An Opportunity for the Sons of Confederate Veterans

How many times have we heard from a member of the SCV or someone loosely associated with the organization that the Confederate flag is not a symbol of hate, but a symbol of heritage and pride in the service of Confederate ancestors?  My goal with this post is not to rehash old arguments about whether the SCV or the Confederate flag is sufficiently inclusive to represent how the majority of Southerners perceive regional identification, but to inquire into the SCV’s silence over recent abuses of their revered flag.  A number of news outlets are reporting on an increase in racial crimes and other incidents since last week’s election.

There are two stories in the news concerning high school students – one in East Alabama and the other in Bandera, Texas –  who are wearing the Confederate flag in the wake of the election of Barack Obama.  Even reputable institutions of higher learning such as Cal Poly are having to address the issue with their students.  In this case students hung a Confederate flag and noose outside a window.  A number of fellow bloggers reported on the North Carolina man who inverted an American flag and spray-painted an X through it to represent the Confederate flag.

This is a perfect opportunity for the SCV to issue a clear statement condemning these incidents; anything less is a tacit endorsement of the abuse of a symbol that they claim to hold dear.  Their silence will likely make it that much more difficult to display their flag in ways that they deem to be proper and honorable.  In those cases SCV leaders will no doubt argue that their heritage is being attacked, but what can they expect if the image that most Americans have (white and black) is of a flag used as a symbol of hate?  This is the reason that I completely agree with John Coski who argues that the best place for the Confederate flag is in a museum where it can be properly interpreted.  Allow it to circulate in our communities and you lose any claim of ownership or even authority in defining its “real” meaning.

I am looking forward to my talk in Fredericksburg next month on the anniversary of the battle.  There will be a wreath-laying ceremony and the playing of taps.  No doubt, there will be one or two Confederate flags involved.  I have no problem with this as I am convinced that for many who will attend this ceremony the flag is a connection to ancestors that they believe deserve to be remembered.  Of course, I say this as someone who does not view that flag simply as the symbol of the men who marched into battle, but as the flag of an army which fought under a nation created to perpetuate the institution of slavery.  It is also the flag that was utilized as a symbol of “massive resistance” during the civil rights movement.  The meaning of the flag, as is the case with most symbols, is never fixed.   If the SCV continues to direct their energies and financial resources on silly projects such as the placement of large Confederate flags along major highways, such ceremonies as the one in Fredericksburg may soon be the only place where that flag has a chance of even being connected to the Civil War.

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10 comments… add one
  • Shimon de Valencia Jan 26, 2011 @ 21:39

    Personally I use the Stars and Bars. Saves on a lot of problems with discourses. Have to watch those flying diatribes here.

  • Billy Bearden Jan 18, 2011 @ 9:51

    But in fact the SCV has on numerous occaisions issued resolutions condemning hate/misuse of Confederate Flags and Symbols. Just because you aren’t aware of them doesn’t mean they don’t exsist.

  • Mike Gorman Nov 20, 2008 @ 13:23

    Nice post, Kevin – I will give the SCV a lot more credit for being interested in the hisotry of their ancestors when they stop trying to tell me that a made-up flag (at BEST the naval jack) was the CONFEDERATE flag, and that it has nothing to do with hate, racism, etc. Why not acknowledge that that flag never was a governmental flag and fly one of the three that were? Then they could legitimately claim that they are honoring the flag that their ancestor fought under, not the one that George Wallace did. This IS an opportunity.

  • Kevin Levin Nov 20, 2008 @ 10:11

    I agree that the question of Confederate nationalism is contentious, but my point was simply that one of the primary purposes for a Confederate government was to protect slavery and maintain white supremacy. Thanks for taking the time to write.

  • alarob Nov 20, 2008 @ 9:37

    the flag of an army which fought under a nation created to perpetuate the institution of slavery

    “Nation” is a fraught term, and some argue that the idea of a “southern nation,” although exclusively white, had roots other than the desire to perpetuate slavery. (I’m an agnostic on this question.) Say “government” and I’m with you.

  • Sherree Nov 15, 2008 @ 5:59

    Hi Kevin,

    In this post you say the following: “This is a perfect opportunity for the SCV to issue a clear statement condemning these incidents; anything less is a tacit endorsement of the abuse of a symbol that they claim to hold dear.”

    I couldn’t agree more. Here is your chance to clarify your position, SCV.

  • Tim Abbott Nov 14, 2008 @ 11:48

    The meaning of powerful symbols seldom remains static. Consider the pink triangle which Nazi Germany used to identify homosexuals, and which in modern times has been reclaimed as a symbol of militant gay pride. Or indeed, the Sanskrit origins of the swastika, which for centuries was used as a symbol of good luck and was used by a number of world religions before the Nazis. One cannot make an honest case that displaying the swastika today has no connection to its perversion as a symbol of hate. The same is true for the most symbolically resonant Confederate battle flag.

    On the other hand, the flags of the Confederacy itself, versions 1-3 of the stars and bars, might well be appropriate as symbols of heritage and pride. But that would take investing those symbols with that regional and historical meaning for those who might identify with it. These flags do not have the same resonsnace today, I would argue, precisely because they do not have the same defiant, rebel symbolism that the battle flags acquired during segregation and resistance to the Civil Rights Movement.

  • Robert Moore Nov 14, 2008 @ 8:42

    Excellent post Kevin. You are absolutely correct. Recent events are presenting an opportunity for the SCV to step forward. This is also something that I mentioned in the post about the flag incident in N.C. But, as Eric writes, I doubt it will happen, and you have to wonder why it won’t happen. “Resolutions” are drafted for various reasons within the organization, and yet not one to my knowledge has surfaced in response to any of the incidents that you mention. Then again, considering another comment made by Eric, are organizational responses possible as representation of the collective membership? It’s really quite telling. While there seem to be plenty of efforts made to gain our attention when it comes to “heritage defense,” I think the lack of action in specific situations is more significant.

  • Eric A. Jacobson Nov 14, 2008 @ 7:51

    Great post. It would be refreshing if the SCV did issue a statement such as you suggest, but I doubt it will happen. It is truly sad how radicals within the SCV have risen to take power and wrest control from those who have no agenda beyond history. A camp here in Franklin, TN is a great example. Several of my good friends were actually forced out of the camp because they did not support the radical views of just a few.

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