The recent flurry of news regarding the Confederate Flag has left me shaking my head. What I have always thought of as the Confederate Flag was the one I saw on the General Lee in The Dukes of Hazard. I also occasionally saw this flag on vehicles and homes in my area, but I never really thought about it or what it stood for.
I knew it was a symbol of the Confederate States of America, but I never saw it as something that implied racism or the ad vocation of slavery. If anything, I saw it as a symbol of Southern Pride – a feeling those of us in the south feel about our neck of the woods – that we are hard workers, stand up for what we believe in, will help our fellow neighbor – you know ‘good old boys, never meaning no harm.’
Before I go further, I need to take a moment to let you know that I had a professor who once accused me of wearing rose-colored glasses. I do always look for the best in situations and people and I tend to overlook the ugliness. So, if you feel like my interpretation is naive – you may be right. But it is my interpretation. Having said that – since all of this uproar about the flag questions have been raised in my mind. Bear with me – I wrote this as I researched it – you may be surprised by what I find!
Q. What did the flag that we think of as the Confederate Flag symbolize?
A. The number of stars reflected the states that had seceded from the Union. The blue cross is called a ‘saltire‘ – it was a symbol of the cross that Saint Andrew was said to have been martyred on. Andrew was one of the original disciples and apparently asked to be crucified from this cross instead of a standard Roman cross because he felt he was unworthy to be crucified on the same cross as Jesus. So we have a flag that symbolizes folks who believe in martyring themselves for a cause they believed in – States Rights. The fact that slavery was one of the issues they felt that states had the right to decide on was a part of the issue, but not the main issue in spite of modern history books. I was unable to find anything about the colors, but I assume that they chose the colors that were already part of the United States Flag.
Q. Who designed this flag?
A. William Porcher Miles, the chairman of the Flag and Seal committee.
Q. When was this flag adopted as the flag for the CSA?
A. It wasn’t! (Say What?)
Q. Then who flew this flag?
A. It was instead adopted as a battle flag by the Army of Northern Virginia under General Robert E. Lee. In Virginia, it was flown as a square flag instead of a rectangle. It was adopted in Tennessee as a battle flag and that is where it flew in the rectangular form. A version was also flown as the Second Confederate Navy Jack, from 1863–1865.
Q. What is the flag that represented the CSA?
A. There were actually 3 flags which you can see below. The first flag was adopted the 1st, 4th, and 5th years. The flag in the middle is a huge white field surrounding a square with the Saltire – much like the star section in the U.S. flag. Guess they couldn’t make up their minds which design they liked best.
Q. How did this particular flag (the Rebel Flag) come to be the symbol of the south?
A. It wasn’t until the 1880s that this flag came to represent the south as a whole when it started appearing in Confederate cemeteries. It then became used as a symbol of resistance to the civil rights movement in the late 1940s when it was used as a symbol for the short-lived Dixiecrat Party – which formed to fight segregation and the national effort to repeal Jim Crow laws. It was after that it began to be used by segregationist groups and as a symbol against the civil rights movement.
Whoa…I read that last little tidbit, and I sat back in my chair to digest that information for a while. This battle flag started being used as a symbol to remember dead Confederate soldiers – probably by someone who liked this pattern better than others, but later that symbolism was twisted by people who didn’t want the freed slaves and their descendants to be able to have equal rights in our country.
This is what the media needs to be sharing – I have no doubt that there are people out there who believe in white supremacy, but I am not one of them. And I believe there are many other southerners who own this flag and fly this flag who are just as ignorant as I was about how this flag was twisted into a symbol of hatred.
In a related thought, the Swastika is something that we all see as a symbol of racial hatred…unless we are Hindus, Buddhists, or Jainists. For them, it is a sacred and auspicious symbol.
All of this seems like a Solomon question to me. I know that I am horrified if I see the Swastika flying in a news story. And now that I have educated myself on the Rebel Flag – I can definitely see where it would be a symbol that would horrify folks. But like all symbols – different people may have different responses/interpretations.
As soon as this controversy became full blown after the horrible murders in Charleston – my thoughts were: “that flag shouldn’t be flying over government buildings, but the individual should have the right to fly the flag if they want to.” As more news exploded – I was tempted to go out and buy a flag and attach it to my truck to make a statement even though I had never desired to own this flag before. Now, I personally think the best thing for the South to do is find a new symbol to honor those who died in the war fighting for what they believed in – probably one of the flags that was actually adopted to represent the Confederacy.
We cannot and should not rewrite or forget our past. One of the great foundations of this nation is the Freedom of Speech. But just like it isn’t okay to yell “Fire” in a crowded theater, it is also not okay to uplift symbols that hurt others.