If a Confederate Flag Flies in the Forest and No One Can See It…

…Does it Really Matter?

Earlier today the Virginia Flaggers held a dedication ceremony for their new Confederate battle flag that flies atop a 50 foot pole along I-95 in Chesterfield County. My biggest concern was that the flag would constitute a major eye sore for motorists along this stretch of highway, but based on the few photographs that I’ve seen, unless you know exactly where to look for it, you are very likely going to miss it entirely. So ends this latest round of Flagger follies.

The Flaggers had every right to express themselves in this way and I suspect that the ceremony was meaningful for everyone who attended. However, there is something very sad about what took place today. Susan Hathaway and the rest of the Flaggers meant for this to be a friendly welcome to visitors to Richmond – a signal that Confederate heritage is very much alive in the region. But what I will likely never understand is why it was necessary to begin with. Richmond is a city that proudly promotes its Confederate history and heritage for the world to see. No one is trying to hide anything.

You can spend days in Richmond touring sites related to the Confederacy and the Confederate soldier and there are plenty of flags to be seen. There are the small Confederate flags that adorn the graves of soldiers in beautiful Hollywood Cemetery. You can tour The Museum of the Confederacy, Virginia Historical Society, and American Civil War Center and National Park Service headquarters all of which include real Confederate flags and much more. They haven’t been whitewashed from Charles Hoffbauer’s beautiful murals at the Virginia Historical Society. You can sometimes find them along Monument Avenue and on the numerous battlefields in the Richmond area. And that just scratches the surface.

The point being that no one is preventing anyone from remembering the Confederate soldier. In fact, quite the opposite is true.

In my opinion, what is sad is that the Virginia Flaggers don’t view this rich landscape of monuments, grave sites, museums, and battlefields as worthy of their full attention. I can’t help but think of the various ways in which the money raised for this project could have been used to maintain or improve any number of these sites.  Perhaps the Flaggers themselves don’t feel welcome at these sites or care enough to see them preserved. Instead, the Flaggers would have the public believe that something is missing. Yes, another Confederate flag without any context or meaning.

Let me try to put this in perspective for you. The Virginia Flaggers first appeared over two years ago in protest over the removal of Confederate flags in front of the chapel at the Soldiers’ Home in Richmond. Earlier today and only after raising sufficient funds they raised a flag off of a major highway that no one will see. Meanwhile, back at the chapel you can walk inside and see Confederate flags on beautiful stained-glass windows and hanging throughout the hall. Those flags tell an important story involving real Confederate veterans that ought to be preserved and shared with the community.

I can’t help but think that the time and energy that went into this ridiculous highway project tells us a great deal about the Flaggers’ commitment to promoting Richmond’s Confederate past. I’ve seen enough.

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21 comments… add one
  • TF Smith Sep 30, 2013 @ 19:11

    Maybe it was actually a cleverly disguised piece of anti-racist performance art? KInd of an “Sokal Affair” sort of thing?

    You know, kind of meta? I hear all the cool kidz are doing it…

  • Brad Sep 30, 2013 @ 10:42

    Some of the comments (Keith Harris’ and Jimmy Dick’s and the end result) make clear that too much attention was given to the flaggers and we would have been better off mostly ignoring them.

    • Kevin Levin Sep 30, 2013 @ 10:54

      I don’t know how to objectively answer the question of how much attention the Flaggers deserve. I gave them as much attention on this blog as I think it deserved or I would not have blogged about it.

  • Heather Michon Sep 29, 2013 @ 5:29

    Someone on the RTD comment stream pointed out, too, that if you plan on flying a large flag on a tall flagpole 24/7, in all types of weather, very close to one of the most heavily-traveled highways in the United States, what you’re going to end up with is a tattered, dirty flag that needs to be replaced at least once a year at a cost of several thousand dollars a pop.

    I think we’ve all had experiences where something sounded great in our heads, but not so much in execution, A big pile of money looks big….until you start pricing out land in Henrico and realize you can only afford the butt-end of Chesterfield. A 225 square foot flag looks ginormous on the ground….not so big at the top of a 50 foot poll surrounded by 48 foot tall Virginia pines. If you don’t deal with big flags, you don’t realize that big flags catch the wind more easily than small ones, and so they fray faster and wear out faster. If you don’t know much about the wind, you don’t realize windspeed is greater 50 feet up than at ground level, and you don’t realize that heat lifting off the interstate is going to create even more of it.

    This are mistakes we could all make. But in this case, it just seems so much more indicative of the flawed logic, flawed history and flawed focus of the Flaggers.

    • Kevin Levin Sep 29, 2013 @ 5:42

      Which brings me back to all of the things that could have been done with that money to improve any number of historic sites in Richmond. I can’t imagine how embarrassed Susan and the rest of the crew must feel right now. Or perhaps they are completely oblivious to it all.

      • Heather Michon Sep 29, 2013 @ 6:37

        They would probably rather impale themselves on the flagpole than admit this turned out to be less-than-glorious. But it’s equally likely that they see something quite different than we do when they gaze upon their accomplishments.

        • Kevin Levin Sep 29, 2013 @ 6:38

          No doubt.

  • Patrick Young Sep 29, 2013 @ 3:38

    When you make such a big deal about putting up a flagpole, something that happens every day, and you get this headline in the Richmond Times Dispatch,

    “Confederate flag difficult to see along I-95 in Chesterfield”

    you have to wonder whether their interest is in heritage, racial politics, or comedy.


    • Kevin Levin Sep 29, 2013 @ 3:50

      They obviously did not think things through. But even if it had been done properly, I am still left wondering why a group whose origins are squarely in Richmond would take their cause to a remote spot with absolutely no significance.

      • Ken Noe Sep 29, 2013 @ 6:02

        “Here we may reign secure, and in my choyce
        To reign is worth ambition though in Hell:
        Better to reign in Hell, then serve in Heav’n”.

    • Michael Rodgers Sep 29, 2013 @ 6:37

      Reading the article, I was surprised by this comment from Susan Hathaway, “Richmond needed a reminder of her Confederate heritage.” I mean, has she ever been to Richmond? There are reminders all over the place!
      And here’s a gem of a place she might have missed: The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts manages a Confederate Chapel! They’ve got Confederate flags in the stained glass windows! And Confederate flags on display inside! And they’ve even got a a freestanding didactic panel picturing and interpreting the history of the Confederate national flag (all 3 versions) outside the Chapel!
      And the Confederate Chapel is available for rental for weddings, with nearly all the money going to the Sons of Confederate Veterans, because the VMFA only charges them $1 per year!

      • Kevin Levin Sep 29, 2013 @ 6:40

        Like I said, they chose to raise a Confederate flag in the middle of nowhere rather than highlight and/or improve some of the most important sites related to Confederate history/heritage that are visited by thousands of people every year. What more needs to be said.

        • Michael Rodgers Sep 29, 2013 @ 6:45

          I thought you might laugh a little. The didactic panel line is quoting from VMFA retired associate curator Elizabeth O’Leary, from here.

  • Patrick Young Sep 28, 2013 @ 14:47

    I am the proud owner of over 100 trees. I’ll let you in on a little insider’s secret. Trees grow. You may be barely able to see the flag now, but in a couple of years the trees will grow a bit taller and you won’t see it at all.

    • Kevin Levin Sep 28, 2013 @ 16:42

      Absolutely, but beyond that issue I don’t understand the motivation behind it. They say it’s about honoring Confederate soldiers, but the site has no connection to these men beyond the loose connection to their presence there between 1861-65. Why not get involved in a prominent site in Richmond itself with a direct connection? It makes no sense to me.

      • Patrick Young Sep 28, 2013 @ 17:41

        In my trips to the Richmond area the sense of the closeness to the Civil War, even though separated by the years, is almost thrilling. Preserving and expanding these sites would be more appropriate, but having seen the flaggers on youtube, I don’t doubt they would drive a lot of other folks away.

        They seem like sad and angry people. Hopefully being out in the woods, with the sound of I-95 as a soothing serenade, will give them some release from their pain as they contemplate the object of their devotion.

        • London John Sep 29, 2013 @ 2:17

          “the object of their devotion” – yes, they sound like a cult.

  • Mike Rogers Sep 28, 2013 @ 13:48

    What Keith said….might be the 21st century equivalent of the Potomac Canal “lockjaw” fiasco.

  • Jimmy Dick Sep 28, 2013 @ 12:23

    The floggers are a joke. The actual flag they created is a joke. Now we see where it is located and it is another joke. The whole thing has been one big joke since it started. It’s time to put them on /ignore and move on to something historical and relevant, which the floggers are neither.

  • Keith Harris Sep 28, 2013 @ 12:22

    I am not convinced that it mattered that much in the first place – apart from the comedic factor. But I will say this – it takes a very special group of people to 1) make such a stink over the right to fly a flag and 2) proceed to hide it in a grove of trees. Well played, flaggers…well played.

    • Kevin Levin Sep 28, 2013 @ 12:34

      No disagreement here, Keith. I do think there is something to be said about a group that raises money to place a Confederate flag in the middle of nowhere rather than using it to improve any number of sites directly related to the memory of Confederate soldiers in Richmond. Very strange indeed.

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