Virginia Flaggers Surrender Charlottesville

Virginia FlaggersIt was so predictable. Even the anticipation of a city council vote on March 2 regarding whether to continue to recognize Lee-Jackson Day has the Virginia Flaggers scrambling for a plot of land to raise when of their Confederate flags. It’s their usual signal of surrender when decisions by local communities don’t go their way.

I’ve never understood this preoccupation with raising flags on highways and in other places that provide absolutely no historical context whatsoever. How exactly is a passerby suppose to know that this particular flag is meant to be interpreted in a certain way? Are the Flaggers oblivious to the fact that the flag is fraught with competing interpretations? For the sake of getting their message across to the general public, why wouldn’t they choose a form of commemoration that is less likely to be misunderstood?

By raising the Confederate flag in such a way and without any context the Flaggers give up complete control over its meaning. And this is exactly what Confederate veterans worked so hard to avoid. The veterans took care of their battle flags by displaying them only on specific occasions. They didn’t fly their flags from highways or go soliciting individuals to fly it to spite a community. The United Daughters of the Confederacy developed strict guidelines for the display and handling of the flag. They developed it to counter groups like the Virginia Flaggers. Does anyone have any doubt that the veterans themselves would be appalled by how the Virginia Flaggers have treated their flag?

At the beginning of every semester of my Civil War course in Charlottesville I walked students over to the Confederate cemetery adjacent to the university. We talked about the history of the soldier monument and walked through to look at the information on the individual markers. Students spent time in quiet reflection and considered a number of questions that I provided before coming together as a group. Together we shared questions we would ask the men buried around us if we had the opportunity. Many of these questions guided the class throughout the semester. On the way out we picked up and discarded the trash and propped up any small Confederate flags that are almost always present in the cemetery.

There are so many ways that one can remember and even commemorate Confederate soldiers that doesn’t involve taking your frustrations out on an entire community that isn’t even your own. It certainly does nothing to remember the men buried in the university cemetery.

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11 comments… add one
  • Madison Reynolds Mar 12, 2015 @ 16:31

    As Frederick Douglass once said, and as stated in ‘”For Something beyond the Battlefield”: Frederick Douglass and the Struggle for the Memory of the Civil War’ by David Blight, “I may say if this war is to be forgotten, I ask in the name of all things sacred what shall men remember?” Remembering the Civil War is crucial in understanding our nation’s history and avoiding similar devastating national conflicts in the future, but by raising a Confederate flag near a highway in Virginia so long after the war has ended seems very out of context. Placing a Confederate flag somewhere where the Confederacy has not existed for over 150 years is like the Czech Republic raising the flag of former Czechoslovakia. While the dissolution of the Czech Republic and Slovakia didn’t occur nearly as long ago, neither nation needs to raise the flag of former Czechoslovakia to remember it’s history. The act of raising a flag in order to “bring awareness” to and “remember” the history of a former territory or nation is ignorant. No matter what kind of education people may have about the Civil War, looking at a flag is certainly not going to instill the precise message that the Virginia Flaggers are intending to convey. In fact, one could argue that putting a flag in such a central, public location will create more issues. Many people have strong beliefs about the meaning of the flag. Some people may see it as a racial dig. In the “politically correct” era we live in, raising a Confederate flag in a heavy-traffic area without any context might stir racial tension due to the perceived historical meaning of that flag. Placing the flag in a more appropriate location, such as historical landmarks of the Civil War, to honor those who died so long ago would be a more tactical approach in remembering the war. In order to truly honor the veterans, regardless of whether there is any official Lee-Jackson Day or not, the Virginia Flaggers might want to focus a little more on placing Confederate flags in places such as Civil War cemeteries. As stated by David Blight in ‘Decoration Days: The Origins of Memorial Day in North and South’ in ‘The Memory of the Civil War in American Culture’ by Fahs and Waugh, after the war ended in 1865, memorialization originally occurred in cemeteries in order to provide a mass grieving time for all those who had lost loved ones and to remember and recognize all those who died during the war. Having a Confederate flag raised in these cemeteries makes much more sense than placing them next to highways for example. The message of honoring and remembering those who fought would be understood far more and ensure that the Virginia Flaggers’ intentions are truly about reminding people of Virginia’s rich Confederate history and heritage.

    • Kevin Levin Mar 12, 2015 @ 16:38

      Good points, Madison. I don’t have a problem with Confederate flags in cemeteries, but in my view they should be confined to museums where they can be properly interpreted. Heritage groups like the Virginia Flaggers are oblivious to the fact that Confederate veterans were very careful about the conditions in which they displayed the flag. The United Daughters of the Confederacy also regulated the battle flag’s presence in public setting.

  • Pat Young Feb 19, 2015 @ 15:18

    The Flaggers seem to be involved in a form of extortion. Their message; “Do as we say or we will erect a giant flagpole with the CBF in your community.” It seems to recognize that the CBF is undesirable, otherwise the threat would not carry any weight.

    • Kevin Levin Feb 19, 2015 @ 15:22

      It seems to recognize that the CBF is undesirable, otherwise the threat would not carry any weight.

      That’s right. And this makes it more difficult for individuals and organizations who are genuinely interested in using the Confederate flag to teach in the classroom, museums, etc. The Virginia Flaggers have always been about The Virginia Flaggers.

    • Andy Hall Feb 19, 2015 @ 16:49

      “The Flaggers seem to be involved in a form of extortion.”

      Recall that Tripp Lewis had to be ordered by a court to stay away from the homes of VMFA board members.

      • Kevin Levin Feb 19, 2015 @ 16:51

        Just the kind of behavior that Confederate veterans engaged in to gain attention. 🙂

    • James Harrigan Feb 20, 2015 @ 7:14

      on the question of extortion by CBF:

      This morning on my way to work in Charlottesville, I saw something I have never seen before in the city: a big white pickup truck with two very large CBF’s planted in the truck bed, flapping in the freezing air. In my seven years living in this liberal southern college town (2008 vote for Obama = 72%), I have seen a public representation of the CBF (bumper sticker, flag, t-shirt, whatever) definitely less than ten times, probably less than five times. The only exception is the privately owned confederate cemetery that Kevin mentions, which always has a few small CBF’s planted in front of graves. The repulsive Lost Cause monuments that dominate our historic downtown (huge equestrian statues of Lee and Jackson, a smaller statute of a confederate soldier) have never, in my experience, been accompanied by a CBF.

      So naturally I thought: who is this white supremacist provocateur driving around my city displaying two huge CBFs from the back of his pickup? Your guess is as good as mine, but I would be less than shocked if he were affiliated with, or inspired by, the Virginai Flaggers.

  • Bob Huddleston Feb 19, 2015 @ 14:49

    Nice. BTW, what are the question you ask the students?

    • Kevin Levin Feb 19, 2015 @ 15:23

      Since it’s the beginning of the semester I ask questions about the information on the headstones. Students reflect on the date of death, age, and home state. We use the information to frame the section of the course on soldiers.

      • Bob Huddleston Feb 19, 2015 @ 16:40

        And age at war time death may impact your students as they reflect on the small difference between them and the soldiers.

        • Kevin Levin Feb 19, 2015 @ 16:42

          That was definitely part of the idea. We always end our tour in front of a marker to a young soldier who died at 16 years of age. That always has an impact on the students.

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