No More Questions For Confederate Flag Wavers

For those of you who need a translation of the newspaper headline, it reads “Gone With the Wind.” Very appropriate, indeed.

Confederate flag

Frankfurt, Germany (July 2015)

This coming Sunday marks the one-year anniversary of the removal of the Confederate battle flag on the state house grounds of Columbia, South Carolina. At the time I was in Frankfurt, Germany, but as you can see their newspapers gave it front page coverage. To mark the anniversary a group calling itself The South Carolina Secessionist Party will hold a rally calling for the flag to be returned.

If the organization itself wasn’t enough to disgust you, included in its list of speakers is Kirk Lyons of the Southern Legal Resource Center, whose activities within white supremacist circles is well documented. Also scheduled to speak is Susan Hathaway of the Virginia Flaggers, which has welcomed more than one white supremacist, including Matthew Heimbach into its ranks. Heimbach recently made news owing to his organization’s presence at a rally in Sacramento, California, which turned violent.

I am finished with innocently approaching people who fly Confederate battle flags to inquire into their motivation. From now on I am going to assume the worst or at least that its display has nothing to do with remembering a Confederate ancestor or the soldiers more generally. In fact, the vast majority of stories that I have tracked over the past year, involving the Confederate battle flag, have nothing directly to do with history.

Not too long ago I would have agreed that there are settings in which the battle flag can be displayed, which do not conjure up its more recent history as a symbol of resistance against civil rights and white supremacy. [Let me be clear that I am in no way denying that the battle flag must be understood as tied directly to the cause of a nation pledged to protect slavery and white supremacy between 1861 and 1865.] Apart from displaying original flags in a museum setting I no longer believe this to be the case. In fact, I would go so far as to wish for the day when the battle flag is no longer allowed on National Park battlefields. And yes, I am aware of the First Amendment.

It is a toxic symbol that no decent person – even for someone who wishes to recognize his/her Confederate ancestors – would wish to be identified with.

There is no need to organize counter-protests for this weekend’s rally in Columbia. The crowd that this organization and its list of speakers will attract should be sufficient to drive home for the rest of us why taking the flag down was the right thing to do. It can only result in even more flags coming down.

26 comments… add one
  • Yes…and a little bit no. I agree that most of those who fly the rebel flag do so out of ignorance at best, bigotry at worse. I agree that it has few places where it should be shown. As a descendant of a Confederate veteran I can see no logic in Confederate “Flag Day,” “Memorial Day,” “Remembrance Day,” or what else may be. I support the local effort to no longer display flags, although I am opposed to the removal of the Confederate memorial in my home town. I applaud the effort to justly evaluate certain street names in town (and then elect not to change them) and I argue that JEB Stuart’s name does not belong on a high school. Still, the flag (if and only if we are talking about an historically correct version) has a place in certain museums and at National Battlefields where the appropriate flag is shown. As for the First Amendment side, let people do what they do. It is their business and it will likely have zero impact on recent local and state flag policies.

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    • Still, the flag (if and only if we are talking about an historically correct version) has a place in certain museums and at National Battlefields where the appropriate flag is shown.

      Agreed, though I think even the NPS should think carefully about when and how it is utilized.

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  • You’ll notice neo-Confederates bemoan “outsiders” telling them what they should do with the flag. Yet, we see these people travel all over the South, outside their communities, trying to meddle in other communities.

    Just like the secessionists of old, their hypocrisy knows no bounds.

    I do still feel that context specific flag designs are appropriate at battlefields and cemeteries. They are in context. The blanket use of the CBF in these spaces may not be so appropriate. One of the national flags, or a “unit-specific” flag might be more appropriate.

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  • Flying Confederate flags in one’s own hand, or on one’s own property is free speech. Having tax money used to fly them anywhere, including in cemeteries and at publicly owned battlefields (other than in museums and history books) is misuse of government money and property (i.e., government speech), not private free speech. If people want to leave up Confederate monuments, their context should be corrected with adjacent monuments to Union soldiers and slaves; otherwise they are biased Confederate propaganda on public property at taxpayer expense.

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  • Up until two weeks ago, the mention of the “Flaggers” would elicit an eye roll and a deep sigh. Today, the mere mention of the group causes my blood pressure to rise and my temper to flare. Things have changed …

    Elie Wiesel died a few days ago, and my uncle from the other side of the gene pool called me, immediately:
    “Shoshie, Elie Wiesel is gone. I am old; I will soon be gone, too. Where have you been, my dear? You do not write letters to the editor anymore. You have not been to an ADL chapter meeting in two years. Have you forgotten us? If you forget, it all starts over again. You must not forget, my dear.”

    Two weeks ago, Matthew Heimbach’s road show came to my town. To be precise, his “organization” spilled blood on the ground that I walk several times a week. I saw it. I remember Matthew Heimbach from his Flagger days. I remember the picture of the sign he carried that said something like “not this rag” (picture of USA flag) “This flag” (Confederate Battle Flag). I call you out, Susan Hathaway, for providing a breeding ground for the likes of Heimbach, and for not condemning the blood that was spilled in my town.

    And so to the memory of Elie Wiesel: I will never forget the past. To my dear Uncle: I am here. I remember. To myself: I will always remember that hate is close and it must be recognized no matter how well it tries to cloak itself.

    And so, dear Uncle, I have been busy doing what you taught me: giving lots of opinions on lots of things. I am just getting started. As I sent you a list of my blog “activity”, I hope that you will be proud when you see that I have been practicing what you taught me: To stand up and say what needs to be said. 

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    • Great comment, Shoshana!

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      • Thank you, Professor. I am very fortunate that the blog owners allow me to vent.

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        • Hey Shoshana……….A wonderful, from the heart, post. Always remember…..you have many allies…..of which I am one. If you ever need any help with anything, writing letters, signing petitions, etc, just ask. I told Kevin when I first started following his blog, that I’m not a professor, or anything like it. I’m actually a retired freight locomotive engineer. He always posts my thoughts anyway, and sometimes replies! That’s why I love his blog. And I’ve always been shown respect by the regulars, (Kevin’s fellow professors)……Andy Hall for one. I probably say some silly things, as I don’t know a tenth of what they know, (and sometimes I post when I’m angry and frustrated), but Kevin keeps me on anyway. As far as this flag issue goes…….it should be “moulderin in its grave”…….forever.

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          • Mr Kent,

            You made my day. I have taken so much grief (in text & personally) over my incredibly bad decision to comment on a particularly popular phone game, that I was just about to sign off on blog commenting…..and then THIS COMMENT 🙂 You are kind. I just have to ask: Did you get a pocket watch when you retired from the railroad? I always wondered if that was truth or myth: a gold pocket watch when you retire!

            Sincerely,
            Bee

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            • Dear Bee,
              I’m so glad that I could make you feel a little better. In answer to your question, Yes and No! Did I get a watch……yes. Was it gold…..NO!!! Back in the day, they gave you a solid gold pocket watch. It was appropriate, as you really don’t work on the RR, you live on it. The wife of a railroader gets her own pension, and she earns it, as you’re never home……..ever.

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    • Amen.

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  • I was working on a blog post this afternoon when you posted this. I agree with most of what you said here. This resonated with me,

    From now on I am going to assume the worst or at least that its display has nothing to do with remembering a Confederate ancestor or the soldiers more generally. In fact, the vast majority of stories that I have tracked over the past year, involving the Confederate battle flag, have nothing directly to do with history.

    You would not believe the number of Confederate Flag bumper stickers I’ve seen alongside a Donald Trump sticker.

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    • See here and here.

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      • Trump is manipulating these people much like the fire-eaters and the oligarchs did in the antebellum South. He dupes the under-educated into believing there are simple solutions to complex issues (i.e. building a wall) and uses their fears for his own political ends. Regrettably the Democrats have a weak candidate and Trump has a good chance of winning, if this happens it could give the neo-confederates the legitimacy they have been lacking.

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        • Trump is manipulating these people much like the fire-eaters and the oligarchs did in the antebellum South.

          No, Trump is simply taking advantage of an element that is already present. The relationship is mutually beneficial.

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          • Exactly – he’s tapping into an anger and hatred that is already there.

            His vitriolic message brings with it a fog of racism which attracts many. A great many of whom wave that flag.

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          • Kevin;
            Whether Trump manipulates them or simply uses them is unimportant. The important thing is, as you clearly state, is the mutual beneficial aspect of the relationship. I don’t want to sound like an alarmist but my concern is that there is any relationship at all. Trump does not strongly condemn these idiots and this frightens me.

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  • SLRC is Kirk Lyons, not Keith.

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  • Much like we have discussed displaying Confederate monuments within the proper context, shouldn’t the Confederate flag also be displayed in NPS sanctioned museums and battlefields under the proper context? In other words I don’t believe making the flag go away from these locations solves anything. It’s the responsibility of the caretakers of these flags and monuments to evolve with public opinion but at the same time properly present and preserve the complete history of the items they present. I believe the NPS has a responsibility to display the flag where appropriate to the story they are telling. That’s is still respectful to the current climate while acknowledging these flags where they were carried into battle.

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    • I have stated before and continue to maintain that the Confederate battle flag belongs in a museum where it can be properly interpreted. That includes exhibits operated by the National Park Service.

      Beyond that I would caution the NPS on how the flag is utilized on the battlefield.

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  • I agree and disagree with some of this post. I wasn’t sure how to word it, so I waited a while before posting. I’ll start with the disagreement part.

    You wrote: “Not too long ago I would have agreed that there are settings in which the battle flag can be displayed, which do not conjure up its more recent history as a symbol of resistance against civil rights and white supremacy.”

    Why does the CBF’s usage in the Civil Rights era supersede it’s historical meaning? Is that because the Civil Rights Movement is more recent than the Civil War? If so, why doesn’t the flag’s usage as a country music icon in the 1970s/80s supersede its racist usage? I was born in 1987, so I only know about the Civil Rights Movement through books. In my childhood, I saw plenty of CBFs but in non-racist or ambiguous contexts. It was just a relic of the ’70s: Dukes of Hazzard, Skynard, Alabama. I never saw anything overtly racist in the 1990s — just a generic regional pride.

    You wrote: “It is a toxic symbol that no decent person – even for someone who wishes to recognize his/her Confederate ancestors – would wish to be identified with.”
    Eh ….. sort of. Everyone interprets the flag differently. This is why I can’t call it a “racist rag,” or agree with that. It’s certainly a racist rag for some people. And for others it isn’t. People redefine it’s meaning every time they look at it. (This is any flag, really). It isn’t toxic to me personally. For example: I’m rather fond of the Union Jack, which to me represents my British ethnicity and heritage. But I’m pretty sure people in India or Ireland find the Union flag disgusting. It’s all about context.

    I wouldn’t want to wear the Confederate Flag because it’s seen as racist, and I don’t really want to scare black people or make them feel unwelcome. And it’s also seen as a redneck thing, like wearing a Budweiser baseball cap. But I think the toxicity of a symbol varies in every time and place. Dylann Roof does not own it, and I see no reason why one crazy boy should redefine a symbol for the entire culture. Dylann is a drop in the bucket; most Facebook postings condemned him.

    I don’t think most “Confederate flag wavers” hate blacks. The usual Lost Cause blarney removes blacks from the narrative, recasting them as loyal slaves or Black Confederates. They usually are against racism (or at least THINK they are). It’s a self-delusional belief system, I will agree with that. And it takes massive historical ignorance to believe that slavery didn’t cause the Civil War. But I think it’s a case of applying Hanlon’s Razor: “Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.”

    Which brings me to the part of your post I agree with: “From now on I am going to assume the worst or at least that its display has nothing to do with remembering a Confederate ancestor or the soldiers more generally. In fact, the vast majority of stories that I have tracked over the past year, involving the Confederate battle flag, have nothing directly to do with history.”

    Yeah, I agree with you here. As I said before, I’m a child of the 1990s. I never saw the flag being used for racism …. but I never saw it being used in a historically accurate way, either. It was a cultural emblem, and an outdated one at that. It’s like Brad Paisley said in his 2013 trainwreck, “When I put on that t-shirt, the only thing I meant to say is I’m a Skynyrd fan.” That says it all, but not in the way he meant. It’s admitting that his flag display has nothing to do with history. >_<

    As a Confederate descendant, my opinion aligns with the UDC — I'm against the modern, non-Civil War use (and trivialization) of the flag. I feel the same way about the Gadsden Flag from the Revolution, which has been appropriated by the Tea Party and taken on racist and ironically anti-American connotations. Ten years ago I would have been proud of that "DONT TREAD ON ME" banner …. but now it would make me look like a domestic terrorist! So it goes into retirement alongside the Confederate flag, at least until the crazies have stopped misusing it.

    So as for the rally in South Carolina …. no, I don't support that. The flag was a superfluous modernism that served only to intimidate black people and enforce a modern, white supremacist power structure. It's actually BAD for the cause of preserving southern heritage — look how many people want now want historical monuments gone, because of insensitive displays like this flag. It needed to come down. In fact, it never should have gone up.

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  • @Forester – You have an important point there – the meaning of the Gadsen flag has shifted, its been appropriated and it has some very clear political associations, many of which are unpalatable to a large proportion of the community and also globally – yet no-one seems to be getting so intense about it, or holding it to account because it is clearly associated with conservative politics … if we are to define the battleflag only by one part of its varied life – why not be consistent and look at the Gadsen Flag too and hold it to account.

    Also what about the use of the battleflag outside of the US and in contexts that are unlikely to be making any comment about race in the US – eg in Sweden, Italy, Ireland, Montreal, Australia and in garden allotments in both Britain and Germany, do North Americans have any right to make a call on or second guess these permutations of the uses or meanings of the battleflag, or tell them to desist

    Certainly there is a huge German interest in Confederate re-enacting – which may be one of the few politicised uses of the battleflag outside of the USA

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  • In response to Forester’s comments, the one that got me was when the Flaggers objected to not having a giant CBF flying outside of the Appomattox Museum of the Confederacy building. The museum decided instead to display the current flags of the states that made up the Confederacy. Even though many neo-Confederates claim the war was about states’ rights, the flaggers objected to the museum’s decision…. thereby proving out their own hypocrisy.

    However, the buildings on both sides of the museum- one of them a gas station- fly Confederate flags… at least they did last year when I went down there.

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    • “In response to Forester’s comments, the one that got me was when the Flaggers objected to not having a giant CBF flying outside of the Appomattox Museum of the Confederacy building.”

      The heritage folks have never understood that the Museum of the Confederacy is not a shrine to the Confederacy, and explicitly changed its mission statement more than fifty years ago to move away from role.

      I’ve said it before, and will keep saying it — they look to institutions like the MoC , the VMFA, Washington & Lee, and so on, to validate and reassure their love for whatever it is they think the Confederacy was, and it drives them to enraged, spittle-flecked apoplexy when those institutions stop doing that. They’re driven by insecurity and the need to have prominent and influential organizations provide validation for them.

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  • “It is a toxic symbol that no decent person – even for someone who wishes to recognize his/her Confederate ancestors – would wish to be identified with.”

    No decent person, huh. What is a decent person in your view?

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