The Influence of the Confederate Flag on Perceptions of Race

White Youth Holding Confederate Flag During 1965 Selma March

Joyce Ehrlinger, E. Ashby Plant, Richard P. Eibach, Corey J. Columb, Joanna L. Goplen, Jonathan W. Kunstman, David A. Butz, “How Exposure to the Confederate Flag Affects Willingness to Vote for Barack Obama,” Political Pyschology (February 2011): 131-46.

Abstract: Leading up to the 2008 U.S. election, pundits wondered whether Whites, particularly in Southern states, were ready to vote for a Black president. The present paper explores how a common Southern symbol—the Confederate flag—impacted willingness to vote for Barack Obama. We predicted that exposure to the Confederate flag would activate negativity toward Blacks and result in lowered willingness to vote for Obama. As predicted, participants primed with the Confederate flag reported less willingness to vote for Obama than those primed with a neutral symbol. The flag did not affect willingness to vote for White candidates. In a second study, participants primed with the Confederate flag evaluated a hypothetical Black target more negatively than controls. These results suggest that exposure to the Confederate flag results in more negative judgments of Black targets. As such, the prevalence of this flag in the South may have contributed to a reticence for some to vote for Obama because of his race.  [Read the Entire Article]

Civil War Remembrance 2.0

Stave Lake

Fifty years ago Americans emerged from the Civil War Centennial with a collective narrative that fit neatly into a pervasive Cold War culture.  Though slightly bloodied and bruised this narrative retained strong Lost Cause and reconciliationist themes even as the civil rights movement reminded the nation on a daily basis of the war’s “unfinished business”.  Much of this can be explained by the limited numbers of voices that were heard during the centennial years as well as the influence of relatively few historical and cultural institutions.  This lent itself to a narrative that emphasized consensus surrounding the fundamental questions of Civil War remembrance.

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Virginia Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission in the Classroom

Anyone remotely interested in the Civil War Sesquicentennial can’t help but stand in awe of the work the Virginia commission has done to bring the war to the people of Virginia and the rest of the country.  Right now a flatbed truck carrying a Civil War exhibit is traveling around the state and plans to visit every county by the end of its trip.  The commission also put together a series of videos on the war in Virginia narrated by Professor James I. Robertson, which it has made available to the public schools.  As of the writing of this post it has uploaded five of the modules to YouTube.  Here is the first one, titled “The Coming Storm”.  I highly recommend these videos for classroom use for both middle school and high school students.

Virginia Historical Society Interprets the Civil War’s Aftermath

If I were heading back into the classroom to teach my course on the Civil War and historical memory I would begin by showing this video from the Virginia Historical Society’s exhibit, An American Turning Point: The Civil War in Virginia.  If you haven’t seen it you are missing one of the more innovative exhibits to emerge early on for the Civil War 150th.  The choice of Jimi Hendrix’s interpretation of the “Star Spangled Banner” is the perfect accompaniment for this collage of images that covers both the short- and long-term consequences of the Civil War.

Teachers can use this video to explore how images, text, and music come together to form a historical narrative.  Encourage students to critique the video by pointing out strengths and weaknesses.  Which images are out of place or missing?  What other musical choices could be utilized as well as choice of text?

What do you think of this video?

The Greying of Civil War Memory

Earlier today I spent some time with an Associated Press writer discussing connections between Civil War remembrance and the upcoming anniversary of 9-11.  I tried to outline some of the shifts that have taken place in our collective memory of the Civil War and suggested that our national memory of 9-11 will likely follow these patterns.  We are still early on in that initial stage of historical memory where narratives emphasize heroism and tend to be shaped by those who have a personal connection to the event itself.  In this case I’ve suggested that it is the families of 9-11 victims that will continue to exercise a great deal of influence on how the rest of us remember and commemorate that day.  As we move further from the tragedy of that day, however, we will become more removed and more likely to assume a more “objective” perspective – one that carefully considers both causes and consequences.  That will take some time and probably will not blossom for another generation.  It is inevitable

That heroic/moral narrative continues to linger 150 years after the Civil War among folks who imagine themselves as caretakers of a distant past, but I would suggest that in a few short years its most visual incarnations will be even more of a rare occurrence.  This last generation that continues to preserve its ceremonial symbols were reared on the Civil War Centennial, but there is no indication that the sesquicentennial will leave us with the same level of enthusiasm.  This generation is the last one to have any direct connection with the veterans themselves.  You can also see this impending shift in the profile of Civil War Roundtables.  I suspect that most of them will be a distant memory in the not too distant future unless there is a major influx of younger blood into leadership positions.  This shift is taking place in both the North and South.

There is no need to pronounce judgment on this or dwell on what will be lost or gained by such a change.  What will continue to dissipate is the tendency among some to see the war as lacking closure.  I suspect that the Civil War will continue to exercise a strong hold on our imaginations.