Have Confederate Symbols Lost Their Political and Racial Meanings?

Earlier today I was contacted by a student in Italy, who is currently writing on the subject of Confederate symbols in popular culture. The student inquired into a few areas and I thought he might benefit from hearing from the rest of you until I have a chance to respond.

My name is — — and I’m currently a senior student in History at the University of RomaTre in Rome, Italy. Two years ago i earned a bachelor degree in modern history and now I’m preparing my final master thesis in North American History. Being half American I’m very interested in American culture and society. The subject of my thesis is “The use of Confederate symbols in contemporary southern culture”.

Being very interested in the Civil War era i discovered some time ago your blog and I’ve read with interest your articles on “The Atlantic” that I found very useful. In my essay I would like to demonstrate that in the past 30/40 years Confederate symbols have lost their political and racial meanings and have now become more a popular culture phenomenon than a real political symbol. So i was wondering if you would please answer a couple of questions on this topic, it would be very helpful:

First, I would be interested to find out if in the South or in the Deep South States the disaster of recent years as the hurricane Katrina or 9/11 were followed by the display of Confederate symbols as a symbol of grief and condolence. On this specific topic I can’t find any sources, so do you have any news about it?

Secondly, having read your articles it seems to me that you too are convinced that the Confederate symbols have lost impact since the ’70s. Is it so? What are the causes in your opinion?

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Stephen Colbert Recites the Gettysburg Address…

… and you can too. What a wonderful idea. Ken Burns organized this project in conjunction with his upcoming film on the Gettysburg Address. This could be a wonderful classroom project for any number of grade levels.

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Confederate Heritage Gone Wild

Both Andy Hall and Brooks Simpson have highlighted another instance of Confederate Heritage gone wild. It’s nothing new, whether we are discussing the latest Virginia Flagger fiasco or SCV misstep. I’ve been accused of highlighting heritage follies for the sake of blog stats and there is some truth to that. At the same time, however, I think it is important to highlight as wide a range of perspectives as possible during this sesquicentennial. Much of this has only emerged owing to social media channels such as Facebook, YouTube and blogging, which allows for incredibly nuanced narratives and perspectives on the past. [click to continue…]

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Nathan Bedford Forrest High School To Get New Name

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Forrest High School in Jacksonville, Florida

A long-standing dispute in Jacksonville, Florida has ended with the local school board’s unanimous decision to change the name of Nathan Bedford Forrest High School. As in other decisions about how to collectively remember the past, these decisions ought to be left to local communities. [click to continue…]

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Has the Lost Cause Lost? (Redux)

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Stained-Glass Window at Richmond Memorial Chapel

In 2010 I was asked by the Wilson Quarterly to write a short response to an essay on the Civil War and historical memory by Christopher Clausen. I suggested that there is reason to think that the Lost Cause’s influence on the general public, with its emphasis on states’ rights as the primary cause of the Civil War, is gradually being supplanted by slavery. In the latest issue of Civil War Book Review, Gaines Foster briefly explores the landscape of Civil War memory studies and along the way suggests that this may indeed be the case.

For many scholars and journalists, the idea of a persistent and powerful role for the Lost Cause extends beyond the 1960s; they claim to find in the contemporary South a widespread and deep commitment to the Lost Cause or see various examples of the white South still fighting the Civil War. The continuing battle over the Confederate flag and other Confederate symbols would seem to support such views, although the flag fights may be even more immediately shaped by matters of race than the Lost Cause celebrations of the late nineteenth century. [click to continue…]

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