A Brief History Of The Confederate Flag

President Trump claims the Confederate flag represents Southern pride. Objective reality proves it represents a treasonous fight for slavery.
White supremacists walk into Lee park surrounded by counter-demonstrators in Charlottesville, VA — Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017 (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

White supremacists walk into Lee park surrounded by counter-demonstrators in Charlottesville, VA — Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017 (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

What are the Confederate Flag’s origins?

Contrary to popular belief, what we call the “Confederate Flag” was never actually an official flag of the Confederate States of America. Rather, it was used as the battle flag of the North Virginian army under General Robert E. Lee. Instead, the Confederacy had three different national flags throughout the war. The latter two had Lee’s flag as parts of the larger emblem. It became symbolic of the entire Confederacy only after the war was lost. From here on out, the term “Confederate flag” will refer to this specific design, which has become a modern-day representation of the Confederacy.

For decades, the Confederate flag was virtually nonexistent. It appeared rarely, used mostly just for military occasions. Then, in 1948, it became truly political. The flag was used as a symbol by the Dixiecrats–a group of southern white Democrats who revolted in response to President Truman’s emphasis on civil rights. Their use of the flag put it in the public eye, and in following years it would be a sign of white supremacy and opposition to the civil rights movement.

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What does the Confederate flag actually represent?

The Confederate flag represents cession from the Union and a fight for slavery. For years, many Americans–especially Southerners–have argued that the flag is a symbol of traditional Southern pride, a historical reminder to be proud of their heritage. The idea that the flag shows support for slavery was much less common. As recently as 2015, following the killing of nine black men, 57% of Americans believed the Confederate flag to be a symbol of Southern pride.

However, polls taken in July suggest that people are seriously rethinking their perspective on what the flag represents. According to Quinnipiac University, “56 percent [of Americans] see the Confederate flag as a symbol of racism.” Meanwhile, only 35% think it represents Southern pride. The numbers are almost identical to a poll taken only of Southerners, 55% of whom think the flag is tied to racism. Meanwhile, 36% believe the flag is a symbol of Southern pride.

As it is, there exists little proof that the South’s presiding desire to secede was based on something other than the legality of slavery. Many Confederate states emphasized the importance of slavery in their declarations of causes for secession:

  • Mississippi: “In the momentous step which our State has taken…it is but just that we should declare the prominent reasons which have induced our course. Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery—the greatest material interest of the world.”
  • Georgia: “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…The prohibition of slavery in the Territories is the cardinal principle of this organization.”
  • South Carolina: “An increasing hostility on the part of the non-slaveholding States to the institution of slavery has led to a disregard of their obligations [to the Constitution]…and the consequence follows that South Carolina is released from her obligation.”
  • Texas: “We hold as undeniable truths that the governments of the various States…were established exclusively by the white race…that the African race had no agency in their establishment; that they were rightfully held and regarded as an inferior and dependent race, and in that condition only could their existence…be rendered beneficial or tolerable.”

Even though a number of Confederate states didn’t publish declarations of causes, it’s easy to notice how they are part of the general description “slaveholding states”. There can be no doubt that the South saw its Constitutional freedoms being trampled by way of banning slavery–that is what the Confederates originally meant by “states’ rights”.

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How has the Confederate flag been used?

Although the Confederate flag is considered by many Southerners to be a symbol of pride and tradition more than anything, it’s impossible to deny the history of the flag’s involvement in acts of racism. Throughout the 20th and 21st century, the KKK has been regularly displaying it at gatherings. This also isn’t the only white supremacist organization to use it as a recurring image.

In 1948, the formation of the Dixiecrat Party created greater racial discord. The Dixiecrats were white Southerners who supported segregation, and the symbol of their party was the Confederate flag. This furthered the flag’s presence in the public eye, shifting it from a personal to an increasingly political subject.

Today, the flag has since been displayed in many other racist contexts. Numerous Confederate logos and flags were worn and waved during the infamous Charlottesville Unite the Right rally in 2017. Confederate flags often appear as the uniform patches of Boogaloo bois, adherents of a movement that has sometimes been associated with white supremacy.

The flag’s reputation has reached a point where Confederate logos have disappeared from larger stores like Wal-Mart and Sears. The flag has also been banned in countless public spaces, such as cemeteries, schools, and government buildings. Some notable removals are its disappearance from Mississippi’s state flag and every American military base around the globe.

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The ADL Hate Symbols Database has this to say about the Confederate flag: “While…non-extremists still use the flag as a symbol of Southern heritage or pride, there is growing recognition…that the symbol is offensive to many Americans. However, because of the continued use of the flag by non-extremists, one should not automatically assume that display of the flag is racist or white supremacist in nature.” It’s important to remember that some Americans fly this flag out of a genuine love for their home. However, that doesn’t justify denying what the flag actually means: it is still a symbol of the desire to subdue African Americans, both as slaves and also simply human beings, and should be treated as such.

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Rantt 101 // Civil War / Confederacy / History / Radical Right