Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Seriously, isn't it time to call BS on the claim that the Confederate battle flag deserves respect for its "heritage"?


Oops, I don't know what this picture found its way here from my July 2 post, "As black churches burn, at least Ricky-Roo Santorum seems to be keeping his trap shut." We keep hearing white Southerners insist that there's no connection whatsoever between the flag and the epidemic of violence against Southern black churches.

by Ken

Pretty much since the massacre in Charleston's Emanuel AME Church I've had a post of the above title on the drawing board. I imagined bringing in the numerous new and overlapping threads that have developed on top of the original story, including of course the surprising move in the South Carolina legislature to remove the Confederate battle flag from the statehouse.

It all became too much, however, and so I've decided just to go with the basic point: No matter how much white Southerners may try to obfuscate the point, there isn't any possible question as to what that flag stands for. It stands for slavery and a society built on it. Southerners are free to euphemize it as "Southern pride," or "pride in their heritage," but it's important that there not be any question what the heritage is that they're so proud of.

It doesn't matter all that much to me what white South Carolinians do with their flag of infamy. Is it really better off in a museum than flying over the statehouse? It matters a lot more to me that they, and we, be honest about what that flag stands for, and what they're "honoring" with it.

And since everyone loves game shows, I thought we'd intersperse a little DWT Quick Quiz.


1. The Confederate battle flag has flown over South Carolina's statehouse since:

(a) 1561
(b) 1661
(c) 1761
(d) 1861
(e) 1961
ANSWER: (e) 1961.

From Wikipedia: The confederate battle flag was raised over the state house on April 11, 1961 at the request of Representative John May as a part of opening celebrations of the Confederate War Centennial according to Dr. Daniel Hollis, an appointed member of the centennial commission. Lawmakers passed a resolution in March 1962 directing the flag be flown over the state house in response to the civil rights movement[45] [46][47].
45. SEANNA, ADCOX. "As SC honors church victims, Alabama lowers its flags". Associated Press.
46. BURSEY, BRETT. "The Day the Flag Went Up".
47. "It's Long Past Time For South Carolina to Stop Flying the Confederate Flag". Mother Jones.
Oops! Apparently it only occurred to South Carolinians in 1961 that they had a long-suppressed need to remember their precious "heritage" -- by coincidence in the thick of the tumultuous civil-rights struggle. And by tumultuous I mean violent. Even if forgetful South Carolinians were legitimately late in recognizing the urgent need to remember this great "heritage," we might ask why they didn't choose one of several other flags for their commemoration, as for example the one that was actually adopted as the official state flag after South Carolina became the first state to secede from the Union -- or one of these others.

So if today's heritage rememberers were simply intent on remembering their heritage, they have an assortment of flags they could have chosen from.


2. Can you identify these flags?




ANSWERS: (a) is the "palmetto" flag adopted by South Carolina in 1861 following secession.
(b) is the First National Flag of the Confederate States of America, "the Stars and Bars," adopted in 1861.
(c is the Second National Flag of the Confederate States of America, adopted in 1863.
Aha, you say, (c) begins to look familiar, or at least the square portion at the upper left does. If the design seems otherwise to contain rather a lot of white space, it does, and for a reason. As designer William T. Thompson explained, all that white represents "the supremacy of the white race."
As a people we are fighting 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 News [2][3][4][5][6][7][8]
So if South Carolinians actually wanted to honor the memory of their forebears, they have a perfectly usable flag -- the one that was in fact adopted after secession from the Union in 1861. Or these other flags, for that matter. As Wikipedia quotes "Southern political scientists" James Michael Martinez, William Donald Richardson, and Ron McNinch-Su pointing out in Confederate Symbols in the Contemporary South (2000):
The battle flag was never adopted by the Confederate Congress, never flew over any state capitols during the Confederacy, and was never officially used by Confederate veterans' groups. The flag probably would have been relegated to Civil War museums if it had not been resurrected by the resurgent KKK and used by Southern Dixiecrats during the 1948 presidential election.
However, it's not as if only the white part of Thompson's original flag referred to race. As he also explained,
As a national emblem, it is significant of our higher cause, the cause of a superior race, and a higher civilization contending against ignorance, infidelity, and barbarism. Another merit in the new flag is, that it bears no resemblance to the now infamous banner of the Yankee vandals.
William T. Thompson (May 4, 1863), Daily Morning News [2][3][5][6][7][8]


3. The resurrection of the rectangular Confederate battle flag (whose only official use was as a battle flag adopted by Gen. Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia) in the South in the '50s and '60s was prompted by:

(a) A sudden desire to reassert the values embodied in the Second National Flag of the Confederacy (see above), as expressed by designer W. T. Thompson
(b) Um . . .
(c) Er . . .
(d) You know, uh . . .


Finally, Wikipedia quotes Gordon C. Rhea, a noted attorney (a former federal prosecutor) as well as Civil War historian (specializing in the Overland Campaign), now based in Charleston, SC, in "Why Non-Slaveholding Southerners Fought" (2011):

It is no accident that Confederate symbols have been the mainstay of white supremacist organizations, from the Ku Klux Klan to the skinheads. They did not appropriate the Confederate battle flag simply because it was pretty. They picked it because it was the flag of a nation dedicated to their ideals: 'that the negro is not equal to the white man'. The Confederate flag, we are told, represents heritage, not hate. But why should we celebrate a heritage grounded in hate, a heritage whose self-avowed reason for existence was the exploitation and debasement of a sizeable segment of its population?"


And truly all that they know is that they're dadgum proud of it. Well, now they know. In any case, this takes us back to the question we were just asking in a different context: Are they dopes or liars?

Either way they don't seem to be doing a really good job of respecting their heritage. Once upon a time Southerners were unequivocal and unapologetic about what they stood for.

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At 6:16 PM, Blogger Mf Lehman said...

Well, southerners weren't so big on states' rights when New York and Pennsylvania said there was no slavery permitted in their states and that bondsmen traversing said states were free. Seceding states all gave their reasons for doing so, and not a single one mentioned states' rights. To the contrary, Mississippi for example said on Jan. 9, 1861 that “Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery — the greatest material interest of the world.”

And of course, it is not the heritage of all southerners being celebrated by various battle flags, recently installed state flags, or Confederate regalia. It is the heritage of the subset of people who lived below the Mason-Dixon Line and wanted to leave the union. This group was very thin indeed in the western counties of Virginia, eastern Tennessee, western North Carolina, and northern Alabama and Mississippi. The lower the concentration of slaves, the lower the support for secession. Sam Houston was horrified when Texas left the Union. Perhaps he is not a true son of the south. Mississippi and South Carolina, two of the most obnoxious Confederate and neo-Confederate states were majority black, along with very large minorities in other slave states.

The declarations of secession were pushed through by elite force and trickery in every single state that seceded. So, in fact, the heritage celebrated by this obnoxious regalia is that of a thin gray line of those who owned that "greatest material interest in the world" and their dupes - dupes who deserted the Confederate Army in droves as it became clear that it was a "rich man's war and a poor man's fight."

Lies were told in 1860 and 1861 about the south's motivation for secession, but states' rights was not among them. That came later after the real cause - the desire to preserve and extend slavery - was defeated and discredited. Lies are still being told. They are presented as shamelessly today as they were then by people who love to proclaim themselves the greatest Christians and moral arbiters in our country today. But the real reason for the lies is not far to be found: a majority of white southerners still refuse to see persons of African ancestry as fully human. As Montesquieu recognized, “It is impossible for us to suppose these creatures to be men; because allowing them to be men, a suspicion would follow that we ourselves are not Christians.”


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