Sunday, June 28, 2015

The Confederate Battle Flag: Whitewashing History (in more ways than one)

In an antique baby album there's a photograph of me as a toddler, sitting on a Connecticut beach in the pre-Dukes of Hazzard 1970s and innocently smiling up from the middle of a Confederate battle flag beach towel. And I grew up in thoroughly integrated neighborhoods and attended thoroughly integrated schools, too, both in Connecticut and later in Virginia. (That said: those thoroughly integrated Virginia neighborhoods had plenty of monuments, schools and roadways named to honor various Confederate leaders.)

A couple years after that beach visit, when The Dukes of Hazzard ruled popular culture, my little brother had plenty of General Lee toys emblazoned with the flag. But now, I'm guessing (or hoping) that such things are on their way to becoming future historical “WTF” examples, to be considered as revolting as the toy “golliwogs” or “mammies” which respectable white children played with 100 years ago or less, but polite society now recognizes as appallingly racist caricatures.

It looks like the quasi-respectability of Confederate symbols is finally coming to an end – though it would've been vastly better had America accomplished this without first requiring an evil racist to murder nine churchgoers and remind everyone exactly what that flag stood for in the first place: keeping black folks “in their place” (as determined by white supremacists).

First clause of the second paragraph of Mississippi's declaration of secession: “Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery.”

From Georgia's declaration: “For the last ten years we have had numerous and serious causes of complaint against our non-slave-holding confederate States with reference to the subject of African slavery.”

Of course Texas was more verbose, but its lengthy list of crimes which the non-slave states were committing against the slave-owning Confederates includes this: “... an unnatural feeling of hostility to these Southern States and their beneficent and patriarchal system of African slavery, proclaiming the debasing doctrine of equality of all men, irrespective of race or color-- a doctrine at war with nature, in opposition to the experience of mankind, and in violation of the plainest revelations of Divine Law. They demand the abolition of negro slavery throughout the confederacy, the recognition of political equality between the white and negro races, and avow their determination to press on their crusade against us, so long as a negro slave remains in these States.”

For four years the Confederates fought to uphold such ignoble principles and hang on to their slaves.  Ninety years later, when those slaves' descendants started agitating for their full civil rights, the battle flag enjoyed a renaissance and some former Confederate states went so far as to mount it atop their own statehouses to express their disapproval of the civil rights movement.

Of course, I'm familiar with the counter-arguments: “Heritage, not hate.” Pfft. The South has a history stretching back almost 400 years; surely in all that time, there must be some aspect of your heritage worth celebrating other than the four years the Confederacy spent fighting for the right to continue owning people.

“The war was about states' rights.” Specifically, the right to continue owning slaves, and avoid “ the recognition of political equality between the white and negro races,” as the Texas secessionists put it.

“The war was about taxes and/or tariffs.” Yet the various states' declarations of secession ignored this and harped about preserving slavery instead.

“Taking the Confederate flag off the capitol grounds is an attempt to erase history!” Nonsense; the only people attempting to erase history are those insisting the South wasn't fighting to preserve slavery. Nobody is trying to erase the Civil War or Confederacy from the historical record; we're saying that Confederate flags and statues honoring Confederate leaders belong in museums, not places of honor on public property.


Blogger Unknown said...

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11:35 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

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11:35 AM  
Blogger Phillip J. Birmingham said...

I like to point out that one of the causes of the war was the South's fear that the Lincoln administration would not enforce the Fugitive Slave Act. Which of course said that states did not have the right to determine whether or not people in their borders were property if these people had escaped from Southerners who claimed to own them.

States' rights indeed.

11:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Definitely. A couple of the secessionist documents also specifically complained that northern states allowed abolitionist societies to function -- they didn't support states rights OR free speech, should those be used to harm the south's Peculiar Institution.

(This is Jennifer, by the way, posting as "Anonymous" because I'm having trouble posting with my regular Google account. Probably something weird with my script-blocker settings.)

12:09 PM  

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