The Retreat of the Confederate Battle Flag Continues
A number of you emailed me a story that appeared in The New York Times about the supposed resurgence of the Confederate battle flag during the 2016 election. It is certainly an attractive narrative for those unfamiliar with its recent history.
There is nothing necessarily wrong with the story. It includes plenty of examples of recent battle flag sightings around the country, interviews with flag supporters and detractors, and the obligatory interview with an academic historian. All good so far.
The problem is that the article completely misses the gradual retreat of the battle flag from public spaces in recent years, especially in the states of the former Confederacy. Its removal from the State House grounds in South Carolina is the most prominent example, but as we have seen over the past year, the trend has been much more widespread. The state flag of Mississippi no longer flies on college campuses and other municipalities have also chosen not to fly it.
In addition, local debates about Confederate monuments remain as vibrant as ever. The city of Charlottesville just recently concluded its own intensive review of its Confederate monuments. The city of Louisville will likely re-locate one of its monuments next week to another town altogether.
Donald Trump’s campaign has certainly created an environment that is welcoming of displays of the Confederate battle flag, though he is on record as supporting its removal from the State House grounds in S.C. in 2015. The meaning of the flag at these gatherings is clear and easily falls into place along side a narrative that includes resistance to civil rights, the Dixiecrat rallies in 1948, and so on right back to 1861.
But there really is no resurgence or re-emergence of the battle flag. If anything, these incidents are receiving increased media scrutiny because of the level of divisiveness witnessed in this presidential campaign. That certainly does not make them any less painful to watch or read about.
What has not changed and what will very likely not change is the continued push to remove the battle flag and other examples of Confederate iconography from public and private institutions. We are still heading in the right direction.