The Confederate flag has gone through a number of face lifts since its origin. During the course of the Civil War, this flag represented Southern rebellion and defiance to the United States Constitution. According to the anti-defamation league, although some Southerners see the flag simply as a symbol of Southern pride, it is often used by racists to represent white domination of blacks and Jews. The flag remains a subject of controversy because some Southern states still fly the flag from public buildings or incorporate it into their state flag’s design. Racists also use the flag as an alternative to the American flag, which they consider to be an emblem of what they describe as the Jewish-controlled government.
As a historian and educator, I value the historical past; I see very little value in censorship; however, as an educator, it is important that my students understand the historical role of the Confederate flag. I have few if any friends that will claim the importance of this flag as a means of historical and cultural preservation. Moreover, none of my departmental colleagues embrace the teaching of white supremacy via the Confederate flag. If people believe it is important to preserve history by showcasing the Confederate flag, why not do so in a museum?
There is a historical falsification about the end of the Civil War. After the Civil War, during Reconstruction, there were years of white supremacist terror by the KKK and other organizations, culminating in the establishment of white supremacy by ex-Confederate soldiers in what they call “Redemption”. Many neo-Confederates write of both periods, the Civil War and Reconstruction, as two phases of one struggle, and of the KKK as heroes in Reconstruction.
Historian Eric Foner’s Reconstruction, Americans Unfinished Revolution (1988) describe the relentless campaign of white supremacist violence towards the plight of black folks by writing a chilling account of the evilness embedded behind the confederate flag. I often fear that many blacks will accept the notion that the flag is one of Southern heritage. This, as many Marxists contend, is an example of “false consciousness.” In 1994 the Southern Focus Poll published a report stating that 1/2 of whites could care less about the Confederate flag being flown, versus 1/3 of black Americans. W.E.B. Du Bois stated that “It is ridiculous to seek to excuse Robert E Lee” because he “led a bloody war to perpetuate human slavery.” I find this to be true of the Confederate flag, too.
I have even heard many whites discuss social and racial progress evident by the joining of both races in Southern churches; yet, as I read historian Paul Harvey’s Redeeming the South: Religious Cultures and Racial Identities among Southern Baptists, 1865-1925, I see two groups using religion as a way of segregation. In addition to white Southern religion in the Deep South, the period of Reconstruction and post Reconstruction saw the Confederate flag used as a symbol of threat and intimidation, much like the noose and the cross.
I do find it interesting that many do not establish Jim Crow until after 1896 – way too late. Because Reconstruction failed, America saw the emergence of white supremacy as an institution to deny blacks the rights given by the 14th and 15th amendments. By the end of the 19th century, conquest and reservations loomed large for various peoples: Mexican lands had been fully annexed by the American cause of class and racial exploitation, Asian workers had been deported, and U.S. terrorism of Jim Crow and the KKK reigned over black Americans.
I ask this question: Does the Confederate flag represent anything differently than this: