’s where that would have been.

            • Kevin Levin Dec 25, 2013 @ 10:18

              Mr. Dunford,

              Thanks for sharing your homophobia with the rest of the world on Christmas Day. Sorry to see that you are not spending it in a more meaningful way. Very sad. Hope you have a more enjoyable New Years.

  • Shawn Aug 18, 2013 @ 5:51

    Battle flags are so 2008. The Third National Flag is the new hotness. Leave it to Florida to lead the way.

    • Kevin Levin Aug 18, 2013 @ 6:45

      Doesn’t pack the same punch for the Flaggers.

      • Frank Williams Aug 24, 2013 @ 17:01

        It’s a treasonous, racist flag.

        • Steve Aug 26, 2013 @ 19:45

          Treasonous? How? Not one confederate was tried for treason, Jeff Davis welcomed a trial, his innocence would of proved the Confederacy’s legitimacy! Racist, google KKK Washington D.C. You will be amazed at the number of the sheet wearing cowards and not one Flag of the Confederacy will be found in the KKK rallies of the 20’s! The KKK stole our battle flag, we aim to take it back!

        • VA4Life Aug 27, 2013 @ 19:58

          Both sides are right, it is Heritage, it is Slavery, but now we are all Americans. Try to understand each other.

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