The Confederate Flag
Posted by Bob Barcus on June 25th, 2015
So the focus this week has switched from the murder of nine black church-goers to a nationwide attack on the Confederate flag. My Facebook feed has been replete with arguments for and against the display, sale and meaning of this flag. Some of the arguments I’ve seen are good, others have been not so good:
“The confederate flag is not an issue. That flag just represented a unified south, not slavery.”
I beg to differ on several levels. The Confederate flag that we commonly associate with the southern states was actually the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia, even though the modern form of this flag is really closer in design to the Confederate Navy Jack. The battle flag or its elements were then incorporated into the flags of several southern states. Mississippi informally incorporated the battle flag into its state flag in 1894. Georgia’s flag was designed by a segregationist in 1956, which prominently featured the battle flag until a new design was adopted in 2001. Other states also incorporated elements of the battle flag during and after the Civil War.
And actually, the first symbol of the unified south was the “Stars and Bars”, a flag that looked similar to the traditional American flag, not the battle flag. Where people get their facts is beyond me. A few simple searches on Google will give you a ton of good information from reliable sources. Sharing a post on Facebook from your friend Billy Bob is probably not the best idea. Besides, one of the main reasons that the flag even exists is because of slavery.
While a historian of Confederate history is better equipped to give a factual perspective concerning the battle flag, I’m going to take a stab at it. I believe that it wasn’t until after the Civil War that many states decided to incorporate these Confederate elements into their designs. But why would they do this? I’m going to guess that many southerners were a little sore about their defeat and decided to bring a little bit of “nostalgia” back into their states. Probably in the same way they developed Jim Crow laws.
The Confederate flag that so many people hold dear to their hearts is really only one flag of many that was used during the Confederacy. There are dozens of other flags that were used by the states, army units, naval vessels and other southern installations. But it is a variation of the battle flag that has drawn the reverence of so many people over the years.
To Southerners, the modern battle flag is a symbol that they cherish, with it holding some meaning to each different person. To many, I’m sure they quantify their love for the Confederate flag by considering it as much a part of their heritage as southern fried chicken. Others probably display the battle flag as an act of defiance or rebellion. Sadly, I’m sure than many who love the Confederate flag have firm-held racist beliefs. Just today, I saw a Confederate flag waving in the breeze below our beloved Stars and Stripes along Lake Avenue in Plymouth. To each his own.
The fact of the matter is that this week, one state decided to take down a battle flag flying on state property. No government entity in this country should be allowed to proudly display a symbol of rebellion and racism except in a historical context. To think that the battle flag does not represent racism and slavery to the majority of folks in this country is folly.
While all of this is happening, some non-governmental entities took steps to eliminate Confederate flag merchandise from their shelves. While it is their right to do so, we should also be careful not to venture into a societal mentality that everything associated with the display of a certain symbol should be banned. It is the right of the citizens to make their own choices, even if their neighbors may find it offensive. Their freedom of expression should not be limited, even if their actions may seem offensive to others. If someone wants to fly a gay pride flag, a Nazi flag, a Mexican flag, a Marine flag or a Confederate flag, it is their right to do so and that right should not be infringed upon; it is their freedom of speech. Even if the display of one of these symbols offends someone, it is still the right of the individual to do so. Society may judge them, but it is not the role of society to dictate how someone should express themselves in a relatively benign manner.
My front porch is proudly adorned with an American flag. Are some people offended by this symbol? You better believe it! But will I take down my flag? Absolutely not! To sum it all up, I don’t think that a Confederate flag should be flown on government property. If someone wants to fly the battle flag on their own private property, then they should be allowed to do so.