In the wake of Ferguson, Baltimore, and Charleston the discussion over racism in America and the place the Confederate flag* has in our culture today has sparked debate from classrooms to courtrooms.
Proponents for the flag argue that it’s “Heritage not Hate” and that flying the flag is freedom of speech. I agree that, yes, flying the flag is freedom of speech. However, it doesn’t negate the fact that the Confederate flag is inherently racist.
The Confederate flag was used during the Civil War to represent the confederacy and to be the national flag of the newly seceded nation. After the south lost the Civil War, the flag was taken down only as a reminder of the fight lost. While there were some ex-confederates that still supported the ideals upheld by the confederacy, the former leadership was clear on the removal of the flag.
Robert E. Lee, confederate general, called for the flag to be removed after the end of the Civil War, not wanting its legacy to follow him through history and having accepted defeat. “I think it wiser moreover not to keep open the sores of war, but to follow the examples of those nations who endeavored to obliterate the marks of civil strife and to commit to oblivion the feelings it engendered,” he wrote.
For about 100 years the flag remained dormant, simply a piece of American history. It wasn’t until the Civil Rights movement in the 1950’s began to gain traction that the flag made its first mass revival within American society.
In 1956, two years after the Supreme Court ruling in Brown v Board of Education, which mandated the integration of public schools, Georgia adopted a new state flag that supported the Confederate flag on over three-quarters of the entire flag. This change was a direct response to the Supreme Court decision, as the designer was a strict segregationist and, in order to pass this new flag through state legislature, Denmark Groover, a state lawmaker, said it was created to “serve notice that we intend to uphold what we stood for, will stand for, and will fight for.”
While no other states followed suit and redesigned their state flag during this time period, South Carolina did begin flying the Confederate flag atop the capitol building in 1962. State representatives claimed it was because they were celebrating the 100 year anniversary of the Civil War, but it was actually in defiance of the federal government supporting racial equality during the height of the Civil Rights Era.
The Confederate flag continues, even now, to represent racism and oppression. Even outside the United States the Confederate flag is used to suppress people of color and make a political statement. According to Business Insider, “European skinheads and neo-Nazi groups have adopted the Confederate flag and variations of it because of its historical context as a symbol of racism and white supremacy.”
Confederate flag supporters can argue all day long that the flag represents “Heritage not Hate” and there’s nothing wrong with flying it, and they will, but that doesn’t negate the fact that the “heritage” the flag represents is slavery and racism.
*While there are many variations of the confederate flag used during the Civil War, for the purpose of this article, I’m just referring to the “Stars and Bars” battleflag used by Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.