Last night I gave a talk at the GAR Hall in Lynn, which is the home of the General Lander Civil War Round Table. My topic was the history and memory of the Confederate flag. I presented a fairly broad interpretation that highlighted the different stages from the war years through to the current controversy involving flags and monuments.
I made a fairly strong connection between the Confederate battle flag and the explicit goals of the Confederacy. The distinction between the soldiers’ flag or what the soldiers fought for and the broader goals of the Confederate nation is untenable as far as I am concerned. I stressed the battle flag’s narrow usage during the postwar period before its politicization beginning in the late 1940s with the emergence of the Dixiecrat, but I also introduced my audience to the piece of evidence below.
Lynching of Will Echols, Quitman, Miss, 1920
Reference to this news item recently appeared in an essay published in the OAH’s magazine, The American Historian by Jason M. Ward. He uses this violent lynching involving a Confederate flag to challenge the narrative outlined above.
If the uncertain future of the battle flag divides these camps, the flag’s defenders and detractors have demonstrated remarkable consensus on at least one aspect of the flag’s history. From activists and celebrities who have joined the call for the flag’s removal to neo-Confederates and those currying their political favor, commentators have consistently emphasized a mid-twentieth-century metamorphosis engineered by diehard segregationists, Klansmen, and neo-Nazis. These extremists, so the story goes, transformed a historic symbol of the Civil War into an emblem of racist defiance. Historians, of course, bear some responsibility for this popular notion, and the chasm between Civil War and civil rights in the flag’s story reminds us that symbol and meaning is never static. Yet in that yawning gap, we can find ample evidence that the flag remained what it had always been since its creation—a banner for a white supremacist regime that could not exist without constant violence.
It’s an incredible piece of evidence, but it is also the only evidence Ward presents to support his claim. Have any of you come across similar news articles?