Should the Confederate flag belong solely to the past?
By Daniel J. McLaughlin
The Confederate flag is supposed to be a symbol of a time long gone by. It is a relic that belongs to the losing side of the American Civil War, hoisted by the slave-owning South. The flag should be destined for the history books, from a shameful past belonging to the United States.
It should be, but that doesn't mean it is. Today, the Confederate flag still flies. Instead of being a historical artifact, it is a symbol of racism. It is seen proudly waving at Trump rallies, it was carried by the white supremacists at the deadly Charlottesville rally, and it is often flown by the Klu Klux Klan.
The number of Tennesseans with Confederate battle flag licence plates has reached its highest point in a decade, according to the New York Post. The state has seen a 72 per cent increase in the purchase of the plates from the end of 2015. It was the year of the Charleston mass shooting when a gunman murdered nine black worshippers at a church in South Carolina, and it saw "the national debate of the display of Confederate flags reached a fever pitch". The killer, who was sentenced to death in 2015, was a white supremacist who posed with the flag, and said he intended to inflame racial tensions.
As other flags were lowered to half-mast in respect of those who lost their lives in the Charleston shooting, one thing stayed up at the Columbia capitol building - and that was the Confederate flag. It was padlocked in place, preventing it from being lowered. Activists and politicians called for the flag to be lowered - to be lowered all the way down from the flag pole completely. The South Carolina legislature voted to remove the Confederate flag from the grounds of its capitol building, and it was taken down on July 10, 2015.
The Confederate battle flag we tend to see now was not the original flag that represented the Confederate states. They went through three official flags during the four-year Civil War, including the "Stars and Bars," approved in 1861. It had seven white stars in a blue corner, like the Union flag, with three stripes: two red and one white. With the flag resembling the Union flag, it confused soldiers in smoke-filled battlefields, CNN notes. Confederate general P.G.T. Beauregard ordered a new flag, and that's the blue cross with white stars on a red background that's familiar today.
The flag is a symbol of the Confederates, who fought to keep slavery in their states. "Those who believe slavery was not a central point of conflict in the Civil War may wish to peruse the South Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi and Texas declarations of secession," the Huffington Post writes. Those declarations explicitly cite threats to slavery as reasons for secession with Mississippi going as far as to say that “a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilisation".
It was later adopted by the Dixiecrats in the 1940s. They were a political party who were devoted to maintaining segregation in the United States. Some of the party's members even declared their commitment to white supremacy.
Despite its dubious history, the Confederate flag is also seen as a symbol of heritage for the South. Matthew Guterl, professor of Africana and American studies at Brown University, disagrees with this assessment. He told the Washington Post: “When people say 'heritage not hate,’ they are omitting the obvious, which is that that heritage is hate. When someone says it’s about history, well, that particular history is inseparable from hate, because it is about hate. It’s about racism, and it’s about slavery.”
What do Americans think of the Confederate flag? The only recent data about this comes from a Pew Research Center study in 2011, which found that nine per cent of Americans felt positive upon seeing the Confederate flag, compared to 30 per cent who said they reacted negatively (58 per cent who felt neither way). Among Black Americans, there were 41 per cent who felt negatively towards the flag.
The Confederate flag is part of America's history, and to many it should stay there - with no place in the United States' present or future.