I suspect that the Confederate flag story out of Lexington will go viral by the end of the day. No doubt, we will be treated to the standard mainstream media narrative of an unfinished Civil War as well as the overly defensive posture of the SCV. Already we’ve heard from Brandon Dorsey, who is the local SCV commander in Lexington:
As far as I am concerned, this is little different that some states shutting down all their public schools to avoid desegregation and then claiming their motivation for closing them is of no concern because they screwed over everyone.
Oh brother. Pass the hyperbole. The SCV and other heritage groups have staked everything on the display of the Confederate flag. It’s all or nothing. Any attempt at limiting its visibility is seen as an attack on their history and heritage as if they alone have a monopoly on the Southern past.
The days when the Confederate flag represented a people, a culture, and a history are over. Thankfully, we now live in a time when an ever wider spectrum of voices are able to make their voices heard and they are adamant that the flag ought not to be displayed on public property and/or supported with taxpayer dollars. Why? Because of its history and nothing the SCV or anyone else says or does can change the flag’s symbolic connection to a history of violence and racism. I suspect that most reasonable people would agree that there are settings in which its display is appropriate and even necessary, but that is a discussion the SCV will not consider.
This has nothing to do with hating the South or “evilizing” the Confederacy. That is as unimaginative an argument as one can make and as we have seen it will lead to the SCV’s continued marginalization in society. The SCV’s decision to stake everything on the flag reflects a simplistic understanding of the very history and heritage that they claim to defend. Instead of wasting limited resources on court cases, television ads, and airplane banners they should be thinking of creative ways to share the rich history of the Confederacy and their ancestors in their local communities.
When it comes to the Confederate flag the SCV is doomed to fail and they deserve everything they get.
The SCV’s obsession with the flag may simply mean we are at the end of 1860s style Southern Culture. The old Confederate vets setting at the old country store are gone. Their sons are gone. Any chance to even have either primary contact with the past or even secondary contact is gone. All that is left are memories of memories of memories in a world that demands attention in other ways. That leaves musty museums and the flag.
You are absolutely right that we are that much further removed from the actual events in question, but that is just another reason why the SCV ought to be much more creative in how it frames its understanding of the Civil War past and how it engages the general public. The SCV wants the general public to see the flag as simply the symbol that the men carried into battle without any sense of its connection to a government pledged to protect slavery or how it has been used in public since.
It’s a lost cause if ever there was one.
To me, the modern adverse reaction to it has very little to do with the 1860s style “Southern culture”. There’s no similar reaction to the First National or the South Carolina state flag, which is very close to the banner raised when South Carolina announced it was seceding so that both have at least as much association with a government pledged to protect slavery as the battle flag. The time to do something about the direct hate meaning to the battle flag was starting with its use beginning in 1948 by the Dixiecrats and, at the very latest, Massive Resistance in the 1950s and 1960s. That didn’t happen. Even though the official governmental use of the battle flag for that reason is much diminished down to its survival in some state flags, it’s still being used for that purpose today by white supremacists.
I had the flag debate with a good friend of mine from the south who used to be SCV (he’s one of those who left/were purged after the Kirk Lyons & co takeover). I truly don’t believe he’s racist, but I just couldn’t get him to see that people who saw the battle flag as a symbol of hate, not heritage, were not being hypersensitive but, instead, had a valid perspective and were seeing a meaning that many displayers of the battle flag did intend to convey. Finally, I asked him what would be his reaction, if he were a black man walking alone down a country road back in his home area, and he saw a big old pickup truck flying a big old battle flag and containing a bunch of good old boys whooping and hollering. Would it be, “Oh, goody, reenactors!” or “I’d better get out of here fast while I still can!” He thought it over for what seemed like forever (probably only a few seconds) and, finally, in a very soft voice said, “I’d think ‘I’d better get out of here while I still can.'”