Monday, June 22, 2015

Take Down the Flag

Nine people were shot in a black church by a white guy who hated them, who wanted to start some kind of civil war. The Confederate flag flies over South Carolina, and the roads are named for Confederate generals, and the white guy’s the one who feels like his country is being taken away from him. We’re bringing it on ourselves. —Jon Stewart, The Daily Show
I have, until this point, avoided writing about political issues on my blog.  However, after seeing some bigoted responses to people sharing the“Take Down the Confederate Flag” petition on Facebook, I was so incensed that I needed to put my thoughts down on paper, so bear with me.  

Last Wednesday, a twenty-one year old white gunman sat for an hour among parishioners of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, a historic black church in Charleston, before murdering nine African Americans. According to officials, the gunman said his aim was to start a race war. Known for making racists remarks, for being photographed with the Confederate flag, and for donning the flags of apartheid-era South Africa and Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe)—a so-called “subtle” nod to white supremacy—was there ever a doubt as to why he targeted the people he did?

Shockingly perhaps, the most potent symbol of white supremacy in the United States—the Confederate flag—still flies. In South Carolina’s capital, the Confederate flag is hoisted on a flag pole alongside the US and South Carolina state flags; modified versions are featured on Mississippi and North Carolina’s flags; and some Americans brandish it outside their homes, on their jackets, and on the bumper of their cars. Those who defend the flag say that they are given the right to display it by the First Amendment, or they say it’s a symbol of Southern heritage, nothing more.

I agree that Americans have freedom of speech, but our forefathers did not intend for us to hide behind such freedom. And if someone is going to invoke the First Amendment in order to wave the Confederate flag, then they should understand what that particular flag symbolizes.

The Confederate flag was designed and flown by the Confederate States of American between 1861 and 1865, when the Southern states seceded from the Union to defend the southern cause. Although there were many reasons (complicated reasons at that) as to why the Civil War happened, the Southern states did not secede from the Union until Abraham Lincoln, an abolitionist president, was elected. Within three months of his election (his inauguration hadn't even taken place yet), seven states seceded for fear that the new president would end slavery—which their one crop economy depended on—and would favor Northern interests. Slavery was the hot button issue that led directly to the secession of what would later be the Confederate States of America and to the war.  

The Confederate flag was flown by men and women who were protecting a way of life that was inherently racist and dehumanizing to African Americans. Perhaps the most telling fact about the flag was that the designer of its second incarnation, W.T. Thompson, referred to his design as “The White Man’s Flag” and that the white region symbolized “supremacy of the white man”:
As a people we are fighting to maintain the Heaven-ordained supremacy of the white man over the inferior or colored race; a white flag would thus be emblematical of our cause. —William T. Thompson (April 23, 1863), Daily Morning New
While there were other causes for the Civil War, it was fought largely over the question of abolition and emancipation. The Confederate flag then, as a symbol of the society in favor of slavery, is intrinsically linked with white supremacy.  It is the equivalent of the Swastika which was emblazoned on flags, arm bands, and badges during the Nazi's reign of terror. Would anyone be comfortable arguing that it's okay for someone to have the Swastika on display today because it is representative of their German heritage? I highly doubt that. But for some reason, some Americans fight passionately for the right to use the Confederate flag which, at best, is a symbol of a failed rebellion and treason, and, at worst, is a symbol of white supremacy.

How can we deny that it is a symbol of white supremacy when the fact that Confederate flags and other paraphernalia were only resurrected in the 1940s and 1950s as part of the resistance movement to counteract the Civil Rights Movement? And that Confederate flag in Columbia, South Carolina, that is getting so much media attention today? It wasn’t hung in the capital until 1962 as a sign of opposition to the Civil Rights Movement.

As a historian, I can understand the importance of the Confederate flag in museums, but on government buildings and property? And the fact that it is glorified the way it is instead of being taboo like the Swastika is disheartening to the say the least. But that so many Americans cannot comprehend—or choose to ignore—the hurt and injustice that the flag represents to millions of our own population just goes to show how far the United States must still go.  We lost nine lives in Charleston on June 17th because of a legacy of hatred that was indoctrinated into our society over nearly 250 years of slavery.

If we ever wish to truly heal the festering wound that is racism in this country today, that flag must be taken down.


  1. I can't believe people still have it up, displaying it proudly. I just don't get the mindset of how people can even think that way in this day and age. It both astounds and disgusts me.

    And I hate the fact he sat in that church, where they welcomed him in, for an hour before he did the unthinkable. I'm just in shock with this whole thing. It shouldn't be happening at all. I could go on about how the gun laws are outdated and whatnot, but that's a whole other essay.

    A Little Twist Of…

    1. I'm still in shock myself. But I am glad to see that the debate over the Confederate flag is now being taken so seriously and spreading across the south.

  2. I love this post. I'm so happy people are speaking up about it. The only thing I would add is that, honestly, there was absolutely nothing else to the civil war. It was 100% about slavery. Sure the rhetoric refers to other things- state rights, property rights- but they are all referring to the same thing, protecting slaver owners rights to own slaves. The other factors that contributed to the war contributed to it in that they further exasperated the growing chasm between the north and the south that stemmed from the south being a slave society. Many people, for example, will say it started with western expansion and all that, but the only reason western expansion was controversial to begin with was because people could no agree on whether new states would be free or slave states.

    I'm ranting now, sorry, haha. It is so freaking refreshing to see people speaking up about this. Thanks so much for this post!

    Katie @