God forbid you get between a southerner and his or her rabid love for the rebel (confederate) flag. Geez – too bad we can’t get these people as het up about, I don’t know, education? Poverty? Random police shootings? But I know, it’s waaay easier to get riled up about something that actually doesn’t matter. It’s even a bit fun if we get to call it “heritage” isn’t it?
But let’s take a look at what that heritage is, shall we?
The confederate flag – well, actually, there’s the first issue. The flag we know of now was not the actual flag of the confederacy. There were two or three other models with different functions. The one we accept now was part of a design by a man named William Porcher Miles, a seemingly decent fellow on most accounts, unless you want to talk about abolition. Miles was a politician who gained favor in the south for his belief that slavery was a “divine institution” and opposed the inalienable right that all men are created equal. A democrat and plantation owner (he inherited the plantation from his father-in-law), Miles could be generous in individual cases but did not see the African race as human, but as a class of people born only for service to whites.
Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens declared the Founders “fundamentally wrong” in judging all humans equal. “Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its cornerstone rests upon the great truth, that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery—the subordination to the superior race—is his natural and normal condition.”
Miles also felt that the United States flag was a flag of tyranny and proposed his design to be radically different because the first confederate flags could not be distinguished from the opposition in battle. And while he opposed the Civil War, he was strongly in favor of resuming the slave trade business with Africa. Of the 10 million captured men, women and children who survived the voyage from Africa, less than 500K arrived in North America. Most went to the Caribbean and South America. Please do keep in mind that there were slave farms in America where slave women would be impregnated and give birth to more slaves, so the need to keep the trade running was moot. By the time the confederate army fired on the Union army at Fort Sumter there were nearly 4 MILLION slaves owned by approximately 8% of the population. The can-do spirit of American ingenuity made slavery self-replicating. Slaves begat more slaves, oftentimes with the slave-master’s “assistance.”
Anyway, back to the good ole confederate flag (or actually rebel flag – there are so many different iterations!) The flag we know today was Robert E Lee’s battle flag, although I believe Lee’s flag was square. Lee was a bit of a contradiction on the issue of slavery. While he felt it was an evil to both blacks and whites (mostly whites) he owned slaves and did not free them as requested in the will of the man he inherited them from. He did however sell some of them, breaking up families in the process. After the war Lee said of the practice of erecting Civil War monuments:
“I think it wiser moreover not to keep open the sores of war, but to follow the examples of those nations who endeavoured to obliterate the marks of civil strife and to commit to oblivion the feelings it engendered,”
Wow. Even the man who fought under the flag and is still revered in the south wanted the thing gone. But let’s move slightly sideways in flag evolution. William Tappan Thompson was the editor of the Savannah Morning News and designer of one of the seemingly endless flag designs declared:
As a people, we are fighting to maintain the Heaven-ordained supremacy of the white man over the inferior or colored race; a white flag would thus be emblematical[sic] of our cause.… Such a flag…would soon take rank among the proudest ensigns of the nations, and be hailed by the civilized world as THE WHITE MAN’S FLAG.… As a national emblem, it is significant of our higher cause, the cause of a superior race, and a higher civilization contending against ignorance, infidelity, and barbarism. Another merit in the new flag is, that it bears no resemblance to the now infamous banner of the Yankee vandals.
After the war the flag was mostly used to commemorate war veterans and battle sites. It was also popular at southern universities and colleges. At some point the KKK picked it up (although not as their official flag) and around the 1940s the flag became the banner of the growing white supremacist movement in America. It was the flag the Klan carried in rallies, in parades. It decorates their halls and is sold at their celebrations. It was also left behind sometimes with the victims of lynching. When we could not be enslaved by an institution anymore the south chose to enslave us by the bureaucracy of Jim Crow laws. As states became embroiled in Civil Rights issues, especially after Brown v the Board of Education, bigots took up the flag as a symbol of white rights and domination over what they considered lesser races. Now it has (sort of) become a sign of weird southern unity – hey! are you from Texas? Me too! But no one stops to examine the origins this sign of aggression, treason and oppression.
This flag was also the backdrop of Alabama Governor George Wallace’s infamous “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever!” speech. When you see the flag now it’s usually in the hands of whites who are standing with other whites. You rarely see people of any color proudly displaying the flag as a symbol of honor. Geez, that should tell you something right there. Probably the most positive association with the rebel flag now is probably The Dukes of Hazzard: good ole boys from the south who never seemed to talk about a formal education who were constantly pursued by a bumbling police officer and corrupt politician who didn’t seem to have the good sense to make change. And have you ever noticed when Hollywood wants to display someone as backward, racist or stupid, that character will likely have a southern accent? Maybe southerners should take up that cause instead of getting all crazy over a flag.
People compare the rebel flag to the swastika, but I don’t think that is really fair. The swastika was originally a positive symbol – Hindu or Buddhist, I dunno…you look it up – that was appropriated by the Nazi party and became a symbol of hate and terrorism. And yet, no one even dares to say the swastika is a symbol of their heritage. I’ve not seen a Buddhist temple flying a swastika from its ramparts. However, the confederate flag has ALWAYS been a symbol of racial division, from the time of its inception by Thompson and Miles, both strong advocates for slavery and white supremacy. Fly it if you want to, but don’t be fooled into thinking it is a symbol of your deep abiding love of sweet tea and country music. And don’t be offended when people think less of you for it.
What the “confederate” flag means to me:
- Bearers are proud of losing. Because their ancestors were unable to prevail in the War of Northern Aggression they have to make themselves feel better by making others feel less than (this is a BIG pet peeve of mine). Calling it “heritage” and not taking into account that it is the flag over a union that believed to its core that people of color were not equal to whites and therefore not even considered Americans with rights is only your attempt to claim half the story. Claim the FULL story – that your heritage has a foundation of violence and racial oppression.
- Consequently, I get to see it as a sign of victory. I know it’s my own romanticized view, but when I see that flag waving I get this crazy picture in my head of General Sherman burning palatial southern estates built on slave labor to the ground. Slave-owning families losing everything in one fell swoop and having to rely on the generosity of others.
- If your house is on fire and you have a confederate flag in your window I MAY call 911 but I likely WON’T run in and save your life. If your flag emblazoned truck is broken down on a dark, deserted stretch of highway I will not be pulling over to help you. I’m not proud of this, but currently it is my truth. I am a northerner and I have never associated this flag with warm, fuzzy feelings and if it is how you choose to declare yourself to the world I will just assume you do not want my intervention anyway. I’m also not going to hire you, by your goods or offer you monetary compensation.
- Freedom is freedom. You have the freedom to display your “heritage” on your personal property however you see fit within the boundaries of the law. Displaying this symbol of hatred on government buildings to me means that government believes it has different rights than what are allowed from the United States of America and may likely to secede again the next time they get their collective knickers in a twist.
- I think you’re less intelligent than I did before I knew about your flag pride. Not a fair assessment, I acknowledge, but my truth nevertheless. However, I’m not in the minority in this view:
Nearly half of those with at least a college degree (46%) say they have a negative reaction to the display of the Confederate flag, compared with a third (33%) of those with some college experience and just 18% of those with a high school diploma or less.