Recently a friend visited me in New York City. He’s from the South. What draws us together as close friends is that we both agree critical thinking should take precedent over emotionalism when discussing ideas. After dinner he mentioned he wanted to buy a license plate with a Confederate Flag in order to support state rights over Federal rights. I told him, "In no way would I ever get into a car with a Confederate Flag." He argued modern liberalism has rewritten history so that the Confederate Flag now represents racism rather than its original political symbol of States Rights over Federal Rights. As I started to counter that theory, I realized I'd never actually researched the Confederate Flag. I could not respond with any authority. I could only be emotional and assumptive – always the most annoying kind of argument. I had work to do. Without getting a wink of sleep, I spent midnight to sunrise researching. My goal was to jostle my friend awake for breakfast, armed with information.
When the sun came up, I was armed. I had page after page of notes detailing the history of the Confederate Flag. How there were several iterations of the Confederate Flag prior to the emergence of the Southern Cross Flag that took its final form during The Civil War, mostly due to General E. Lee’s early success.
In quote after quote, every Confederate argument to enter the Civil War was overwhelmingly centered on the desire to continue slavery. I learned it was a known fact to Confederate politicians prior to 1861 that The United States of America was among the last of the civilized countries in the entire world to abolish slavery. So, with the deliberate intention to spin the desire for slavery as something less abhorrent, Confederate politicians started replacing the battle cry for slavery with the cry for States Rights over Federal Rights. But a State’s right to continue slavery was always at the heart of every argument to secede or enter a Civil War. There was never a time when it wasn’t. All other goals were just peas around the turkey.
Beginning in the 1950’s white U.S. citizens began to dilute the significance of the Confederate Flag with feelings of nostalgia: sweet tea, old traditions, church on Sundays, good old boys, some fading Southern way of life. The Confederate Flag was commercialized on beach towels, swimming suits, shirts, and the Dukes of Hazard. One reason people allowed the Confederate Flag to be commercialized was because - up until recently - the media generally excluded black politics and objections. Generations in white communities grew up without knowing the history of the flag. My brother and I, for example, grew up in California watching the Dukes of Hazard without ever knowing what that cross of stars on the General Lee represented. Nor did we know who General Lee referred to. Nobody taught us. Mostly, I think, nobody wanted to bring up the subject to kids. School text books certainly had no desire to discuss in detail America’s history of rampant racism. Particularly because the racism never went away. How do you answer a child when she raises her hand to ask why the entire country refused to permit black citizens to vote until 102 years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation?
But ignorance of the past is not in and of itself a rewriting of history. It’s simply ignorance. According to my research, historians and black citizens ALWAYS associated the Southern Cross Flag with the same racism that fueled slavery, segregation, and discrimination. It NEVER represented only an enthusiasm for State Rights over Federal Rights, distinct and separate from racism. Not once. During the Civil Rights movement of the 1950’s and 1960’s, the Confederate Flag truly became cemented only as a symbol of hate once the KKK began to embrace it loudly and proudly. It remains a symbol of hate.
Can you hang a Confederate Flag from your porch to commemorate the fallen soldiers of the Civil War without commemorating what they died for? I don’t see how that’s possible without considerable and willful disregard of basic facts. Secession was Constitutionally illegal in 1861. The flashpoint of the Civil War sparked in April 1861 when secessionists attacked Fort Sumter in South Carolina shortly after Abraham Lincoln had been inaugurated as the President of the United States. The whole point of creating a Confederate Flag was to rally the rebellion of the Confederation against the laws of the United States. Because Confederate Soldiers marched in line behind this flag, they died. So to fly the flag today is to simultaneously celebrate what the fallen soldier fought for: the right to own other human beings based on skin color. In the Civil War 258,000 Confederate soldiers gave up their lives to defend their right to enslave and brutalize 45,000,000 humans merely because of the color of their skin. Of the 30,000,000 slaves brought to the United States, 2,400,000 captured Africans died in transport and were tossed overboard like spoilt potatoes. That is the Confederate Flag’s legacy. To fly the Confederate Flag from your suburban front porch in honor of fallen Confederate soldiers is to simultaneously support what they gave up their lives for. This makes sense. One cannot fly a swastika to honor dead Nazi soldiers without simultaneously supporting the systematic slaughter of 6,000,000 Jews. It’d be illogical, inconsistent, and coldly insensitive to feel otherwise.
So, when breakfast came around, I recall bombarding my friend with my research. I recall concluding HE was rewriting history by disassociating the Confederate Flag from racism, human trafficking, and slavery. I recall concluding he may believe States Rights should be prioritized over Federal Rights, and he may even have excellent reasons to, but he needs a brand new flag or symbol for that. The Confederate Flag is permanently stained with the blood and tears of the most atrocious institutionalized racism and injustice in US History. And I definitely reinforced my refusal to board a vehicle with a Confederate Flag license plate.
My friend laughed at the fact that I’d stay up all night researching a topic he had half-heartedly tossed into the discussion the night before. Although he consented not to buy such a license plate, he warned me he would commence researching his side of the argument before he let it go. So, the only argument I really won is one we already agreed on: being informed is far more important than merely being passionate or indignant. And becoming informed always takes effort, focus, and time.
I watched two videos released by #ColdCrashPictures. Whatever I learned that one night pales by comparison to the research this man conducted over four months on this same subject. I encourage you to watch Part 1 and Part 2 of “Should We Still Be Watching ‘Gone with the Wind?’" It’s entertaining while being very, very well researched.