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.