An old saying goes that you are entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts. The storm surrounding the confederate battle flag is a good case study for the saying. This is not about an attack on freedom of speech and if you ignore the real history about the confederate flag then you’ve lost any argument about it.
I don’t have much time to waste on people who try to “whitewash” southern history to make it seem like the south didn’t lose the civil war and that the confederate flag is just a symbol of southern heritage.
I have a friend, who teaches secondary school history, who claimed that the south fought the war over state’s rights not slavery so wrong ideas about the south and the battle flag is common.
Government, whether it be federal, state or local, should not be flying the confederate flag. It is not only the symbol of racism and oppression it also celebrates treason against the government. Doesn’t it seem moronic for a government to fly a flag that supported treason against the government. It’s like a hipster in New York wearing clothes ironically.
I will point out that yes an individual can flag the racist battle flag as much as they want even if they refuse to know the facts about it. They can be as delusional as they want about the civil war. This post concerns a government flying the flag and the lack of respect for African-Americans that message sends.
Here are some facts:
Perhaps most perniciously, neo-Confederates now claim that the South seceded over states’ rights. Yet when each state left the Union, its leaders made clear that they were seceding because they were for slavery and against states’ rights. In its “Declaration of the Causes Which Impel the State of Texas to Secede From the Federal Union,” for example, the secession convention of Texas listed the states that had offended the delegates: “Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan and Iowa.” Governments there had exercised states’ rights by passing laws that interfered with the federal government’s attempts to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act. Some no longer let slave owners “transit” across their territory with slaves. “States’ rights” were what Texas was seceding against. Texas also made clear what it was seceding for — white supremacy:
We hold as undeniable truths that the governments of the various States, and of the confederacy itself, were established exclusively by the white race, for themselves and their posterity; that the African race had no agency in their establishment; that they were rightfully held and regarded as an inferior and dependent race, and in that condition only could their existence in this country be rendered beneficial or tolerable.
Despite such statements, neo-Confederates erected monuments that flatly lied about the Confederate cause. For example, South Carolina’s monument at Gettysburg, dedicated in 1963, claims to explain why the state seceded: “Abiding faith in the sacredness of states rights provided their creed here.” This tells us nothing about 1863, when abiding opposition to states’ rights provided the Palmetto State’s creed. In 1963, however, its leaders did support states’ rights; politicians tried desperately that decade to keep the federal government from enforcing school desegregation and civil rights.
Why do people believe myths about the Confederacy? Because our textbooks and monuments are wrong.
And very importantly, even if we abide by the wishes of today’s descendants of the Confederacy by viewing its symbols as honoring benign elements—respect for states’ rights, for example, or the memory of ordinary soldiers—the indisputable reality is that those symbols outlived the Confederacy itself and came to stand for something far from benign. In the century after the war, Confederate symbols became synonymous with a horrendously racist Jim Crow culture (link is external).
Indeed, the racism that defined the century following the Civil War was hardly less egregious than that preceding it. Segregation, inequality, and gross injustices—approximately 4000 African Americans were lynched, mostly in the South, in the decades following the Civil War (link is external)—were social norms, and Confederate symbolism often accompanied these vile practices. Why anyone today, even one with ancestors who fought for the Confederacy, would wish to associate with such symbols is mind-boggling.
The Southern obsession with its own cultural heritage wouldn’t be so problematic if it were just an odd sentimental attachment with no side effects, but in real life it has ongoing repercussions. When Alabama Gov. George Wallace cried “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever!” (link is external) in his inaugural address in 1963, he made references to Southern heritage and he stood by a Confederate flag. All the elements that one associates with Southern defiance, from politicians like Wallace to science books that teach creationism (link is external) to history books that cite Moses (link is external) as an important figure in the founding of America, are furthered by this cultural exaltation.
To sum up:
1. The south started the civil war
2. The Confederate states left the union over slavery and state’s rights – most Confederate states were explicit in their ordinances of secession that they were leaving to protect slavery and they were mad that some northern states refused to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act.
3. State’s rights only became part of the civil war myth during the 1950s and 60s when white racists wanted to keep the federal government from enforcing school desegregation and civil rights.
4. You cannot disconnect the racism ingrained within the symbol of the battle flag.
To most people, who know the real history of the civil war, the battle flag is one big middle finger to African-Americans.
Any government that supports the battle flag is actually saying it is against the democratic values this country is suppose to hold.