Confederate Flag

Confederate Flag : Symbol of Remembrance or Oppression?

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On June 17th, 2015, nine African-Americans were gunned down in a church by a white man in Charleston, the United States. The story made many headlines as it became known that the gunman was wearing the Confederate flag. The event lead to a national debate on whether or not the Confederate flag has a place in modern day society. Traditionalists argue that the flag represents the Southern heritage and acts as a memorial tool to honor their ancestors. Modernists counter traditionalists asserting that the Confederate flag is symbolic of racism and oppression.  

Throughout history, the Confederate flag has continuously been used to enforce the ideology of white superiority. It was used during the Jim Crow Laws, politicians have used it to reinforce the idea of segregation, and it has become associated with the KKK; a group which advocates white superiority within society. The Confederate flags meaning has changed over time and has developed into a symbol of racism and oppression in the years following the American Civil War. Thereforethe Confederate flag should no longer be flown within the United States.

The Confederate Flag

 Throughout American history, the meaning of the Confederate flag has been transformed. The flag made its first appearance during the Civil War in 1861. The flag represented the Confederate States of the South and their struggle to remain independent from the aggressive North. After the Civil War had concluded in 1865, the flag became a figment of the past for a short amount of time. It was eventually re-introduced into American culture during the 1940s where it held no fixed meaning.[1] The Confederate flag has been adopted by different people and organizations which have altered the original meaning to reflect their own ideologies.

The most prominent modern day characteristics ascribed to the Confederate flag are racism and oppression. From the beginning of the 1950s to present day the flag has been adopted to represent racist ideologies. During the 1950s several Southern States approved the Confederate flag to protest the federal government’s intervention into state rights, especially regarding school integration.[2] Many Southern states began using the flag to reflect their stance on segregation within their state. John Sammsons Bell, chairman of the ACC in Georgia, petitioned for the Confederate emblem to be added to the state flag in 1955.Within the second resolution, it said that the flag “should be symbolic of the tradition it represents.”[3] After the adoption of the Confederate emblem the Georgina governor Marvin Griffin declared that “the rest of the nation is looking toward Georgia for the lead in segregation.”[4] The traditionalist values that had been applied to the flag by politicians were that of racism and white supremacy. Politicians used the Confederate flag as a unifying tool based on its Southern past of discrimination. The flag became symbolic of racist values, and other groups within the United States began to use the flag for the same reason.

Throughout history, the flag has been used as a symbol of racism. Like politicians, the flag had been adopted by white supremacy groups because of the connection with racist ideologies. In January 1987 a group of white supremacists waving the confederate flag pelted civil rights activists with rocks and bottles.[5] More notably, the Ku Klux Klan adopted the Confederate flag to also demonstrate its support of racist ideologies. On July 18th, 2015 members of the Ku Klux Klan protested the removal of the Confederate Flag on the North Carolina state building. Several Ku Klux Klan members carried the Confederate flag along the margins of the crowd where the Black Educators held their own rally, and members were seen giving Nazi salutes.[6] The adoption of the Confederate flag by the KKK has allowed the flag to further take on the symbolism of racism while also making it harder to justify traditionalist claims of honoring Southern heritage.

Other Americans deny its association with racism (pro-slavery) and declare it as a tool of remembrance. In the South, supporters of the flag have argued it’s a memorial tool for Confederate soldiers who died during the Civil War.[7] As well, supporters argue the flag honors the culture and the heritage of the South.[8] During the Ulster County Fair 2015, Cohen a vendor was asked why he believed people bought Confederate flag merchandise. Cohen stated that “They say it’s their pride and their heritage,” he said. “Personally, I believe those people are racists, and that’s why they like it.”[9] Cohen goes on to say after the shooting that occurred in Charleston increased sales by 20 percent.[10] Apparently, not every individual is buying Confederate items for a memorial purpose.

Traditionalists argue that the Confederate flag is directly tied to their heritage and slavery is a small aspect embedded within the meaning of the flag. Historically speaking the Southern States have been extremely discriminatory and racist. The Southern economy was dependent upon slavery, and the state worked hard to keep black individuals from having civil rights. During the Civil War, the South fought to keep its social structure which had slavery embedded within it. Even after the Civil War was won, Southern states attempted to maintain control of the black population through discriminatory laws (Jim Crow) and later through attempts at segregation. The Confederate flag cannot be disentangled from the history of black oppression and racial division within American history.

To many Americans in modern society, the flag represents a time where blacks were treated as sub-humans (pre-1865). The flag itself is no longer just a historical reminder of the past. Instead, it has been re-invented into a tool for racism and represents a perpetuation of racial tension that exists within the United States that has yet to be addressed or resolved. The flag is important because it brings up the conversation of how society views and remembers historical events. The Confederate flag creates two separate historical perspectives of the events during and after the Civil War. It also shows the importance of how we interpret events and the viewpoint we take in understanding different historical perspectives. Many people believe it is a tool of remembrance. But what is society trying to remember? Revisionists insist the civil war was not about slavery, but state rights, Southern culture, and Southern heritage.[11] This historical narrative of the Civil War is extremely biased and leaves out a large population of the South. To African Americans, the Confederate flag represents a dark history of oppression, discrimination, and racism.

In modern day society, the history of the Confederate flag is not discussed. The lack of education on the Confederate flag itself has caused it to become a misunderstood symbol. Throughout history, the flag has been used as a tool to express racial prejudices against blacks. There is no denying that it has been adopted in many circumstances as a symbol of white supremacy. The flag became extremely important during the American Civil Rights movement and was used by supporters of the Jim Crow Laws.[12] In 2001, Rene Kamp a senator from rural Hinesville, a “reformed segregationist,” declared his belief that the Confederate emblem was adopted in 1956 because of its segregation connotations.[13] Kamp came to his conclusion after studying the events that led to the 1956 flag change. The Confederate flag cannot only be tied to the Civil War but must be understood in its own historical context.

Conclusion

The Confederate flags meaning has changed over time and has developed into a symbol of racism and oppression in the years following the American Civil War within the United States. The flag has become its own historical entity with a unique narrative. Throughout history, it has been continuously used to show support for the racist ideologies of slavery, segregation, and white supremacy. Until more Americans become educated on the historical context of the Confederate flag it symbolism will remain a controversy. Therefore, the Confederate flag should no longer be flown within the United States because of its association with racism and oppression.

Bibliography

Associated Press. “KKK holds rally over Confederate Flag in South Carolina.” The Telegraph., http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/11749085/KKK-holdsrally-over-Confederate-flag-in-South-Carolina.html .

Best, Wallace. “Mama and the Confederate Flag.” Callaloo, no. 1 (2001): 14-17. 

Conner, Tracy. “Delaware County Fair Wont Ban Confederate Flag at NY Confab.” NBC NEWShttp://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/confederate-flag-furor/delaware-county-fair-wont-ban-confederate-flag-ny-confab-n401701 .

Kemble, William J. “Ulster County Fair vendor defends sale of items bearing Confederate Flag; organizers urge discretion.” SARATOGIAN NEWS. http://www.saratogian.com/article/ST/20150731/NEWS/150739938 .

Martinez, Michael J. “The Georgia Confederate Flag Dispute.” The Georgian Historical Quarterly, no. 2 (2008): 200-228.

Endnotes

[1] Michael J. Martinez, “The Georgia Confederate Flag Dispute,” The Georgian Historical Quarterly, no. 2 (2008): 201, 

[2] Michael J. Martinez, “The Georgia Confederate Flag Dispute,” The Georgian Historical Quarterly, no. 2 (2008): 203, 

[3] Ibid, 205

[4] Ibid, 204

[5] Ibid, 206

[6] Associated Press, “KKK holds rally over Confederate Flag in South Carolina,” The Telegraph, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/11749085/KKK-holds-rally-over-Confederate-flag-in-South-Carolina.html .

[7] Tracy Conner, “Delaware County Fair Wont Ban Confederate Flag at NY Confab,” NBC NEWS, http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/confederate-flag-furor/delaware-county-fair-wont-ban-confederate-flag-ny-confab-n401701 .

[8] Wallace Best, “Mama and the Confederate Flag,” Callaloo, no. 1 (2001): 15,

[9] William J. Kemble, “Ulster County Fair vendor defends sale of items bearing Confederate Flag; organizers urge discretion,” SARATOGIAN NEWS, http://www.saratogian.com/general-news/20150731/ulster-county-fair-vendor-defends-sale-of-items-bearing-confederate-flag-organizers-urge-discretion

[10] Ibid

[11] Wallace Best, “Mama and the Confederate Flag,” Callaloo, no. 1 (2001): 15,

[12] Ibid

[13] Michael J. Martinez, “The Georgia Confederate Flag Dispute,” The Georgian Historical Quarterly, no. 2 (2008): 224, 

 

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