What the Protest at Washington & Lee University is Really About

Yes, the people who gathered in Lexington, Virginia are incensed about the removal of replica Confederate flags from Lee Chapel. They view it as a threat to their preferred narrative of the history of the Confederacy and the symbolism of the flag both during and after the war. The fact that the replicas will be replaced by original flags appears to have been lost by just about everyone. It suggests to me that this is not entirely about the removal of flags, but about who instigated it. 

This is about the fact that it was a group of African-American students who successfully petitioned their school to acknowledge their interpretation of the Confederate flag. It is a reminder that African Americans will never subscribe to their preferred interpretation of this history and its iconography.

The Confederate heritage movement has gone to great lengths in recent years to shape their stories to appeal to African Americans and other minorities. This butchering of the Lost Cause narrative likely goes beyond what most Confederates themselves would acknowledge as a realistic depiction of their cause. The rise of the black Confederate narrative in the 1970s is the most obvious example of this revisionist agenda.

In the end groups like the Virginia Flaggers can highlight their black member and post all of the photographs of black passers-by on the Boulevard they want on their websites. The SCV can schedule an unlimited number of appearances with H.K. Edgerton. The racial profile of the students is a reminder that this project has largely been a failure.

The hysteria on display by the Confederate heritage community belies the fact that the students in question actually got very little of what they demanded. You decide.

CraterThanks for reading this post. Scroll down, leave a comment and join the conversation if you are so inclined. Follow me on Twitter and join the Civil War Memory Facebook group for continuous updates and additional links to newsworthy items from around the interwebs. Stay up to date by subscribing to this blog’s feed. You can also check out my recently published book, Remembering the Battle of the Crater: War as Murder.

3 comments… add one

  • Rob Baker Jul 27, 2014

    The startling comments made about “The Committee,” especially in regards to their picture, adds legitimacy to your argument.

    • Kevin Levin Jul 27, 2014

      Yes and those comments are easily searchable for those who are interested.

  • Ted DeLaney Aug 3, 2014

    I think this is an excellent analysis of the situation. I am troubled, however, by how well the Flaggers narrative plays to many uninformed people. An African American friend was in a conversation with a visitor to Lexington who explained to him that the Civil War was about states’ rights. He asked: Can you tell me what those states’ rights were? Her reply: I can’t think of one right now, but I will get back to you. He hasn’t gotten the answer in more than a year. Perhaps she was to embarrassed to respond after doing her homework. Next year marks 150 years of southern white denial that the war had anything to do with slavery.

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