There is a reason why Confederate heritage groups like the Virginia Flaggers emphasize the public display of the battle flag. It’s not simply that the flag is widely understood as the soldiers’ flag, but that it is the most visible reminder of the Confederacy. It’s an iconic symbol. This is the flag that Confederate heritage advocates wrap themselves around. In recent years, however, that is becoming more and more difficult to do at least in public spaces throughout the South.
Last night in Escambia County, Florida the community decided that the battle flag ought not to be flown as part of a display outside the Pensacola Bay Center. What will be flown to connect the community to its Confederate past is the First National Flag or Stars and Bars. What’s that, you ask? Well, it was the first national flag of the Confederate nation, which was flown from March 1861 to May 1863.
A quick tour of a few Confederate heritage websites suggests that many view this decision as a victory. The decision likely brings the community in line with the history of what Confederate flags were flown early in the war, but beyond that the victory rings hollow to me. The flag was used in some of the early battles, but was discontinued because it was confused with the Stars and Stripes. Unless an information panel is provided it is likely that most people will make a similar mistake.
Given recent setbacks that are far too numerous to list (OK…from Lexington street light posts/Lee Chapel to Charlottesville’s recent decision to end Lee-Jackson Day) perhaps this does feel like a victory. Somehow this victory will have to accommodate the fact that the decision reinforces the community’s belief that the battle flag is a hopelessly divisive symbol.