To Fly or Not Fly the Confederate Flag: It’s All About Context
There seems to be some confusion about my response to yesterday’s story surrounding a list of demands made by students at W&L concerning their school’s relationship with Confederate heritage. Let me assure you that my response is perfectly consistent with positions taken in the past.
Here are a couple of comments from the post.
Kevin……..Don’t try a two face turn now. This is exactly what you have wanted and backed. First it was take the Confederate flag of government property, now it is colleges and public property. They will not stop until they have destroyed the right of Southerners to honor and celebrate their heritage. Where does it stop ? It stops t at the beginning of my property !!! I will fly whatever flag I care to fly and if it offends them or you, all I can say is……….Tough.
I’m with Pat and the law students on this, and I’m surprised at your dismissive attitude, Kevin. Kevin, a view that you have expressed many times on your blog is, to paraphrase, that “the community should decide how to commemorate their history”. These law students are part of the W&L community, and they are trying to change minds through argument and protest. If I worked or studied at W&L I’d be out there supporting them. I think what they are doing is wholly admirable, and I hope they are successful in getting W&L to distance itself from neoconfederate nostalgia and worship of the Marble Man. I think the idea of an “apology” for past institutional sins is a bit off point, but the implicit demand that the college be open about its past as a pillar of upholding white supremacy in Virginia is something I applaud.
First, it’s not every day that I upset both sides of such a divisive issue.
I’ve always maintained that when it comes to the display of the Confederate flag and other things Confederate history/heritage that context matters. Confederate flags ought to be displayed in a few select places, including museums, cemeteries, and specific structures that have a clear historical connection. One such place is the Lee Chapel on the campus at W&L. I was disappointed to read in many of the comments an assumption that the faculty and administration take a cavalier attitude when it comes to this aspect of their school’s legacy. Nothing could be further from the truth. I know for a fact that faculty use the site to interpret any number of issues related to the school’s history, the history of the Confederacy and the South and the broader nation’s story. In short, W&L is not a bastion of Lost Cause nostalgia.
That said, even though I disagree with the specifics articulated in the petition, I do believe that school administrators ought to take these students seriously. They are part of the community. No doubt, the concerns listed reflect broader concerns about race on campus and they ought to be addressed. The school may even need to adjust the way it utilizes this particular space. And this brings us to a comment by Richard Williams, who has contorted himself into believing that I am somehow “surprised” by this development.
Though Kevin and I rarely agree on anything, I think his take on this latest PC controversy is correct. However, I’m not quite sure why Kevin (and others) seem to be a bit surprised or think this effort goes too far. After all, this is simply the natural progression of political correctness and Confederate history bashing – which often takes place on Kevin’s blog.
As usual, Williams trots out the victim card when more substantive arguments are unavailable. I am not surprised by anything; in fact, like I said above I welcome the discussion between students and administrators. I am confident that the school can make a case for maintaining the chapel the way it is without offending certain segments of the community. It’s an important structure with a rich history that has been and will continue to be properly interpreted.
If Williams wants to know why Confederate heritage is in retreat in much of his beloved “Old Virginia” all he has to do is take a close look at his own argument and that of others who style themselves defenders of Confederate/Southern heritage. Pointing the finger at commenters on my blog or the “PC” police only masks the fact that their arguments are intellectually and morally bankrupt. Whine and complain all you want, but the reason the symbols and stories that you care most about are slowly disappearing is that you have not made a compelling case to maintain them in public spaces. Blame yourselves.
The difference is that W&L has and will continue to make a reasonable case to maintain the Lee Chapel for the benefit of its community and visitors from around the country and beyond.