The Flag of White Supremacists Since 1861

Let’s be clear about something, Jose “Joe” Torres and Kayla Norton are not being sent to jail for waving Confederate battle flags in the face of an African-American family celebrating a birthday just weeks after the Charleston murders in the summer of 2015. According to the Atlanta-Journal Constitution:

Norton will be sentenced on one count of violating the street gang act and one count of making terroristic threats. Torres will be sentenced on three counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, one count of terroristic threats and one count of violating the street gang act. The aggravated assault charges carry up to 20 years for each count and the street gang act carries between five and 20 years, said Emadi. A terroristic threat conviction is punishable by up to five years in prison.

In other words, displaying the Confederate battle flag alone would not result in the sentences handed out yesterday, but it is certainly not incidental to the story. In fact, it is central. As I suggested yesterday, it is no accident that the flag was brought along on this little joy ride intended to defend the meaning of the flag in the wake of Charleston and the debates about its display in Columbia and elsewhere.

In this case the flag sent an unmistakable message to this Douglas County family. The flag was essential to this violent act. According to the judge the defendants engaged in a “terroristic threat.” The weapons involved, verbal threats, and flags all worked together to frame this violent act.

You can shout “Heritage, Not Hate” until you are blue in the face, but there is little that one can do to deny that the Confederate battle flag is wrapped up in the history of racial violence and white supremacy stretching all the way back to the Civil War. It was there as a symbol of “massive resistance” during the civil rights movement. It was there in Mississippi in 1920 when a young Will Echols was brutally lynched. And it was there in the summer of 1863 as Robert E. Lee’s army moved into Pennsylvania hoping to round up as many fugitive slaves as possible and send them back into slavery.

This is the heritage of the Confederate battle flag.

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24 comments… add one
  • Edward Drake. Feb 28, 2017

    The US Flag was there also. This whole case stinks. The police that day didn’t see any reason to even arrest these folks. But the sentence is extremely harsh for no harm being done.

    • Kevin Levin Feb 28, 2017

      The US Flag was there also.

      Yes, it was.

      But the sentence is extremely harsh for no harm being done.

      I am sure you believe that.

    • Andy Hall Feb 28, 2017

      Threatening people at a children’s birthday party with a shotgun is “no harm?”

      Um, OK.

  • David McCallister Feb 28, 2017

    Kevin, Your title implies the Confederate Battle Flag was invented in 1861. This is clearly historically in error – as is your whole post hoc premise, demonizing the Confederate Battle Flag.
    Your credibility is destroyed and your integrity is compromised. You can’t lie about history and expect to be believed – even as a Confederophobe.
    You are just Waving the Bloody Shirt one more time.
    You are trying to imply a continuity and causality that is not there. Logical fallacies abound.

    You seem unable to see the log in your own eye – the US flag.
    Carried by the criminals – carried by the KKK.,
    The US flag is the official flag of the KKK. See: http://www.rulen.com/kkk/
    The video/pictures of the criminals show it very clearly.
    Don’t be a PC dupe.

    • Kevin Levin Feb 28, 2017

      The Confederate battle flag was first introduced to regiments – primarily in the Army of Northern Virginia – in November 1861. I rely on John Coski’s excellent scholarly study, The Confederate Battle Flag: America’s Most Embattled Symbol (Harvard University Press).

      I don’t know what the KKK has to do with this post. Of course they have utilized the Stars and Stripes, but that flag was not born of a movement to maintain slavery and white supremacy.

      • David McCallister Feb 28, 2017

        So, you admit your error, in that in 1861 the CBF was a regimental flag – a true soldier’s flag, a field of battle flag- and not a flag representing any ideology- not even the sovereignty represented by the Stars and Bars.
        Thank you. Don’t do it again.

        Now, admit that the criminals in Georgia also used the US flag, and it is equally guilty of all you state about the CBF.
        You can’t make the CBF the sole target of your sectarian ire – you can’t have it both ways.
        If the CBF is somehow “guilty” of anything, so is the Stars and Stripes.
        My use of the KKK is to show that the US flag has an equally racist past – and equally racist present, as the CBF.
        That’s a fair treatment that seems to elude you.
        I have to agree with the statement by Michael that you are transforming a history blog into a political pulpit. Does this bleed over into your writing and teaching too? You should not be allowed on any public media with this bias – at least not without a disclaimer as to your prejudice.

        • Kevin Levin Feb 28, 2017

          It was the regimental flag for soldiers carrying out the policies of a government that was created to protect and even expand the institution of slavery. The distinction between soldiers and government makes little sense to me. The Army of Northern Virginia was the military extension of the government. The close relationship between the two is symbolized by the fact that the battle flag was eventually integrated into the second and third national flags of the Confederacy.

          The Stars and Stripes was born of a nation pledged to freedom and equality. It is my flag as it is yours and I dislike whenever it is used for nefarious purposes. The Confederate flag is not our national flag, whose origin is directly connected to the protection and maintenance of opposing principles.

          As far as the focus of this blog you are always free to go elsewhere.

          • David McCallister Feb 28, 2017

            Well, then, Kevin, please simply admit that the US flag was used for nefarious purposes in this criminal instance.

            • Kevin Levin Feb 28, 2017

              Really? I need to state it? I just assumed that most reasonable people understood that to be true.

              On the other hand, I don’t believe the Confederate battle flag was misused in this case given the reasons already explained.

            • David McCallister Feb 28, 2017

              Kevin, Yes, you do need to admit the truth about the US flag. It’s called fairness, and honesty, and intellectual integrity.

              Fortunately, it is true that most reasonable people do understand truth and cant when they read it. They can see that your underlying bigotry is showing more and more frequently in the recent posts. Just add up the positive vs negative reports you choose to publish with such relish. I don’t think you’re really fooling anyone.

              If your books and teaching are so obviously biased and one-sided, that you can’t even state the truth, much less both sides of a story, then you should not only be ashamed to call yourself a historian, but should not be allowed to teach and publish without the full disclosure that you are merely a propagandist, and not an academic.

              As has been suggested, and not by me, you are more and more espousing a revisionist, Confederophobe political platform to the detriment of truth. This is not what your blog had been, once upon a time.

              Come on, it’s not that hard .to be fair and balanced- not to mention nuanced.
              Didn’t your mama teach you to play fair in the sandbox?
              Or, maybe you just enjoy being a bully with a bully pulpit?

            • Kevin Levin Feb 28, 2017

              You obviously did not understand my last comment. I am sorry that you are disappointed with the recent content of my blog. I suggest you go elsewhere for content that meets your expectations and interests.

          • Forester Feb 28, 2017

            DAVID MCCALLISTER wrote: “Yes, you do need to admit the truth about the US flag. It’s called fairness, and honesty, and intellectual integrity.”

            After 11+ years, anything Kevin needs to say is probably on the blog already. He doesn’t need to repeat a point in every post, just because someone might get butt hurt.

            Just do a “site:cwmemory.com” search on Google. I did, and found a blog from 2012 where Kevin acknowledged, “The flag of this country has been used in ways that I find morally abhorrent.” He DID admit the “truth” about the US flag, though it doesn’t change his position on the CBF:

            “The salient point that is almost always overlooked, however, is that the Confederate flag is not my flag. And […] is not your flag either. The Stars and Stripes […]
            It represents the nation in which I find myself as a citizen. The flag symbolizes my rights as an American citizen and serves as a reminder of the sacrifices that so many have made over the years to maintain this democracy. It represents what America is and what it can be given its founding principles. No one alive occupies the same place in reference to the Confederate flag so it is silly to suggest that any sort of comparison is justified along these lines. (Jan 14, 2012).

            Google is your friend, Mr. McCallister.

    • Scott Ledridge Mar 1, 2017

      Surely that rulen site will die at some point. Hasn’t the guy passed?

      David, the KKK uses the Stars and Stripes for reasons that are different from their use of the CBF and their own flag. They are not the Trinity of the KKK.

  • Michael Feb 28, 2017

    Your post implies, intended or not, that Lee’s strategy in June of 1863 was to use his army as slave catchers, which is ridiculous and ill informed. I’ve enjoyed your posts up until now, but it seems like you’re slowly transforming from a Civil War history blog to a political pulpit. That’s certainly your prerogative, but its unfair to those who might not be as learned on the subject and who may leave your page believing that the Army of Northern Virginia was a well organized posse of bounty hunters.

    • Kevin Levin Feb 28, 2017

      Lee’s men received orders from Richmond to round up escaped slaves. This was an important part of the campaign that is often overlooked. I highly recommend Margaret Creighton’s book, The Colors of Courage and Allen Guezlo’s Gettysburg Campaign for additional information. The Army of Northern Virginia functioned as a slave patrol in the summer of 1863.

      • Michael Feb 28, 2017

        Right. And by that logic, if the Pittsburgh Police arrested a Mexican guy last night, that clearly makes them ICE agents. No one disputes that the ANV rounded up escaped slaves and sometimes freemen during the campaign. But I repeat, to imply that it was the primary objective of Lee’s excursion is ill-informed at best, and revisionist at its worst.

        • Kevin Levin Feb 28, 2017

          Who said it was the primary objective? I simply pointed out that it was an important component of a campaign that took place after the Emancipation Proclamation. Both Lee and Davis expressed concerns of the proclamation’s impact on slaves in Virginia and elsewhere.

    • Andy Hall Feb 28, 2017

      Here is Ted Alexander’s outstanding “A Regular Slave Hunt” from the September 2001 issue of North & South magazine, that lays out the Army of Northern Virginia’s activities during the Gettysburg campaign. The seizure of African Americans — in principle, limited to escaped slaves, but in practice including free black persons — was acknowledged at the highest levels of the Confederate command, as evidenced by this memo from Longstreet’s adjutant to George Pickett, informing his that “the captured contrabands had better be brought along with you for further disposition.

      Remember that Lee’s campaign stepped off just a month after the Confederate Congress in Richmond passed a resolution calling for “full and ample retaliation” against the North for implementation of the Emancipation proclamation and the enlistment of American American troops.

      • Kevin Levin Feb 28, 2017

        Thanks, Andy. I believe this piece by Ted Alexander was my introduction to the subject.

        • Ken Noe Feb 28, 2017

          Mine too, but it’s worth adding as a postscript that Alexander cited sources that had been available for a century or more. Longstreet’s “contrabands” order, for example, is found in the Official Records.

  • Forester Feb 28, 2017

    KEVIN: “You can shout “Heritage, Not Hate” until you are blue in the face”

    Hate is, unfortunately, part of the heritage. To me, it seems quite obvious:

    – The CBF is a culturally determined symbol of Southern pride.

    – The South has a history of racism.

    – Ergo, pride in the South implies pride in racism.

    It’s heritage AND hate. Sometimes one or the other, sometimes both. Torres and Norton were an example of both. For the average SCV type, it’s probably just heritage. And then some people who aren’t even Southern use that flag to antagonize minorities — for them it’s just hate.

    No interpretation of the Confederate Flag is actually wrong … they’re all correct in different ways.

    • Kevin Levin Feb 28, 2017

      As I have said numerous times before, I do not believe that every use of the Confederate battle flag reflects white supremacy or racial animosity. What I am saying is that it is entirely unreasonable to say that because you believe the Confederate battle flag is a symbol of

        x

      it somehow sheds its meaning as

        y

      .

      • Forester Feb 28, 2017

        Okay then, now I understand 100%.

        When you put the statement into algebraic terms, I get it perfectly. I will have to borrow the X and Y statement … that’s a great way of explaining it.

      • bob carey Mar 1, 2017

        Kevin,
        I agree with your assessment 100%, but you left out one use of the CBF it is also the flag of treason. These yahoos may believe that they celebrate their heritage but that heritage is one of traitorous behavior on their ancestors part.
        BTW I too believe that the sentences were harsh but I’m a leftist liberal socialist who is supposed to believe in rehabilitation and not incarceration.

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