The history of the Confederate flag as it has been taught to Americans for 150 years. The cartoon can be found here. Considering how many people still think of it as a sign of “Southern heritage,” maybe we should try to do better?
Anyone who thinks that any real progress at educating the American public on just what the Confederate flag actually stands for, or that it’s going to get better when millennials are in charge, CNN has a new poll out that says very clearly and depressingly, guess again.
The poll shows that 57% of Americans see the flag more as a symbol of Southern pride than as a symbol of racism, about the same as in 2000 when 59% said they viewed it as a symbol of pride. Opinions of the flag are sharply divided by race, and among whites, views are split by education.
Millennials see the flag as a symbol of pride, which is actually slightly higher than Gen X-ers (56%) or Boomers under 65 (53%). Seniors, well, They’re at 64%.
As Pierce concludes, discussing the deal that put Rutherford Hayes in the White House and white southerners back in power in 1877:
Thus ended the American Civil War. With a victory for the white supremacy that had been crushed on the battlefield.
138 years later, you wouldn’t know any of this if all you knew was what you learned in high school American History textbooks. Stupid is as stupid does. And the beat goes on.
On Monday, Diane Rehm had a panel on her show consisting of Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne, Daniel Webster from the Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health, and Georgetown University Law School professor Paul Butler. One of the callers to the show brought up, not in a particularly hostile manner, the “Southern legacy” argument about the Confederate flag.
Butler let the caller have it right between the eyes:
I have no respect for your ancestors. As far as your ancestors are concerned, I shouldn’t be a law professor at Georgetown. I should be a slave. That’s why they fought that war. I don’t understand what it means to be proud of a legacy of terrorism and violence. Last week at this time, I was in Israel. The idea that a German would say, you know, that thing we did called the Holocaust, that was wrong, but I respect the courage of my Nazi ancestors. That wouldn’t happen. The reason people can say what you said in the United States, is because, again, black life just doesn’t matter to a lot of people.
Boom. Thank you. More of this, please. I believe we’re done here.
George Wallace weeps. Alabama!
On the order of Gov. Robert Bentley, the Confederate battle flag which stands at the foot of the confederate memorial on the state Capitol grounds was taken down this morning.
Two workers came out of the Capitol building about 8:20 a.m. and with no fanfare quickly and quietly took the flag down. They declined to answer questions.
Moments later Gov. Bentley emerged from the Capitol on his way to an appearance in Hackleburg. Asked if he had ordered the flag taken down, the governor said, “Yes I did.”
Asked his reasons for taking it down and if it included what happened in Charleston last week, the governor said, “Yes, partially this is about that. This is the right thing to do. We are facing some major issues in this state regarding the budget and other matters that we need to deal with. This had the potential to become a major distraction as we go forward. I have taxes to raise, we have work to do. And it was my decision that the flag needed to come down.”
A number of commenters on the Facebook link to my earlier post about the Confederate memorial in Rockville have brought up the familiar trope that veneration for the Confederate flag and “legacy” is in order to celebrate Southern “legacy” and “heritage.” This kind of response is nothing new, but it is ignorant and smug and I hate it. Indulge me a bit while I explain why.
My late wife, Rebecca Lord, was a Texan. A real one, whose family history in Texas went back to the early 19th century. She had ancestors who died at the Alamo, others who served with John Bell Hood’s Texas Brigade at Gettysburg, and yet others who island-hopped across the Pacific in World War II. She used to joke that when Jim Webb wrote “Born Fighting,” he was talking about her family.
She was also a historian, earning a Ph.D in Latin American history at College Park in 2002. She despised the faux history of the South that the modern Republican Party (and plenty of Democrats too) had foisted upon a class of people who didn’t know any better. It’s one among many of the reasons she left the South and ended up married to yours truly.
That Southern history, often referred to as the Lost Cause, has long been known to be complete bullshit by reputable historians, yet it persists. The history is inextricably linked to current Southern politics as practiced by the modern Republican Party. But say the word “history,” and people’s eyes glaze over. History is boring, and history is irrelevant.
No, it’s not, and today, Politico has a remarkably good (oh, dear, did I just say that?) piece on the direct connection between modern flag wavers and the 1915 D.W. Griffiths film “Birth of a Nation.” The article then proceeds to trace the history, noting how it has evolved both before and after that remarkable and infamous film, and continuing to this day. Go read the whole thing, it’s that good, and I’ll give you just the final paragraph as a sample:
The United States has come a long way since 1865 and 1915. But until all of the leading presidential candidates from both major political parties are able to acknowledge that the Civil War was about slavery, that the Confederate flag is a symbol of white supremacy and that “American exceptionalism,” if it exists, is defined as much by violence as by progress, then we are still a very long way from where we need to be.
And to the “legacy” and “culture” and “history” defenders of the Confederate flag, let’s sit down some time and watch “Birth of a Nation,” OK? Bet you won’t feel so comfortable after that experience.
First South Carolina.
“Today, we are here in a moment of unity in our state, without ill will, to say it is time to move the flag from the Capitol grounds,” Haley said during a news conference attended by Republican senators Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott, along with other state leaders.
Mississippi House Speaker Philip Gunn said Monday night that the Confederate emblem in the state’s official flag has to go.
“We must always remember our past, but that does not mean we must let it define us,” Gunn, a Clinton Republican, said in a statement. “As a Christian, I believe our state’s flag has become a point of offense that needs to be removed. We need to begin having conversations about changing Mississippi’s flag.”
Now Walmart? What? Politics is one thing, but money is, well, money.
Walmart, the country’s largest retailer, will remove all Confederate flag merchandise from its stores, the company told CNN Monday.
The announcement is the latest indication that the flag, a symbol of the slave-holding South, has become toxic in the aftermath of a shooting last week at a historic African-American church in Charleston, South Carolina. Gov. Nikki Haley announced in a Monday afternoon news conference that she supports removing the Confederate flag from the state capitol grounds.
I’m not naive, but the momentum to do something here is palpable and it’s moving very, very fast. And it may be a symbolic something, and may not go as far as I or others would like, but symbols do matter - taking them away from those inclined to hatred and violence is a constructive thing. Taking away the Confederate flag, or at least the state’s close affiliation with that flag and all that it represents, is a positive step. One of many that are needed, but a step forward.