Notes on the Confederate Flag Controversy

It has been an interesting month. We have witnessed changes that would have seemed improbable not all that many years ago. Here are a few observations concerning the controversy over Confederate flags, symbols, and icons:

1. It remains regrettable that it took the murder of nine people in cold blood for Americans to have this discussion. The debating points have been out there for some time.

2. For all the chatter in some quarters about this debate being driven by left liberal Marxist Southern-hating politically-correct academics and their allies in the evil executive branch of the federal government, the politicans who have made the key decisions in several prominent instances were at one time the darlings of the heritage crowd. Nikki Haley, Lindsey Graham, and Mitch McConnell are not favorites of the radical liberal movement. Neither is the current president of the College of Charleston. The heritage folks may find it difficult to understand how those they once trusted came to betray them, but then they also confuse political correctness with political pragmatism. I don’t believe these politicans experienced a change of heart: however, they know how to count votes.

3. Confederate heritage organizations have proven to be utter failures in achieving their objectives. The ranting and whining remain unchanged, as has the anger and ill-concealed bigotry in many corners. Ben Jones, the chief of heritage operations for the SCV, has proved unable to chart a new path, precisely because he, too, held fast to the traditional mantras. Don’t say I didn’t warn you, Ben. I did. As for the various flagging organizations and their cheerleaders, they seem overwhelmed, ineffective, and confused.

4. However, there is hope for these folks. That rests in the overreaction in some quarters as well as the incidents of vandalism against CSA monuments. More on that later.

 

Prevarication in Pensacola

During the past several weeks we’ve seen a whirlwind of activity concerning Confederate flags, symbols, and icons. Some of the discussion has been thoughtful, while other treatments have not. Some proposals have made sense, while others smack of bizarre overreaction.

Defenders of Confederate symbols have been remarkably unable to defend their positions, in past because they have failed to articulate those positions in the first place. They have been reduced to seeing their efforts blown away … gone with the wind, if you will.

Of particular interest is that it appears that once more authorities in Pensacola, Florida, have changed their mind about displaying the Confederate flag. We await the revival of the Gulf Coast Flaggers … er, West Florida Flaggers (sic) … as the battle returns to the sidewalks of this Florida community.

Down It Comes … Now What?

It certainly looks like the days of the Confederate Battle Flag flying on the grounds of the state house in Columbia, South Carolina are numbered. This is in large part due to prominent South Carolina political leaders changing positions under pressure given the recent mass murder in the state.

No one can deny that. The arguments concerning the display of that particular flag are neither more nor less valid than before. Nor will the flag’s removal silence white supremacists and Confederate heritage advocates (especially those who have freely associated with white supremacists).

So, what’s next? Will this debate subside or continue, as people look to other uses of Confederate icons and symbols? Is this simply about a flag that is as much a symbol of resistance to civil rights and equality as it was a symbol for soldiers whose performance on the battlefield might have secured the independence of a republic founded upon the cornerstone of white supremacy and inequality?

One thing is clear: it has not been a good ten days for Confederate heritage advocates. Between licence plates, several SCV divisions rebuking other Confederate heritage groups for outrageous and childish behavior, and the fallout from Charleston, it may be that in 2015 people marked the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War by doing to Confederate heritage what Grant and Sherman did to the Confederacy itself in 1865.

Simple Questions

I think it’s time for all this discussion about the proper display of the Confederate flag … which in some quarters appears to obscure the enormity of the massacre at Charleston … to get to the heart of the matter.

You tell me …

Should the Confederate Battle Flag [CBF] (including its versions as the ANV flag, the AoT flag, and the Confederate navy jack) be flown outside, period?

Do you favor the removal of the Confederate flag flying on the grounds of the South Carolina State House? Why?

If you believe that the flying of the CBF on the grounds of the South Carolina State House should cease, are there any conditions when a CBF should appear outside?

Should the CBF be banned from public display elsewhere (t-shirts, bumper stickers, headgear)?

Are your restrictions limited to the CBF alone, or do they extend to other flags flown by the Confederacy (such as the trio of national flags)?

The comments section is open.

Charleston: White Supremacy, Black Lives, and Red Blood

I’ve watched and read the public reaction to the slaughter of nine people–nine African American people–by a white supremacist gunman who warrants the description of a terrorist. As I read that commentary, I wonder how people would react if the gunman was a black male and the victims were white.

Make no mistake about it: such a terrorist act is the logical if extreme outcome of white supremacy and intolerance. Apparently, reasons this particular white supremacist gunman, if you can’t own them, exploit them, or remove them, you kill them.

As one might expect, the gunman’s fondness for Confederate heritage has become a focus of discussion. We’ve had people calling for the banning of Confederate flags as symbols of hate while certain defenders of Confederate heritage, sometimes after offering perfunctory statements of regret, rush to disassociate their cause from this mass murder or to offer other explanations for the gunman’s behavior. That’s to be expected, and it is to be regretted. We’ve had far too much discussion of the Confederate flag, both by people who hate it and people who love it, that trivialize the whole matter by turning it into a screaming match between extremes. Thoughtful commentary flounders in such environments, precisely because both sides will assail it.

It’s Sunday. If you haven’t already done so, think about the victims and their families and friends. Pray for those who have suffered. And think before you respond … because if you think that this whole matter can be reduced to whether we should allow the display of the Confederate flag, you really aren’t advancing the discussion very far.

Crossroads Greatest Hits: What’s a Scholar to Do?

Several years have passed since the topic of blacks in Confederate military service was a hot button to push on blogs (it really isn’t any more, although some people are slow to grasp that). Whether one speaks of Confederate slaves or the Black Confederate Myth (or its close cousin, the Myth of the black Confederate) is a matter left to others. Whether professional historians needed to inject themselves in such arguments was nearly as heated a topic as the argument itself. I offered my opinions here and here … and then responded again here. Good times, eh?