The United Daughters of the Confederacy’s Curious Silence on the Confederate Flag Debate

We have heard quite a bit from Sons of Confederate Veterans over the past week in response to the debate over the Confederate flag on the state house grounds in Columbia, South Carolina and beyond. Members claim a direct ancestral connection to Confederate soldiers, which they believe translates into some kind of privileged status regarding all things heritage.

Silent on these issues has been that other venerable Confederate heritage organization, the United Daughters of the Confederacy, founded two years before the SCV in 1894. [The best history of the organization is Karen Cox’s Dixie’s Daughters: The United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Preservation of Confederate Culture.] Their silence surrounding the Confederate flag debate is curious given their consistent position limiting the display of the battle flag. The UDC’s position was born out of a concern that any use strictly apart from carefully orchestrated ceremonial events in honor of the soldier would distort its meaning.

John Coski’s excellent study of the history and memory of the Confederate battle flag offers a nice overview of the history of the UDC’s stance.

First, it is important to remember that the UDC was in the business of controlling memory of the Civil War from the beginning, most notably in their focus on the content of school textbooks. Their position on the flag was an extension of this broader mission. In 1948 the Sons of Confederate Veterans publicly announced their support of the States’ Rights or Dixiecrat Party as the political expression of their ancestors. Dixiecrats made ample use of the Confederate battle flag during conventions and on their party’s logo.

The UDC took a very different position in a resolution passed at its annual convention in November of 1948.

The attention of members of our organization has been called to the facts that in certain demonstrations of college groups and some political groups at times the Confederate flag or insignia has been displayed with seeming disregard of its significance. Perhaps this was done purely in the exuberance of youth with no intent of disrespect, but, so that the flag and insignia of the Confederacy may be protected as the United States and other insignias are protected, this Convention deems this bill appropriate and needed at this time. [quoted in Coski, p. 106]

At that same time the president offered the following:

Now all good Daughters know that after that sad day at Appomattox, when the South surrendered to the weight of numbers, the flag of the Confederacy was furled forever … It is now a sacred symbol to be used only by Sons and Daughters of the Confederacy … Our flag is not to be used in connection with any political movement–we are not in politics … If we regard our flag “with affectionate reverence and undying remembrance” we must not permit improper use of it–and should let this be understood by the people at large. If the misuse of our flag occurs again–it will be our fault. [quoted in Coski, p. 162]

Over the next two decades the UDC took a position against the battle flag’s use by college fraternities, schools, the Ku Klux Klan, as well as its commercial use on a wide range of products such as beach towels. Such actions constituted the trivialization of the meaning of the flag.

This included a decision in the Georgia legislature in 1956 to adopt a new flag that included a Confederate battle flag. According to Coski, it is unclear why it was adopted, though the timing places it just after the Brown v. Board of Education decision and the heated debates surrounding desegregation. Apart from a few chapters, the SCV supported the change, while the Daughters remained consistent with their earlier position. Coski writes:

While the flag bill was still pending in late 1955, the United Daughters of the Confederacy’s general convention passed a resolution against the new flag, which it declared an “incorrect use of the Confederate Flag.” According to the Correct Use of the Confederate Flag Committee, which proposed the resolution, “The Battle Flag of the Confederacy is a Flag of history of sacred and cherished remembrance and it belongs to all thirteen states of the Confederacy … No one state can claim it for its own.” [Coski, pp. 254-55]

Given the history of the flag’s use over the course of the twentieth century the battle flag will never again be seen simply as the flag of soldiers or attached to the events of 1861-65. The UDC understood this well and did their best to protect it.

It would be helpful to hear from the UDC at this time. One could even say that they have a responsibility to speak up given their efforts regarding the flag in the past. A statement from the Daughters would serve as a reminder that not everyone who wishes to honor their Confederate ancestor needs to see a battle flag at every turn. They may even convince those who truly wish to honor their ancestors that removing the flag from public land can be done in their name.

33 thoughts on “The United Daughters of the Confederacy’s Curious Silence on the Confederate Flag Debate

  1. Leonard Lanier

    In 1998, the Georgia Historical Quarterly published a very good article about the 1956 Georgia flag change. Here is the JSTOR citation:

    Title: An Air of Defiance: Georgia’s State Flag Change of 1956
    Author(s): John Walker Davis
    Source: The Georgia Historical Quarterly, Vol. 82, No. 2 (SUMMER 1998), pp. 305-330
    Publisher(s): Georgia Historical Society Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/40584056

    Like Coski, Davis argues that the change had way more to do with the Civil Rights Movement than the Civil War. He also mentions the difference of option between the UDC and the SCV.

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  2. TF Smith

    Very interesting post, and a fair question. I realize you are not a journalist, but did you try contacting them directly? Be interesting to see the response.

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  3. Annette Jackson

    Very interesting. I know a man who belongs to the SCV who is very upset over the license plate issue, but in a conversation that took place over a year ago mentioned his dismay with the tolerance of some heritage groups toward outliers…..the ones who show up at events looking like they just came in from “plowing the north 40, ” stay silent in the face of racist comments, have a battleflag tee shirt for every occasion…because nothing says heritage like a thong pantie…

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  4. Jeffry Burden

    Recall that the UDC headquarters and its staff have been noticeably inhospitable to the Virginia Flaggers operating just next door, outside the Virginia Fine Arts Museum (VMFA).

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  5. Annette Jackson

    This is not in regards to the UDC directly, but the reactions on some Civil War Facebook sites makes me worry for the future of intelligent life on earth. Trying to explain that the only flag that should fly on Federal property, as in a national park, is the United States flag is truly a lost cause…

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  6. Noma

    Thanks for bringing up the UDC. We need to hear *a whole lot more* about their activity over the last 100 years or so. I notice that the UDC Creed specifically outlines a policy of propagating lies about the Confederacy and the Civil War.

    When you consider the controlling role that the UDC had in putting history textbooks in thousands of Southern classrooms, you begin to understand why the average Southerner “knows” that the “War between the States” was “not about slavery” — and that the secession of Southern states was “not a rebellion.”

    As you read the UDC Creed, also consider the UDC awards for the study of Constitutional Law in several Universities:

    **CREED**

    Because we desire to perpetuate, in love and honor, the heroic deeds of those enlisted in the Confederate Services, and upheld its flag through four years of war, we, the children of the South, have united in an organization called the “Children of the Confederacy,” in which our strength, enthusiasm and love of justice can exert its influence.

    We, therfore pledge ourselves to preserve pure ideals; to honor the memory of our beloved Veterans;

    to study and teach the truths of history (one of the most important of which is, that the War Between the States was not a rebellion, nor was its underlying cause to sustain slavery),

    and always to act in a manner that will reflect honor upon our noble and patriotic ancestors…

    http://www.hqudc.org/cofc-purpose-eligibility-and-creed/

    Reply
    1. GenAddictCM

      That’s the Children of the Confederacy Creed. They have no control over textbooks, though I suspect that if they did, they would ban them all together 😉

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  7. Connie S. Davis

    Dear sir.. I was married to a Paul C. davis for twenty years and we had two children. They are direct descendants via Samuel Davis his brother. I find the acts which have been happening all over the country very disspucsble appauling and morbid. No one stands on there beliefs anymore because they have been taught to keep quiet. All because one young man who had felony drug charges chose to connect himself as a hater of black people. He is a very disturbed young man whom will be held accountable yes but has cause the southern people to be ridiculed and hated. . taking down the very flag that our ancestors fought and died for. Moving there monuments and there very graves is completely out of line. We need to step up and do something and not allow one individual who was a lowlife drug addict to tear apart our very lives here in the south and everywhere. They have been dead a long time desicrsting them by all that is going on is simply not acceptable. Starting a new civil was will be horrible because it will affect all races it will not be controllable. This causes unecissarty death and destruction. What are we to do. What should we do? We should not allow it that’s what. And if the very least we can do is buy a large gated secured graveyard for those men who fought so courageously to defend what honor we have today we need to honor them .Connie Davis

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    1. Leslie P Baker

      NOT a slavery flag….who told you that??? One of your ancestors???You can get the the US flag printed on shit paper, too, guess you’ll be using that next because both Washington and Jefferson were slave owners, even Betsy Ross that flag stitcher owned slaves! Flag haters, learn some history…there were MANY,MANY more black “indentured servants” in the North than slaves on Southern plantations! Lincoln freed from Northern indentured blacks than Southern slaves. Rebels were poor farm boys and most had never seen either a plantation or a Negro….that’s real, that’s the true undisputed facts. Thanks to my history professor mother that made sure we knew the reality not the hype! NOT A SLAVERY FLAG, MOST REBELS NEVER SAW A SLAVE!! They fought for a fair price for their cotton, for the right of free trade with England and Europe, to better THEIR lives, not oppress anyone. Don’t miss the loss of a flag at all, it hasn’t gone anywhere in Georgia/Alabama, etc. small towns….you know the real Heart of Dixie, where I proudly fly my giant Stars and Bars (designed to be red, white and blue!) with my non-slave owning ancestors’ names on it! No trouble with flags on my property, and able to see it proudly displayed everywhere, so many stupidly uneducated people talking when they know absolutely nothing!!

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    2. Barry Fitzgerald (@BarryFitzgarald)

      Are you speaking of the United States flag as the “Slavery flag” as slavery existed from 1787 to December, 1865 (the ratification of the 13th Amendment). or the CSA as it existed for 4 years and a few months?
      .
      While we are having this lovely cyber chat, how many Indian tribes were enslaved by New Englanders such as the Pequot tribe. They were finally exterminated.

      Then what do we do about those who are descendents of the Irish slaves in America as detailed in “White Cargo: The Forgotten History of Britain’s White Slaves in America” by Don Jordan. Better yet, read Frederick Law Olmsted’s “The Cotton Kingdom” also called “Journeys and Explorations in The Cotton Kingdom of America”. Olmsted, the designer of Central Park, decided he would see what slavery was all about. In Claiborne in Alabama I assume in 1959 or so he observer Black slaves loading a steamboat in what he thought was a dangerous manner to those below. The “boss” replied: (excuse my language) “The Niggers are worth too much to be risk here; if the Paddies are knocked overboard or get their backs broke, nobody looses anything!” p. 276, vol. 1, 2nd ed. He also describes a slave auction in which some slaves were whiter than the buyers.

      Things are not always as they are portrayed on television. That is why we need to figure out a way to get people reading again.

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  8. Patricia Trowell

    I have never been a real history buff but was not the “Stars n Stripes” the flag being flown while our Native Americans were being pushed from their lands, their women n children massacred (Congressional Medals of Honor were awarded to many of the cavalrymen) and penned up like animals and starved.

    Maybe this flag should go to a museum also because it’s crimes against some of our ancestors were horrific.

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    1. Andy Hall

      The difference is that the United States flag, for all the bad things that have happened under its aegis, remains the flag of this nation, our nation. The Confederate flag is not, and warrants no official recognition or use.

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        1. Gregg

          No it wasn’t a flag of YOUR nation but a flag of MY ancestors Confederate nation and I fly BOTH flags at my home because I have ancestors that fought in all the wars of this nation, so I honor all of them. I can understand why you wouldn’t fly any type of confederate flag because your not from the south and you don’t have that type of history/connection. Why do you people hate southern Americans so much? We are loyal Americans and love this country but we love our ancestors too. It’s as though we have to prove our loyalty to the union. Some of you make it seem like our southern boys haven’t ever fought for the U.S.. What you are trying to do is shame us and make us denounce our history and our forefathers and that isn’t right! We will NEVER EVER denounce our ancestors or our history! WE ARE AMERICANS DAMN IT! BUT WE’RE ALSO PROUD SOUTHERNERS!

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          1. Kevin Levin Post author

            I don’t fly a Confederate flag for many reasons.

            Why do you frame this in terms of North v. South? Even a cursory look at what is going on shows that Southerners with deep Confederate ancestral ties are not united around the Confederate flag.

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    2. Kevin Levin Post author

      It’s our nation’s flag for better and for worse. Seems to me that every citizen has the obligation to make it for the better. The Confederate flag was never the flag of this nation.

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      1. S Hamrick

        No, Our nations flag was the flag of the North, whom wanted the taxes and tariffs of the South. I would be the first to honor our nations flag, but in turn, I also honor the first southern flag. It is the Southern heritage we must not forget, and while we are discussing flags, since when is it appropriate to fly the flag of Mexico in the United States. This is what Americans should be upset over. Slavery was a very long time ago, Whites, and Indians were also held as slaves, not just Blacks. The actions of this demented young man should have nothing to do with this flag, or the Civil War monuments.

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  9. Leslie Ackel

    The First National Flag is the ONLY war-time Flag that the United Daughters of the Confederacy recognizes as its own to honor the Cause. As a member and officer in the St. Tammany Greys UDC, Covington, LA, we first salute the American flag, followed by the Christian flag, then the Confederate (First National) flag and the Louisiana State flag in our opening ritual. The battle flag has no place among our set of flags except to acknowledge that our great General PGT Beauregard designed the flag, using the Angelican Union Jack as his reference. The initial flags of the North and South which were ridden into battle, so closely resembled one another that many troops died by friendly fire. The flag designed by Gen. Beauregard set the troops apart.

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  10. Andy Hall

    The battle flag has no place among our set of flags except to acknowledge that our great General PGT Beauregard designed the flag, using the Angelican Union Jack as his reference. The initial flags of the North and South which were ridden into battle, so closely resembled one another that many troops died by friendly fire. The flag designed by Gen. Beauregard set the troops apart.

    Beauregard didn’t design the Battle Flag, although he did support its creation and helped promote its adoption. And the man who designed it, William Porcher Miles, didn’t cite the Union Jack as an inspiration, and specifically chose its pattern to avoid religious, sectarian symbolism, saying that the design was “more Heraldric [sic] than Ecclesiastical, it being the ‘saltire’ of Heraldry.”

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    1. Leslie Ackel

      Thanks for the input. I’ll check my Websites and also research the Library of Congress, …lots of information out there! Never the less, my point being that the rebel flag, or battle flag has no place within the UDC, except for rememberance.

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      1. Andy Hall

        To their credit, the UDC has a long track record of making strong objection to the politicizing of Confederate flags.

        John Coski’s book is a good place to start on the origins of the CBF.

        Reply
  11. Helen Bernard Webster

    I belong to numerous Women’s organizations whose membership is based on their Ancestors from specific time periods. This link by generations must be proven and documented. Each Organization has many expectations of it’s members and Chapters including Benevolent and Charitable activities, Support of our Veterans and Education(scholarships). Each one holds it’s members to an expectation that only their President General speak for the organization. I do not know why the UDC President General did not at least write to the Congregation of this Church with condolences and to make them aware of the many prayers for the families offered by UDC members and Chapters.

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  12. DTC

    This has been an interesting discussion, and I thank the participants. I engaged in conversations with variations on this same theme with several family members shortly after the massacre in Charleston. What follows are some of my thoughts.

    As a matter of full disclosure, I am a member of a handful of lineage societies and have actively chosen not to join UDC. Most of the more recognizable lineage societies in the United States are centered around either war or conquest, so few have altogether clean hands. Still, I simply could not bring myself to join UDC, though I have helped others assembly the proofs they need for doing so.

    For me, UDC is an organization trying to glorify not just a “lost cause” but an unjustifiable cause. States’ rights during the ramp-up to the Civil War focused on slavery. Economic differences between the North and the South had to do with slavery, its spread, and its survival versus its elimination. Southern culture glorified the both patriarchy and an extraordinary vision of the genteel treatment of women and slaves. Southern religious groups broke with their northern sisters and brothers over Biblical justifications for the persistence of slavery. I was still hearing this rhethoric from the pulpit as late as the 1960s.

    These points of reference represent merely the base of a very large pyramid that undergirded Southern culture. Such themes persisted well into the 20th century. They contributed to the rise and persistence of Jim Crow. They deprived generations of Americans of the ability to form equal relationships across the artificial divide of skin color. We are all the victims of the mindset represented by these views—none more so than Southerners, white and black.

    The UDC, for all its good works of charity and historical preservation, existed to perpetuate those mindsets—and it did so in the name of honoring ancestors who fought for the Southern cause. These ideas have caused immeasurable harm. As far as I’m concerned, perpetuating the idealized UDC version of history is roughly comparable to modern Germans forming an organization to honor the memory of brave Nazi forbears. Their ancestors (or in the case of UDC, my ancestors) may have been brave and they may have been deceived by their leaders, but they served pure evil—an evil that should have been (and should now be) at least somewhat obvious.

    Therefore, I am not surprised by the early silence of the UDC over the flag controversy. It takes time to devise an intellectually sound defense for the indefensible.

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