The reason why the members of the first generation of Sons of Confederate Veterans and United Daughters of the Confederacy emphasized such a strict code governing the display of the Confederate flag was that they understood the risks of it being appropriated in a way that threatened to disconnect it from its Civil War roots. By the 1950s and 60s that battle had clearly been lost through its use as a symbol of Massive Resistance and later through its appearance on everything from cigarette lighters to bikini bottoms. This story of a black University of South Carolina Beaufort student who chose to display a Confederate flag in his dorm window is but the latest example of this gradual decline.
So here we have a flag that was carried by the military arm of a government pledged to defend slavery and white supremacy and that remained a symbol of racism and hatred for this student’s parents has now become little more than a colorful rag in the hands of a young black man. What does the flag mean to him?
“When I look at this flag, I don’t see racism. I see respect, Southern pride,” he said. “This flag was seen as a communication symbol” during the Civil War.
“I’ve been getting a lot of support from people. My generation is interested in freedom of speech,” Thomas said.
“I think he’s got a really good point. It’s just a flag, and in and of itself, it doesn’t have any racial meaning. It only has as much meaning as you put into it,” said Reed.
That’s about it. The flag was a “communication symbol”… you know, guys waved them back and forth to send signals. The student in question doesn’t seem to have any interest in the Confederate war nor does his display of the flag seem to have much to do with the Civil War era at all. So much for Confederate/Southern heritage. That hasn’t prevented the Confederate heritage community from embracing him as their latest hero. In the past few weeks the most popular defenders of Confederate heritage include a middle school student from New Jersey and now this guy. Hilarious!
It should come as no surprise that the Sons of Confederate Veterans attributes yesterday’s unanimous decision by the Texas DMV as another attack on Confederate symbols and “Southern Heritage” more generally. It may surprise you to learn, however, that the leadership of the SCV at the turn of the twentieth century likely would have viewed yesterday’s decision as a victory.
As we begin the new school year I strongly encourage school administrators to think carefully about who they bring in from the outside to educate their students. Case in point. This past May the Major George B. Erath 2679, United Daughters of the Confederacy, presented a program to Dublin 8th graders about Texas in “The War Between the States.” They actually ask the kids to sing “Dixie” at the end of the presentation. Our kids deserve better. On the other hand I appreciate the fact that this school is reaching out to its senior citizen community. All the research shows that it is crucial that regular physical and mental activity is essential to maintaining one’s overall health as we get older.
I’ve suggested before that how Americans remember their Civil War can no longer be so easily drawn along strict regional boundaries. Consider the video below. On May 15th, 2011, members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, Archibald Gracie Camp and the United Daughters of the Confederacy, as well as other members of New York City’s Southern Community gathered at The French Church in Manhattan for a Memorial Service honoring the Confederate Dead, 150 years after the Civil War. Dr. Michael S. Kogan delivered this sermon on the causes of the War and the legacy of the Southern Soldier.
Here is a short video of this year’s Memorial Day ceremony at our local Confederate cemetery on the campus of the University of Virginia. It’s a few blocks from my school and I bring students to the site every year. There are over 1,000 soldiers buried here, who died in the Charlottesville hospitals during the war. Up until a few years ago there were only a few headstones. The local chapter of the SCV plans to place a headstone for every soldier. By the looks of things in this video and a recent visit that I made with one of my classes it looks like they are making steady progress.
The video include a short interview with Kimberly Mauch, president of the Turner Ashby chapter, No. 184, United Daughters of the Confederacy of Winchester Virginia. I find her level of understanding of the war and slavery to be appalling. A transcript of the Q&A follows the video.
AS A YANKEE- WE GENERALLY ASSOCIATE THE CONFEDERACY WITH SLAVERY. IT’S HARD TO OVERCOME THAT. “I understand that. Yes, slavery was a very hot topic back then you could say, even twenty years prior to that, even, especially in the Kansas-Missouri border states, the abolitionists and all that went on out there. It was fought more- states’ rights started everything, I feel. The South wanted to do things their way and the North wanted to control that and that’s what fueled the fire for South Carolina to secede from the Union to begin with. HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT BEING IN THE UNION TODAY? “I love it.” THINGS WORKED OUT FOR THE BEST? “Who knows what it would be like? Nobody can say it would be better or worse but it’s still a great country.”