Confederate Flags are Gone With the Wind

The horrific shooting of nine churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina back in June did not spark this public debate about the place of Confederate iconography in public places. Rather, it intensified it to a degree that few could have anticipated. Over the past ten years the Confederate flag has quietly (and on occasion not so quietly) been lowered from public places and removed from other institutions throughout the South and beyond. Southerners from all ethnic and racial backgrounds have had to wrestle with the question of whether the flag’s public display reflects their community’s collective values and view of the past.

For anyone who has followed this trend and the events of this summer, it is clear that Confederate flag advocates have been thoroughly defeated.

Sure, organizations like the Virginia Flaggers have raised a number of Confederate flags on private property, but they have done so in communities where flags have been removed from public property. The Flaggers and others had just as much right to raise these flags on private property before these decisions were as they do today. In fact, Americans still have every right to parade down their main streets with flags flying from the back of their pickup trucks, rally for the flag in the name of freedom or gather for a prayer service and share their message of love.

They are free to explain their close identification with the flag in any way they choose while others are free to nod in agreement or look away suspiciously. Nothing has changed on this end and as long as we continue to embrace the First Amendment nothing will for the foreseeable future.

But regardless of the number of flag raisings on private property or how many rallies take place, what cannot be changed is the fact that the Confederate flag no longer comes with the explicit or tacit approval of local and state government. There is a significant difference between driving into a community and having to look at a Confederate flag on private property as opposed to seeing it in front of a courthouse or other public building. The latter is the only contest that has ever mattered.

It’s disappearance from public places throughout the South must be understood as nothing less than a clear statement that the history of the Confederate flag does not reflect the current values of the community. You can surround public buildings with Confederate flags held by an imaginary army of black Confederate reenactors all you want and it changes absolutely nothing.

9 thoughts on “Confederate Flags are Gone With the Wind

  1. Annette Jackson

    Absolutely correct, Kevin, although Danville flaggers haven’t gotten the message yet, per what I heard on the news yesterday. They are apparently appealing the decision to remove the flag from official city property. Private displays should always be protected as free speech, but if arguments on Internet Civil War websites many are livid about the removal from government property. The issue may have been officially resolved but it is going to take a little longer for some to understand the reasons.

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    1. Andy Hall

      The lawsuit in Danville will be an uphill struggle for the heritage folks. The City Council there took down the flag after receiving an advisory opinion from the Commonwealth Attorney General that such action would not violate state law, so the SCV and its co-plaintiffs can expect no support from Richmond — and in fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Herring files an amicus brief in support of the city’s position.

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    2. Brer Rabbit

      And how many of the Danville City Council members that voted to remove the Confederate Flag from Danville were defeated in the last election? Just because city officials who are haters decide to remove our heritage doesn’t mean the general population isn’t riled up against them.

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  2. Paul Taylor

    Kevin, everything you write in this post is spot on. Yet this debate now goes well beyond flags and into all manner of Confederate symbols such as statues and monuments that sit on public ground. That war will continue indefinitely and I predict will end in the same way as the flags.

    As John Coski said in an interview in the current issue of Civil War News, “It stands to reason that there would be little or no criticism of Confederate symbols on the American commemorative landscape today if they had not been put there in the first place. That flags, monuments, and street names commemorating the losers in a civil war exist at all is remarkable in the grand scheme of human history. It testifies to the US Govt and the American people allowing white southerners to celebrate and perpetuate the Confederate cause and Confederate heroes…[and is] inevitably related to the exclusion of African-American southerners from public life after Reconstruction.”

    With regards to your title of this post, I’ll bet it’s just a matter of time until some one or some group attempts to “ban” that iconic book/film using the same rational as the flags and monuments.

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    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      Hi Paul,

      Nice to hear from you.

      Yet this debate now goes well beyond flags and into all manner of Confederate symbols such as statues and monuments that sit on public ground. That war will continue indefinitely and I predict will end in the same way as the flags.

      It does indeed and it is up to local communities to sort it out. You raise an important point in that many people don’t perceive a difference between the Confederate flag and monuments on public ground. While I prefer that monuments not be moved I don’t claim to have an argument to convince people one way or the other. Even the language of contextualization strikes me as unsatisfying.

      With regards to your title of this post, I’ll bet it’s just a matter of time until some one or some group attempts to “ban” that iconic book/film using the same rational as the flags and monuments.

      There were certainly a lot of irrational calls for the banning of this and that in the wake of the Charleston shootings, but I don’t see this issue now as extending much further than flags and monuments. Of course, I could be wrong, but I hope not.

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  3. Marian Latimer

    If there is no racist intent in these flag drive-bys, why do some of them go through areas that are heavily populated by African Americans? I’ve said it before, it’s an in your face thing…

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  4. Sandi Saunders

    If you engage (and I do) the flaggers in any forum, it takes not long at all for their real heritage to show and show ugly. They are angry, they are belligerent and they are determined that the PC version of the Confederacy is the South and therefore “them”. And no matter how racist their comments become (and they do), they still insist they are not racists but the “liberals pushing this” are. They “KNOW” that “Confederate blacks fought shoulder to shoulder with whites”. They “KNOW” the war was about the tyranny of Lincoln needing their tax dollars. They “KNOW” that it was Democrats who were the racists. They will never admit they were Conservatives but they will screech “Democrat” as an epithet. They “KNOW” that black people should “get over it” and stop telling them what to think about their flag. I do not know when I have had more fun!

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