How Do Americans View the Confederate Flag?

Confederate Reenactors

YouGov asked more than 34,000 Americans to say whether the Confederate flag is a symbol of racism or heritage? Check out the data set here.

A taste:

YouGov asked more than 34,000 Americans to say whether the Confederate flag most represents racism or heritage (additionally, panelists were allowed to select “Don’t know” or “neither of these” as responses). The poll was conducted after Nikki Haley, the former governor of South Carolina, said that the Confederate flag meant “service, sacrifice and heritage” in her state until a white supremacist “hijacked” its meaning and killed nine Black Americans. Following that shooting, the Confederate flag was permanently removed from South Carolina’s statehouse grounds.

For a plurality of Americans, the Confederate flag represents racism (41%). But for about one-third of Americans (34%) — particularly adults over 65, those living in rural communities, or non-college-educated white Americans — the flag symbolizes heritage. 

The idea of the Confederate flag primarily representing heritage is divisive even among the former Confederate states of America, according to state-level data collected by YouGov. Though a couple of former Confederate states believe the flag is more representative of heritage than racism, that is not the case for all. 

Virginia, in particular, is more likely than other former Confederate states to consider the flag a sign of racism (46%) over heritage (33%). In recent years, the state has argued over whether to keep monuments of Confederate military leaders like Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson on display, leading to well-covered legal debates on the implication of the Confederate flag. Charlottesville Circuit Court Judge Richard Moore explained the case by writing: “While some people obviously see Lee and Jackson as symbols of white supremacy, others see them as brilliant military tacticians or complex leaders in a difficult time.”

Read the rest here.

A couple quick finds:

  • Of the former Confederate states, only Arkansas and Louisiana have a pro-heritage majority.
  • If you are over 55-years-old you are more likely to see the flag as a symbol of heritage.
  • Almost half of “not college-educated” white people see the flag as a symbol of heritage.
  • If you live in a rural area you are more likely to see the flag as a symbol of heritage.
  • New England is the strongest “flag as racist” region of the country.  The area encompassing Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi is the strongest “flag as heritage” region.

Episode 39: Returning to Charlottesville

PodcastThe legacy of August 12, 2017, in Charlottesville haunts America. The precipitating event, the removal of Confederate monuments, continues to be debated in southern cities and on college campuses. This is a conversation that warrants sustained historicization. Host John Fea lends his thoughts to the recent toppling of “Silent Sam” at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. They are joined by University of Virginia-based historian and podcaster Nicole Hemmer (@pastpunditry) who recently dropped her own serial podcast, A12, in response to her experiences during the violence of the “Summer of Hate.”

 

The Billy Graham Motorcade Rolls Through Black Mountain

Graham Montreat

This is the Graham motorcade passing through his home town of Black Mountain, NC on his way to Charlotte.  Historian Ben Brandenburg, a history professor at Montreat College, took this picture.

Brandenburg wrote on his Facebook page:

Billy Graham Motorcade in Black Mountain. Solemn moment. But I was half hoping that Billy would resurrect from the Hearse and dismiss the Confederate Flag by the Town Square.

Great line.

Do the Victors Really Write the Histories?

Lee

Over at the Los Angeles Review of Books, Keenan Norris of Evergreen Valley College asks: If the victors write the histories, then why has the Confederate flag and monuments been around for so long?  It’s a great question.

Here is a taste of his piece: “To  Be Continued, or Who Lost the Civil War?”

The possibility that the victors do not necessarily write the histories is an interesting one. Today, histories and counter-histories and counters to the counter-histories can be found in most libraries and on the internet. Yet the basic truth that the victors enjoy the spoils and the heroic history books is supported, most obviously, by our historical record. Begin with the language of that record. The works of Herodotus and Livy, C. L. R. James and W. E. B. Du Bois, Studs Terkel and Svetlana Alexievich are not written in the tongues of the defeated. We do not read about Hannibal’s valiant refusal to be a friend to Rome in his native Punic, nor about Toussaint L’Ouverture’s revolutionary cause in Haitian Creole, nor are Alexievich’s incredible interviews on Russia’s ongoing conflict with Chechen rebels conducted in Chechen. Moreover, the histories that have been legitimated by widely acclaimed literature and film — that have been canonized — have tended toward a heroic vision of the victors. Plutarch does not remember Alexander the Great as a bloodthirsty psychopath bent on successive genocides, nor does Gary Sinise portray Harry S. Truman as a simple-minded destroyer of worlds, though the subjugated histories of the raped, pillaged, and atom-bombed would probably have told a different tale about them.

The victors do, in fact, write the initial and most powerfully influential histories of every conflict, whether between warring armies or warring ideologies. And, when it comes to war, that history begins not with books or movies, but with the terms of peace treaties, the force of occupation, and the redrawing of borders.

Is the rebel flag an impotent symbol? Do the monuments maintained to the greatness of Confederate generals not hold persistent emotional power? There would be no petitions and no protests calling to bring those symbols down if that were the case. White supremacists and neo-Nazis would not be clashing with Antifa in pitched battles in broad daylight if no one cared. The #NoConfederate Twitter movement would not exist because the idea for an HBO show, which the Twitter movement protests, about the historical “what if” of a Confederate victory in the Civil War, would never have been considered potentially lucrative enough to bring to primetime in the first place, let alone to endure such a sustained negative public backlash if these symbols were just ugly gift-shop kitsch.

Read the entire piece here.

Mississippi Historians: “Take the Flag Down!”

Mississippi State Flag

From the Jackson Free Press:

As college professors, we have watched events of the past few days in Charlottesville and around the country while preparing for a new semester. We know that students in our classes will bring many questions and perspectives about this moment in history. They will look for us to comment on a response from the president that many Republicans and Democrats alike found deeply troubling and insufficient. They will wonder why many white nationalists and racist groups feel empowered at this moment in time. We have our work cut out for us.

In turn, we are also historians in and of the state of Mississippi, where white massive resistance to black advancement has been the norm for 200 years. It is now incumbent upon us to take the strongest of stands against the white supremacist establishment in this nation and in this state and put this recent wave of white nationalism in historical context.

With that in mind, it is long past time for the emblem identified with the Confederate States of America to be removed from the state flag of Mississippi. This flag does not reflect the entirety of the state’s history and people. It ignores the reality of the African American experience, and it limits the scope of what Mississippi has been, is and can be.

Historians have long held that the Civil War was fought for the right of southern states to maintain and expand the institution of slavery. In declaring their support for the Confederacy, Mississippi’s leaders clearly stated in the secession ordinance of 1860, “Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery—the greatest material interest of the world. … A blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization. That blow has been long aimed at the institution, and was at the point of reaching its consummation. There was no choice left us but submission to the mandates of abolition, or a dissolution of the Union, whose principles had been subverted to work out our ruin.”

Read the rest here.  The statement was signed by over thirty historians from Mississippi colleges and universities including the following friends of The Way of Improvement Leads Home: Alison Greene, Otis Pickett, Daren Grem, and Patrick Connelly.

The Decline of Confederate Iconography: A Timeline

Confederate_soldier_monument,_Union_County,_AR_IMG_2583

Confederate soldier monument, Union County, Arkansas (Wikipedia Commons)

Over at Civil War Memory, Kevin Levin calls our attention to a timeline chronicling what he calls “The Long Retreats of Confederate Heritage.”

Here is a taste:

I found this detailed timeline at a website called The Confederate Society of America. It is difficult to tell whether it is comprehensive, but it certainly will give you a sense of the scope of and pace at which Confederate iconography has been removed from public and private spaces around the country. This timeline was compiled by Dr. Arnold M. Huskins for an article titled, “The Eradication of a Region’s Cultural and Heritage.”

1970‘s: The Univ. of Georgia’s “Dixie Redcoat Marching Band” drops the word “Dixie” from its name and discontinues playing the song which was played after the National Anthem; City of Atlanta, GA renames Forrest Street; University of Texas-Arlington drops its Rebel mascot

1990: NBNC-Texas asks Texas State Fair to discontinue the playing of Elvis Presley’s American Trilogy because of its “Dixie” content

1991: City of Atlanta renames street named after Confederate Gen. John B. Gordon; NAACP passes resolution “abhorring the Confederate battle flag” and commits their legal resources to removal of the flag from all public properties.

Read the rest here.

Another Battle at Gettysburg?

monument-gettysburg-P

Next weekend marks the 154th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg.  It looks like Gettysburg will once again be a battleground, but this time the “war” is a cultural one, focused on modern debates about free speech, the Trump presidency, and Confederate monuments.

Read Dustin Levy’s piece at the York Daily Record.  Here is a taste:

The Gettysburg National Military Park has issued three special use permits for first amendment activities on July 1, according to a Thursday news release.

“As custodians of land owned by the American people, the National Park Service has a responsibility to make that land available for exercising those rights,” Bill Justice, acting park superintendent, said in the release.

“As with any First Amendment activities, Gettysburg National Military Park’s objectives are to provide for public safety, minimize impacts on historic resources of this park, and afford visitors an enjoyable experience.”

The Sons of Confederate Veterans Mechanized Cavalry and Real 3% Risen will gather north of Meade’s Headquarters near 160 Taneytown Road from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

The park expects 250 to 500 participants with the Sons of Confederate Veterans and 500 to 1,500 participants with Real 3% Risen, a Facebook group dedicated to protecting American freedoms.

Ski Bischof, of Allentown, helped organize the events with a Facebook event called “Support America and Her History.” Together, they are joining up with the other groups to form a united front against a group that might be there to protest against President Trump and/or the Confederate flag, according to the Facebook event page.

A third group, Maryland Sons of Confederate Veterans, consisting of about 20 people, is planning to march in formation from the North Carolina Memorial to the Virginia Memorial, with small ceremonies along the way, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

The events came about, in part, because of unsubstantiated reports of an activist group coming to the battlefield on July 1. The allegations of this group’s intended activities have spread on social media the past couple weeks, infuriating many.

Read the entire article here.

When Did the Confederate Flag Become a Racist Symbol?

Confederate flag

Picture accessed at Creative Commons

In a forthcoming essay at Du Bois Review titled “Racial Prejudice, Southern Heritage, and White Support for the Confederate Battle Flag,” political scientists Logan Strother, Spencer Piston, and Thomas Ogorzale examine how the Confederate flag became a symbol of the post-World War II South.  Their research caught the attention of The Washington Post.  Here is a taste:

For several decades after the Civil War, the Confederate battle emblem was rarely displayed — typically only during tributes to actual Confederate veterans. It was not part of state flags or other official symbols or displays. In fact, the Confederate battle flag was so uncommon that in 1930, Sen. Coleman Livingston Blease had to have one specially made by the Daughters of South Carolina for him to display in his office.

It wasn’t until 1948 that the Confederate flag re-emerged as a potent political symbol. The reason was the Dixiecrat revolt — when Strom Thurmond led a walkout of white Southerners from the Democratic National Convention to protest President Harry S. Truman’s push for civil rights. The Dixiecrats began to use the Confederate flag, which sparked further public interest in it.

Consequently, the flag became strongly linked to white supremacy and opposition to civil rights for African Americans. In 1951, Rep. John Rankin (D-Miss.), a very outspoken segregationist, proudly announced that he had “never seen as many Confederate flags in all my life as I have observed floating here in Washington during the last few months.” Rankin himself wore a Confederate flag necktie to serve as a constant reminder of his opposition to “beastly” integration policies.

In 1954, the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education, which ordered the desegregation of public primary schools, focused the energies and ire of hardcore segregationists throughout the South. Efforts to resist school integration and other civil rights protections for African Americans included the display of Confederate symbols and especially the Confederate battle flag.

Read the entire Washington Post piece here.  This research reminds us that monuments and public symbols always emerge out of a particular historical context that at times may be more important than the actual event being commemorated.

Ted Cruz Super-PAC Defends Confederate Flag

Cruz Pastor in Chief

I am sure that Cruz will claim that he has no control over the Courageous Conservatives super-PAC, but this is a bit disturbing:

Here is the ad transcript, as published on the website of National Public Radio:

TRUMP: “Put it in the museum, let it go.”

ANNOUNCER: “That’s Donald Trump, supporting Nikki Haley, removing the battle flag from the Confederate memorial in Columbia.”

TRUMP: “Respect whatever it is that you have to respect, because it was a point in time, and put it in a museum.”

ANNOUNCER: People like Donald Trump are always butting their noses into other people’s business. But Trump talks about our flag, like it’s a social disease.

TRUMP: “Respect whatever it is that you have to respect. Let it go. Put it in a museum.”

ANNOUNCER: “Donald Trump’s bankrolled nearly every major Democrat in the country. He’s funded our enemies. He’s ridiculed our values.”

TRUMP: “Respect whatever it is that you have to respect. Let it go. Put it in a museum.”

ANNOUNCER: “On Saturday, send Donald Trump and his New York values back to Manhattan. Ted Cruz for president. Let’s take our country back. Now, before it’s too late.”

“Courageous Conservatives PAC paid for this ad and is solely responsible for its content. It’s not authorized by any candidate or candidate committee. CourageousConservatives PAC.com”

The ad taps into the dark history of the Confederacy and states-rights.  It draws on common Confederate rhetoric that northerners (people with “New York values”) are “butting their noses into other people’s business.” and should let the South be the South.

Of course Courageous Conservatives got this “New York values” line directly from Cruz. He used this phrase in a debate to describe Trump’s campaign.

Confederate Monuments


//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

I am not sure if Ta-Nehesi Coates is being sarcastic or not with this tweet, but I agree with this statement.

Along these lines, I found Kevin Levin’s recent post at Civil War Memory to be helpful. Here is a taste:

In 2011 I wrote the following in an essay for the Atlantic following the defacing of Confederate monuments in Richmond and my then hometown of Charlottesville, Virginia:
For me, Richmond’s memorial landscape functions as an organic whole. The Arthur Ashe Monument only works because it stands on the same street as Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, and Stonewall Jackson. The same holds true for the new additions to the grounds of the state capital, the American Civil War Museum at Tredegar, and countless other places in the broader Richmond area.
Touring these sites together opens up a unique window not simply on the history of the Civil War and race relations, but on the history of American democracy. The sites themselves track the range of voices that fought for the right to engage in public discussions about how Richmond’s past is remembered. In short, they track the history of the community’s values — and they demonstrate that community’s willingness not to brush aside controversial or embarrassing aspects of its past.
The Robert E. Lee monument in Charlottesville has long been one of my favorite places to bring students.  I’ve spent countless hours in that park sharing stories of Lee, the development of Richmond in the late 19th century, and Jim Crow laws.  These discussions were more than academic exercises; they gave me a chance to help build reflective and caring citizens.
Teaching history and visiting historic sites is, in part, about learning how to empathize and appreciating how the past shapes who we take ourselves to be. For better or for worse, monuments to Confederate heroes are part of our story, but each of us can choose how to engage with these places. We can express outrage over their existence. We can alter them with statements of our own. Or we can let them be, appreciate their aesthetic qualities, and reflect carefully on their history.