Because Nothing Says Memorial Day Like a Confederate Flag Burning

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Artist John Sims and Julian Chambliss, chairman of the Department of History and Africa and African-American Studies program at Rollins College in Florida, will spend this Memorial Day burning a Confederate flag. The event, which supposedly will take place in all of the former Confederate states, is being organized by John Sims, who is known for his artistic renderings of the flag. As you might expect the event is getting a good deal of media attention, but all I see is a lack of originality and a good deal of laziness.

Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with the burning of a Confederate flag, but it doesn’t come close to the power of Sims’s previous exhibit, “The Proper Way to Hang A Confederate Flag,” in which he tied a flag to a noose. I can remember a wonderful discussion at the time in my Civil War memory class about this particular exhibit. This is a step backwards in terms of artistic expression

Sims and Chambliss give me the impression that they take themselves to be at the forefront of pointing out the flag’s controversial past. According to Sims:

The flag is almost too toxic to handle, and for those who do, I’m suspicious of their engagement. Are you in denial?

Nothing could be further from the truth given the number of public and private institutions that no longer display the Confederate flag. Throughout the South the flag is under assault.

Professor Chambliss hopes that this event will lead to productive discussions within communities throughout the nation. If that were the goal than the good professor should use his position at the college to host such an event. From what I can tell that is unlikely. What we have here is a a lot of fluff that will do little more than ruffle the feathers of certain individuals and organizations.

Whatever artistic value this event holds, it is on the whole a wasted opportunity.

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17 comments… add one
  • Neil Hamilton May 25, 2015 @ 20:21


    I want to engage in “productive discussions” over an issue of some important with a specific group.

    I walk up to that group, a smile on my face, my right hand extended, and then I unexpectedly knee that group in its collective groin.

    Yep, that ought to bring about “productive discussions.”


  • Will Hickox May 24, 2015 @ 8:01

    Such a display will also play into the hands of neo-Confederates by reinforcing their delusions of “Yankee” persecution and an ongoing Civil War. In my opinion the best response to flagging is to ignore it. I think the biggest fear of many flaggers is public indifference to their “cause.”

    • Brendan May 24, 2015 @ 17:55

      The Confederate flag is a military flag that has been misappropriated by political groups like neo-Confederates and the KKK to push their crazy agendas. In my opinion, the most legitimate use of the flag is to memorialize those who served under it during the Civil War. By burning it on Memorial Day, Sims is specifically striking at the latter usage, targeting the wrong people for the wrong reasons. Instead of launching an assault on the heritage of many white Southerners, why not instead remind American people of color of their Civil War heritage? Instead of burning the Confederate flag, raise the banners of the USCT and honor the thousands of Americans who fought and died to end slavery.

  • Rob Orrison May 23, 2015 @ 18:14

    Sounds like a waste of time…better outcomes would come from people putting the same efforts into meaningful change and work to end homelessness or something along those lines. Who cares if they burn a flag?

    • Will Hickox May 24, 2015 @ 7:59

      I think you’re right. There are far more productive ways of addressing the needs of minority communities and countering racism. I suspect this event is largely a publicity stunt for the people involved.

  • Andy Hall May 23, 2015 @ 11:05

    The Florida statute is unenforceable. See Texas v. Johnson, 491 U.S. 397.

    • Ted May 23, 2015 @ 12:10

      SCOTUS Elitists 1- States Rights 0

      • Kevin Levin May 23, 2015 @ 12:32

        Fascinating analysis. 🙂

      • Jimmy Dick May 23, 2015 @ 13:31

        Freedom of speech – 1
        The right of states to limit freedom of speech – 0

        Gosh, just look at how some people define individual rights and freedoms while hiding behind state’s rights.

        • Trueism May 24, 2015 @ 3:25

          So if that is then if that is the case Mr Dick, then how come the FSS was changed to refect nly US flags cannot be disrespected so to speak

          • Jimmy Dick May 24, 2015 @ 7:05

            The Florida laws are not enforceable because of the Supremacy Clause of the US Constitution which states:

            “This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof; and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby, anything in the constitution or laws of any state to the contrary notwithstanding.”

            That would be Art. IV, Clause 2 should you need to look it up.

            Since freedom of speech is a right expressed in the First Amendment of the US Constitution and has been incorporated to apply to the states, the SCOTUS decision in Texas v. Johnson is applicable to all states. Any state can pass a law which violates the rights of their citizens. They just cannot enforce those laws. The question is why do some people in some states seem to think they can violate the US Constitution?

            Why do some people say they support the Constitution and then violate it whenever they dislike what it says? This is where the state’s rights argument collapses. That argument has been a failure repeatedly in US history. More often than not state’s rights has stood for the violation of the rights of citizens by other citizens.

    • Kristoffer May 23, 2015 @ 14:28

      The weird thing about freedom of speech to me is that it is the most impossible ideal yet one of the most important. No matter how many people say they believe in freedom of speech, ask them that question about enough people, and they’ll eventually contradict themselves and say that some group or person should not have it. Yet this ideal has enabled the USA and Great Britain to keep Holocaust denial and antisemitism in check compared to mainland Europe.

  • Trueism May 23, 2015 @ 10:24

    The State of Florida makes it a second-degree misdemeanor for anyone to mutilate, deface, burn or trample upon the U.S. flag, the Florida state flag or the flags of the Confederacy. The law also forbids the use of such flags for advertising or publicity purposes and punishes such infractions with a fine of up to $500 and a jail term of up to 60 days . [Fla. Stat. ch. 256.05 through 256.10] And public mutilation of a flag is punishable as a first-degree misdemeanor if done with intent to insult the flag. [Fla. Stat. ch. 876.52]

    So wil the law be enforced or forgotten?

    • Trueism May 23, 2015 @ 10:25

      Penalty: Imprisonment for up to one year and fines up to $1,000.

  • Andy Hall May 23, 2015 @ 9:33

    Flag-burning is provocative but, as you say, it’s not a way to prompt an active discussion. It’s just being a dick because you can be, and it’s probably better not to give too much attention to it.

    • Brad May 24, 2015 @ 7:55

      Couldn’t have said it better myself. It’s the proverbial waving the red flag in front of the bull.

      • Andy Hall May 24, 2015 @ 8:06

        SCV heritage chief Ben “Cooter” Jones says, “for every flag [Sims] burns and buries, we will put 10 more up.” Nice to see that everyone’s following the established script here.

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