How Should This Battle Flag Be Interpreted?

It’s been two years since the Confederate battle flag was removed from the State House in Columbia, South Carolina, following the brutal murders committed by Dylann Roof in Charleston. The battle flag has been in storage at the Confederate Relic Room & Museum, but at this time there are still no plans for a permanent display.

This brief video explores some of the challenges related to interpreting this particular flag as well as the other wartime battle flags currently on display in the museum.

Eric Emerson, who is the director of the South Carolina Department of Archives and History, explores the long history of the battle flag in Columbia stretching back to the 1930s, as well as the flag that went up in 1962, in an essay for my forthcoming book, Interpreting the Civil War at Museums and Historic Sites. Emerson offers his own thoughts about how this battle flag ought to be interpreted, though he admits that it may be too early.

The book will be available in a couple of weeks. It recently received another positive advance review from Peter Carmichael, who is the director of the Civil War Institute:

Kevin Levin has assembled an impressive cast of practicing public historians whose extensive experience in the field has translated into a series of engaging articles that will appeal to practitioners as well as to students of the Civil War. Each essay asks tough questions about how we communicate with our audiences, and how we might better understand their perspectives in developing new lines of communication with under -represented groups who feel marginalized at military parks and museums. Rather than lament the supposed decline in historical interest in America as is the party-line of cynics today, the authors in this volume offer powerful examples of dynamic exchanges with the public, digging deep into the conversations taking place at Civil War sites, revealing the challenges of interpretation, and pressing us to be more creative and collaborative with our audiences and our colleagues without losing sight of the practical realities in helping the American people think historically about the past.

You can still pre-order the book directly from the publisher with a 30% discount. Use the code:  RLFANDF30 at checkout.

Searching for Black Confederates: The Civil War’s Most Persistent Myth

“Levin’s study is the first of its kind to blueprint and then debunk the mythology of enslaved African Americans who allegedly served voluntarily in behalf of the Confederacy.”–Journal of Southern History

Purchase your copy today!

9 comments… add one
  • Kent Lind Aug 4, 2017 @ 19:04

    I used to teach at a big diverse public HS in central Texas. When the conversation would occasionally turn to the confederate flag I would usually just comment. ‘you know it should really be called the ‘loser flag’ because that’s what it represents.” And I’d tell the kids “No point getting all bent out of shape when you see that flag. It does serve a useful purpose of identifying the losers in our midst.”

    In that area of Texas though, it really wasn’t very common. Kids were much more likely to fly the Texas flag or the “come and take it” flag from their pickup trucks at football games and that sort of thing. I guess those flags in Texas sort of became the politically correct version of the confederate flag for rednecks to fly from the backs of their trucks and from their front porches.

  • Joyce Harrison Aug 4, 2017 @ 4:47

    When I lived in Columbia the locals told me that the flag was torn off its moorings in 1989 during Hurricane Hugo. Many people believed it to be a sign that the flag needed to come down. But back up it went.

    • Joshism Aug 4, 2017 @ 6:16

      Who’s bright idea was it to leave a flag flying during a hurricane?

  • Forester Aug 3, 2017 @ 17:49

    “…the flag that went up in 1962”

    Wait, surely that’s not the same flag? They changed it every couple years or so, right? Because my family put a flag up on 9/11/01 and it’s now sun-bleached beyond use and hasn’t flown in years.

    Where IS the ’62 flag, and why isn’t its interpretation also in discussion?

    • Kevin Levin Aug 4, 2017 @ 1:47

      I believe the flag featured in this video is the ’62 flag.

      • bob carey Aug 4, 2017 @ 5:16

        I don’t think the flag in the video is the original ’62 flag. The narrator states the flag is 2 years old. The historical value of the 2 year old flag is significant because it represents the change in the social attitude of South Carolina after the heinous act of Roof, and should be displayed with a narrative explaining the change and the events leading up to that change.

        • Kevin Levin Aug 4, 2017 @ 5:18

          If it’s two years old than where did it come from? The flag that was pulled down from the State House grounds was certainly older than that. Now I am confused.

          • bob carey Aug 4, 2017 @ 7:01

            I’m going strictly on memory, but wasn’t the original flag flown from the dome and the flag that was removed was flown from a pole next to a Confederate monument. The flag had to be replaced from time to time, The CBF in the video was not 55 years old. The question is whether any of the replaced flags were kept by South Carolina ?

            • Kevin Levin Aug 4, 2017 @ 7:44

              Went back and looked. Yeah, that flag is definitely not the original. Will look into it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *