Flying a Confederate Flag: What it Means

In the wake of the Charleston shooting at The Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church back in June, many were left feeling bitter and depressed at the blatant racism that still perpetuates itself so freely in the Southern United States. In what was clearly a racist hate crime, shooter Dylann Roof proved that we still have a long way to go for civil rights and safety.

After the shooting happened, I was urged to watch this clip from the Daily Show talking about the “incident”. Jon Stewart used the brilliant term “racial wallpaper” to describe the many street signs in South Carolina that still proudly display the names of Confederate Generals who fought to keep slavery intact. To me, the same can be said for the Confederate Flag.

I was recently shocked and disgusted to find two Confederate Flags flying high in my home town  where I have come to feel safe and accepted. Where I feel completely distanced from the persistent racial hatred that still occurs in the Southern United States. But of course, I am white. It made me think. Would I feel safe in town if I wasn’t white? What does it really mean to raise a confederate flag?  Do those flying it think about it? Is it simply a sign of “redneck pride” and rebellion or does it shed light on years of racial toiling still to come?

 The History

The Confederate Flag was originally not a flag to represent the entire Confederate States Army but rather that of the Army of Northern Virginia which was the main military force of the Confederate States Army.[1] Many of those who feel a deep connection to the flag will draw on this reason for hanging the flag- that is, to commemorate their ancestors who fought so hard during the Civil War. Let’s not forget that these ancestors, at least in part, were fighting so hard for slavery to stick around.  Now, I’m not so narrow-minded to think that’s all they fought for. I know they did not want to be dominated by another group of people, or have their own rights stripped but let’s not get trapped romanticizing this past.

Photo from: http://paulabrown.net/army-of-northern-virginia-battle-flag-28.jpg No copyright infringement intended.
Photo from: http://paulabrown.net/army-of-northern-virginia-battle-flag-28.jpg No copyright infringement intended.

The symbolism of this flag largely disappeared until the 1940s when it began to reappear at college football games in the southern states and in the 1950s in protest to civil rights and the meddling of the federal government in state affairs.[2] In particular, the flag was used in protests against desegregation of public schools, particularly in 1956 in reaction to the case of Brown vs. the Board of Education.[3] In fact, this event had a direct impact on Georgia adopting the Confederate Flag back into their own state flag from 1956-2001.[4] The flag was also adopted by the Ku Klux Klan who flew (and still fly) the flag at rallies and marches as a sign of a proud, white south. So in what way can we separate this flag from its racist undertones? We can’t.

Photo from: http://www.thehindu.com/multimedia/dynamic/02457/Ku_Klux_2457182f.jpg no copyright infringement intended.
Photo from: http://www.thehindu.com/multimedia/dynamic/02457/Ku_Klux_2457182f.jpg no copyright infringement intended.

Currently

Just recently, the Confederate Flag was removed from the state capitol building in South Carolina by governor Nikki Hayley and massive protests erupted. Over 50 white supremacists showed up in a KKK protest, holding what news stations referred to as “rebel banners” (let’s call a spade a spade), with at least one that featured Nazi symbolism at the State Capitol Building.[5] Historic black churches are being burned. In fact as of June 30th, eight black churches had been burned in ten days in South Carolina.[6] Reckless and hateful violence, to the point of death was inflicted by the shooter in Charleston, South Carolina who posted photos of himself posing with the Confederate Flag. Since this shooting, 132 Pro-Confederate Flag Rallies have been held in the United States with more on their way.[7]  No, the Southern United States is not the only place where slavery has occurred. It certainly isn’t the only place where racism is still occurring. This is merely one piece of symbolism that to me, has been perverted too far to be legitimate any longer. 

Photo from: http://www.trbimg.com/img-559ff291/turbine/la-na-confederate-flag-removed-south-carolina-20150710 No copyright infringement intended.
Photo from: http://www.trbimg.com/img-559ff291/turbine/la-na-confederate-flag-removed-south-carolina-20150710 No copyright infringement intended.

Even for those who like to distance themselves from the KKK, the idea that the flag was taken from you by this racial group doesn’t make it any better to fly. The swastika was once a symbol of good fortune but it is no longer  acceptable. While the confederate flag may symbolize freedom, rebellion and anti-government mentality for many, its roots are unarguably tied to racism and this has only evolved since. There is nothing grandiose or brave about flying the confederate flag. It is a shameful act rooted in racism. What you think stands for freedom, really stands for stealing freedom from others.  It stands for years of slavery, repression and violence.  Take it down.

[1] Matthew Willis, “That Confederate Flag Again: The Meaning of the Confederate Flag and Iconography“, Jstor Daily. June 24th 2015.

[2] J. Michael Martinez, “The Georgia Confederate Flag Debate” , The Georgia Historical Quarterly 92.2, 2008.

[3] Martinez, “Georgia Confederate Flag Debate”.

[4] Martinez, “Georgia Confederate Flag Debate”.

[5] Elisha Fieldstadt and Craig Stanley, “KKK, Black Panther Group Clash Over Confederate Flag Outside Southern Carolina Capitol”, nbcnews.com.

[6] Alissa Greenberg, “Another Black Church Burns in the South, 8th in 10 Days”, time.com.

[7] Amanda Terkel, “There have been 132 pro-Confederate Flag Rallies Since the Charleston Shooting”, July 28 2015, huffingtonpost.com.

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2 thoughts on “Flying a Confederate Flag: What it Means

  1. Many people may see the confederate flag as a symbol of support for slavery. I can argue that many, many more, myself included, do not. It was a symbol of a group of people that did not want to be ruled by another group of people, The same sentiment that had led the USA to reject rule by Britain. That slavery was practised by many or even a majority of those people is a separate issue. There is plenty of historical evidence to show that slave owners and others tolerant of slavery were not exclusively on the confederate side.

    Yes, every reasonable person now, must condemn slavery, nazism and other forms of persecution, but let us remember that slavery was not unique to the Southern states of the USA. Nor has it always been a case of white owners and black slaves, millions of slaves from many races, including millions of whites, have been enslaved and continue to be, by many different nationalities.

    As a survivor of a small, persecuted and dispossessed tribe, I know how dangerous the results of misguided media hate campaigns can be. The disastrous situation in my former country is testament to that.

    Social media has many benefits, but I believe that it is now being used as a weapon of intolerance that will prove to be every bit as dangerous as the propaganda promoting Hitler’s ideology in the 1930s. Careers are being unfairly ruined, reputations trashed without thought, symbolic associations being elevated way beyond what is realistic. It seems the purpose of many social media crusaders is to increase racial tension, not reduce it.

    What would have happened if the shooter in Charleston had held the Stars and Stripes in his Facebook photos? Or the Canadian Flag? The flag would have been quietly ignored and the accusations directed at the perpetrator not at a flag as a convenient symbol to stir up further racial disharmony.

    My fear is that the one sided intolerance shown by so many on social media will increase to the level that it invites government censorship of what should be a platform for any one to air opinions.

    For the record, I have the greatest sympathy for the vicitms and their families. I do not and cannot condone violent acts against innocent people of any race. Dyllan Roof should have never been permitted to own a firearm and must suffer the appropriate penalty determined by a court of law, be it life imprisonment or the death penalty.

    1. Peter,
      I can definitely see your point and absolutely appreciate the time you put into the well thought out response. In no way am I trying to imply that the Southern United States is the only place where slavery has occurred or that the Confederate Army’s only goal was slavery. Northerners also had many slaves in many cases. I do however, feel that since the symbol has been so widely adopted by groups like the KKK, it has been perverted far too much to make it acceptable any more. I believe there are so many other ways and symbols to celebrate American history and heritage without using an emblem that has become associated with resistance to civil rights and frankly, safety for a population that makes up a large group of the country.

      I appreciate your comments about the media and definitely agree. Using fear and symbolism has become such a powerful media tool and we must be careful to look at both sides of the story when forming opinions.

      Furthermore, with regard to the Dylann Roof case, I think you’re right. Be it gun laws or mental health regulation, we can’t condone his actions no matter the circumstances.

      Thank you for taking the time to reply. I appreciate it and as always you’ve given me a lot to think about.

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