Comment of the Day: “Flying the Confederate Flag…”

Blogger Edward Carney, who writes about the revelations of daily life (check out his blog here) put his finger on a central issue in the Confederate flag debate in his Comment of the Day.  Flying or displaying the provocative banner sends multiple messages simultaneously, and the individual responsible for the flag  is also responsible for the consequence of all of them. Claiming that one means no offense while knowing that one of the messages is unequivocally offensive is disingenuous,  naive, or willfully rude.

Here is the Comment of the Day on the post, “Flying the Confederate Flag..”:

“I’ll say this for those citizens and politicians who insist on flying the Confederate flag at local monuments and public events: at least they can make the argument that it represents history and a set of values that is still acceptable, even laudable, today. They can make that argument, however disingenuous it may be. The same cannot be said of everyone.

“I have seen more than one home in certain very white suburbs here surrounding Buffalo, NY flying confederate flags on their porches. With a heavy heart, I accept that these individuals are free to display whatever hateful symbols they choose and that my impulse to pelt the house with stones does not stand on the same level. Still, there can be no mistaking what must be meant by their display.

“I have been tempted to knock on the doors of these homes and ask the residents just what in the hell they are thinking. I wonder whether I would meet with some line of B.S. about freedom from federal intrusion. Perhaps not. When I was a teenager, I had a neighbor who hung a wall-sized Confederate flag in his garage. When I asked him why… well, his response was frank and emphatic, but I’ll spare you the crude specifics. Really, though, what other answer could he have realistically given? The fact that that flag is flown in the North and that it is flown completely outside of the context of displays regarding Southern history should make it perfectly clear that everyone understands exactly what it really means.”

ADDENDUM: This excellent comment on the same post, from Bill Aitken, neatly addresses the message issue, and is historically informative as well:

“My family fought for Virginia and the South during the Civil War and some fought for the North also… and both of them, after the war was over, were citizens of one nation under one flag. And it certainly wasn’t the Confederate battle flag that you see people flying. Why do people insist on flying the battle flag anyway? And not even a proper square one but a bastardized rectangle? If they want to show their Southern pride fly the flag that flew over buildings in the confederacy, the “Stars and Bars,” not the battle flag, which was carried into battle and then used as a physiological weapon against blacks ever since. Also. anyone thinks the war wasn’t about slavery should read the Constitutions of the states that seceded. They specifically mention slavery and their right as a state in the Confederacy to have slaves.”

The official flag of the Confederate States of America

18 thoughts on “Comment of the Day: “Flying the Confederate Flag…”

  1. The symbolism of the Confederate Battle Flag is still highly controversial and I will not go into the pros and cons of flying and exhibiting the flag. As a southerner interested in Confederate Vexillology. I love it. And no, I don’t fly the flag. The Stars and Bars pictured in this post was really never an official flag of the Confederacy. It was the flag of the Provisional Government of the Confederacy adopted by a committee in Mongomery, Al. (the design of the Confederate Battle Flag was also among the selections, but it was rejected because some committee members thought it resembled a pair of suspenders) There was never a Flag Act of 1861. The original Battle Flag (southern cross) was square and was the regimental flag of the Army of Northern Viriginia. The southern cross has come to symbolize the Confederacy , but it was just one of many regimental and battle flags. One of my favorites is Hardee’s Moon Flag that flew at the Battle of Shiloh. General Polk’s flag was a St George’s Cross and the Cherokee and Choctaw nations had their own banners. What many southerners, who revere their heritage, don’t realize is that their Confederate ancestors may not have fought under the southern cross at all. The popular rectangular version that you see today is actually the Confederate Navy Jack. Confederate Vexillology is a fascinating subject. There are real Confederate banners in need of restoration. When they are gone, they are gone, but since people seem to have their own agendas concerning the Confederate Battle Flag, very few are willing to preserve their real heritage.

    • This is the problem when people with agendas hijack history and symbolism for their own purposes. The history of the Confederacy is as important as any other aspect of American history, and nobody should have to defend a legitimate interest in it, as scholarship or as a hobby. The personalities are remarkable; the ethical dilemmas are worth studying and debating. Thanks to the deceitful use of the various symbols for political coding, however, it is a tougher field on interest than it should be. My sympathies.

  2. Jose, you are right; I should have know that about the Naval Jack.

    Jack, the next time you are in Alexandria near Old Town, check out how many Stars and Bars are flying. They are everywhere on people’s houses and 90% of the people passing by have no idea what they are.

    • Wow. Call me embarrassed…I never noticed that. The Stars and Bars don’t register “Confederacy” with me so I don’t even “see” them. Very interesting. Now the question is: what are they meant to signify to those who do notice? A secret longing for Dixie to rise again, with darkies toiling happily in the fields? Or admiration for the brave soldiers of Virginia, who marched into certain death under orders from Jackson, Lee and others, fighting for a class system they didn’t benefit from? Or something else.

      • I will be honest, it never registered with me for years. I always caught them out of the corner of my eye and for some reason they always made me think “Damn we have a lot of Texans in this town.” but then I did a job at a house flying one and it dawned on me what it was.

        I bet 90 % of the people flying them are Yankees who moved here and are desperate to be seen as a Virginians. The same ones that when they call in a service ticket who say they are in Olde Town but they are out by the west end.

        Too many people romantize the south and the Civil War and forget that the south is just now in the last 20-30 years recovering from the Civil War and the effects of it and Jim Crow.

        If you ever get a chance you should read my Great Great Great Uncles diary about the war published as the book “Inside the Confederate Government” .

      • That’s one of the reasons that the Flag was changed in 1863. Originally, it was designed to represent that they were once part of the US, but it’s resemblence to Union flag made identifying sides on the battlefield difficult. That’s why they changed it in 1863.

  3. 10 Frequently Unknown Truths (Courtesy: The Politically Incorrect Guide To The Civil War.)

    1. Before the start of the Civil War there were actually three times as many anti-slavery organizations in the South as in the North.

    2. In the South only 25% of white families even owned slaves,
    3. Half of this 25% (12.5%) owned only 1-5 slaves,
    4. Less than 1% (.0025% of Southern white families) of slave owners even owned more than 50 slaves.
    4. Alexis de Tocqueville thought that racism was more prevalent in free states than in slave states.
    6. Abraham Lincoln (Union President) was self instructed and had NO formal education.
    7. Thomas Jefferson (Confederate President) was educated at; Thomas Aquinas Catholic school, Jefferson College, Transylvania University, and West Point Academy.
    8. “British diplomat Odo Russell reported that the pope “would not conceal from me the fact that all his sympathies were with the Southern Confederacy and he wished them all success,” and after the war while Jefferson Davis was being held prisoner by Federals at Fort Monroe, the pope sent him a crown of thorns, that had been woven with his own hands.
    9. Robert E. Lee freed his slaves even before the Emancipation Proclamation, and argued during the war for the South to abolish slavery itself and find ways to encourage blacks to enlist in the Confederate army.
    10. Nathan Bedford Forrest was a slave trader, yet ironically freed his own slaves. And though he is allegedly a commander of the Ku Klux Klan (wanna-be Nazis), he actually wanted more free blacks – and Chinese – in the South.

    • Those are little known facts, all right.
      1) When did numbering go 1,2,3,4,4,6?
      2) Thomas Jefferson was long dead by the time of the Civil War. I assume you meant Jefferson Davis?
      3) Who cares what the Pope thought?
      4-1) Re: 1-4. So what? A tiny percentage of Americans commit murder. Does that make murder better?
      4-2) Who cares what de Tocqueville thought? He’s probably right, based on my years growing up in Boston. So what?
      6) What does Lincoln’s schooling have to do with anything?
      7) We all know that Forrest was a whacko. So what?

    • The person above who quotes the “politically incorrect guide to the Civil War should learn basic history. HIs first point was a doozie — that before the civil war, there were 3 times as many anti slavery organizations.

      But, that is typical of many odd positions. A little knowledge is a dangerous things.

      Only the book claiming Jeff Davis founded the Underground Railroad is more comical. He apparently got that from a book called “THE OTHER SOUTH”: but that book shows how those organizations were violently stopped from 1820 on.

      The OTHER South shows the violent OPPRESSION of these groups. Free speech and slavery did not mix, as they found out around 1820.

      YEs, in the South, there were many anti slavery people, like Cassius Clay and Hiton Helper. Both men hated blacks with a passion, hated the sight of them, hated the thought of them, and wanted them GONE — by ANY means. But even they were banned from the South — escorted out. Read about Cassius Clay, and how he had to protect himself, in his anti slavery newspaper office. Double thick walls, no windows, gun ports, special roof. And even that didnt stop the Southern government, once the anti -incendiary laws –were passed. They simply went in his office, packed everything up for him, (they liked him, he HATED blacks) and politely escorted him across the river to Ohio.

      They were not so nice to others, who could be, and were, arrested and subjected to whippings, for simply owning a book which MIGHT dissatisfy a slave, if he somehow saw it!

      The anti-incendiary laws, passed by every Southern state over time, as were laws mandating the torture of slaves for escapes.

      In the South, before the war, and for at least a generation, it was a crime to even own the wrong book or pamphlet, or to speak openly, or even PREACH openly against slavery. Like the case of the preacher in North Carolina, that ironically owned the book by Hiton Helper, who was arrested for owning that book! He was arrested, found guilty, and was about to be whipped- – the punishment was whipping. He was an older man, a preacher, and crowds gathered in joy to watch him whipped. The judge, however, apparently didn’t really want the old guy whipped, so he granted bail for an appeal, and of course, the preacher left and never came back.

      The violent oppression of Free Speech is what caused the war, because there was no counterbalance. Even preachers could not openly QUESTION slavery. If you don’t know that basic fact, you don’t know history of the South from 1820-1861. It was very much a totalitarian state, but it had to be. You could not allow books and speeches and pamphlets against slavery. Those who say the South just wanted small government is as silly as the guy who said the South had 3 times as many anti slavery organizations. The government was oppressive and controlling. Mails were searched — ships were searched. Books banned, not by name, but just by content — if any communication might “dissatisfy” a slave, it was illegal.

      See, the Slave owners had convinced themselves that slaves LIKED slavery, that God ordained slavery, etc. Lee himself, and Davis espeically, subscribed to this goofy theory. Davis, who called abollitionist the evil serpent who whispered the lie of freedom, demanded the evil serpent shut the hell up. Debow, of Debows Review, wrote in 1843, that “God has silenced all opposition to slavery by His Holy Word”

      Actually God didn’t do it, the anti incendiary laws did.

    • Robert E Lee freed no one till he was ordered to repeately by Virginia Courts. IN fact, he sold many of the slaves anyway, apparently, that he was not supposed to sell.

      For a fascinating expose of Lee — his cruelites, the goofy notion that he freed his slaves, etc, see the Book “Reading the Man. YOu will have to read it closely, however, because the AUthor is a Lee devotee. But she shows stunning things — like Lee regularly had slaves whipped, and that whipping was his “preferred method” of slave punishment.

      Also, Lee had probably the highest number and percentage of LIGHT skinned female slaves in the US. The slaves at Arlington were “increasingly white” — WHITE — Lee himself wrote about a slave girl that was “almost white”.

      Even more stunners, is validation in Lee’sown papers that the reports of his amazing cruelty to slave girls, that were in the paper BEFORE the Civil War, was validated after the war. Reporters at Arlington found a former slave digging graves there, and he was one of Lee’s slaves from before the war that were involved in the pre-war story. They asked him about it– obviously Lee was not going to let reporters talk to him before the war. Anyway, the slave gave a statement, and luckily, he mentioned enough names, dates, times, and cities, that Pryor, the author of Reading the Man, actually found those same names dates times and cities mentioned by Lee himself, including bounties he paid for the capture of those slaves.

      Clearly, the slave himself could not possibly have known what was in Lee’s slave ledgers — he couldn’t even read. But Pryor, though devoted to Lee and the Lee family, said Norris report was “unquestionably predicated on facts”. I won’t go into the details of the torture here, but they were horrific, with Lee screaming at a girl while he had her whipped.

      ANd no, Lee did NOT free his slaves before the war. In fact, he went to court during the civil war — get your head around THAT! — to attempt to void the will, so he could sell the slaves!! He was desperate apparently to cash out by sellign the slaves.

      One more thing, Pryor shows Lee paid 600% higher bounties for the capture of GIRLS. The girl Lee screamed at while he had her whipped, he paid 600% higher bounty for her, than for the male. Lee would give bounties of 25 or 30 dollars for males, but 350 dollars or so for females.

      We essentially don’t know Lee at all, because the bulk of what we think we know was presented largely by Douglass Southall Freeman, who now that we have Lee’s slave ledgers and 10,000 personal letters, we know was, well, how do you say this? Not telling the truth.

      • Tim, you stated:

        “But Pryor, though devoted to Lee and the Lee family, said Norris report was “unquestionably predicated on facts”. I won’t go into the details of the torture here, but they were horrific, with Lee screaming at a girl while he had her whipped.”

        Tim, there is no proof to substantiate the allegation that Lee had any slaves whipped! Period! The only man, that I know of, who ever put his name to the claim that Lee had someone whipped was Wesley Norris. When Norris told his story after the war, it was published in several newspapers during a several-week period. During this same time, Norris’s father (along with other ex-Arlington slaves) were asking congress to give them 10 acres of land a piece. For this reason, the whole Norris family had a motive for Wesley to exaggerate the runaway slave story (including the alleged whipping at the behest of Lee). The motive was land; the means was the article by Norris published in several newspapers at this same time. It appears that this story was published, when it was published, in an effort to arouse the public to put pressure on congress so that these ex-slaves could get this land (from the Arlington estate, by the way).
        Unfortunately, Ms. Pryor’s classic book about Lee (“Reading the Man”) does not mention anything about any of these activities of Wesley Norris’s father. So, it is very probable that Wesley was pressured by these circumstances to allege that Lee was behind this so-called whipping.
        One other point…Ms. Pryor’s book compares the prices to recover some previous slaves with the prices (costs) of recovering Wesley Norris (and two others) who had almost made it as far as Pennsylvania. And as she noted, the cost for the Norris recovery was much higher. However, this does not necessarily mean that Lee had to pay the country official are larger price to whip these three slaves; and this is what Ms. Pryor’s book clearly implies. As a matter of fact, when you go online and check the records of the costs of recovering slaves that had made it as far as Maryland, where these three slaves were recovered, the costs are similar to the high costs which Lee paid the county official (concerning the recovery of these three escaped slaves). So the higher prices (on his account books) are not that unusual for an escape that far into Maryland. Unfortunately, none of these higher costs for recovering slaves in Maryland are found in Ms. Pryor’s book. Why was this material not included in her book so that we readers to make up our own minds?
        i have never found any evidence to show that Robert E. Lee ever had anyone whipped at any time (slave or not). If you have such documentation, please post it so that we can read it. And let’s discuss these matters. Ms. Pryor’s book is a classic and I recommend that anyone seriously interested in Lee it. However, concerning the alleged whipping, in my opinion her book sorely misses the point.

    • Can I just say that points 6 & 7 probably insinuate that we should elect less educated, more hardworking idealists than we have a tendency to nominate currently?

      Unfortunately, our country is well represented. The partisan ground games in Washinton DC that vie for position, I fear, are truly representative of the voting populace.

      When will we elect our next “inspirational” leader? Someone that both sides would be proud to nominate for their party’s ticket?

      • 1) Those without formal education in the 19th Century frequently ended up more literate than degree holders today, and…
        2) Colin Powell was such a potential candidate. He chickened out. Maybe it was for the best. I think we would have been a healthier nation if he had run in 2000, however, for either party. (For one thing, there would have been no Bush, AND no Obama.)

  4. Everytime I find something new in antebellum Southern newspapers, I think WOW, here is another basic fact we are not taught.

    One of the basic things I learned — not from my history classes, not from History Channel, not from the many biographies I have read, are the Southern Ultimatums, from Richmond Newspaper in May of 1861. It was reprinted in other newspapers, North and South,

    The headline is “THE TRUE ISSUE” and they then presented the Five Ultimatums. All five were about the spread of slavery. Essentially, slavery must be spread and “respected and protected” in the Territories.

    This was THE TRUE ISSUE — and the demands were “found” in the “Montgomery Constitution” which was the first term used for the Confederate Constitution, because the leaders who wrote that document, were still there, including Jeff Davis.

    Now, these were not demands to remain in the Union, you need to understand that. These were WAR ultimatums –W A R. These are what the North, and LIncoln, must do to avoid WAR. They were not suggestions, or starting points for negotiations. They were not vague, they were not timid. Spread slavery — OR ELSE.

    What makes it bizzare is – Kansas had just voted 98%-2% to keep slavery out forever. You undoubtedly know the Lecompton Constitution debacle, but less known is a vote taken later, with 98% against slavery.

    The “average joe” in the South, of course, was not hell bent for leather to fight to SPREAD slavery, but these were the Confederate leaders,.

    Davis, for example wrote years later that the :”intolerable grievance” that led to violence and war was the resistance by Lincoln to the SPREAD of slavery into Kansas. Or as Davis termed it, to the “Southern rights” in Kansas.,

    Keep in mind most people in the South had never been in Kansas, and were only given propaganda about it — you need to read Southern papers of that time about Kansas. They compared free soilers to Satan. They were “abolitionist scum” who must be forced to accept slavery. Just because 98% of the voters rejected slavery, didn’t seem to even slow down the vitriol.

    Obviously, had the South stayed in the Union, they could not force slavery into Kansas — not after that 98% vote. Any fig leaf of “states rights” was now completely gone, regarding the spread of slavery.

    Davis wanted Lincoln to see the Five Ultimatums –he was trying to avoid war if possible. He hoped Lincoln would not do anything.

    And — Lincoln may not have, if the South did not attack. But the Southern hot heads, spurred on by the crazy insane violent rhetoric of the last five years — had to attack. They promised they would attack. They had jumped up and down and shouted louder than the next guy bragging about their bravery. They had to attack to save face.

    The rhetoric against Lincoln was so vile and so extreme during the “canvass” as they called election campaign periods then, that they could not turn it off when Lincoln won.

    The Five Ultimatums were written in that window of time, after secession, but before Ft Sumter. And they reflect the toxic nature of Southern rhetoric. But more, they are proof that the Civil War — according to the South at the time, was about the SPREAD of slavery.

    Notice that once Lee surrendered, the South was like “Slavery? Huh? Oh no, no no, we are against slavery, we were going to let them go, yeah, that’s it”.

    The basic understanding today is that the Civil war was about various things, one of them being the PROTECTION of slavery in the South. Utter nonsense. The SPREAD of slavery, not the protection of it, is what Southern leaders said at the time, in their Ultimatums, woven into their Constitution, bragged about loudly and proudly in speeches and Headlines.

    Remember the title of the article about Ultimatums? The True Issue.

    The true issue literally, according to their own leaders at the time, was the SPREAD of slavery. YOu can pretend all kinds of nonsense about “complex issue”. Bull. It was about the spread of slavery and that is by not only their words, but their deeds

  5. I know what the Confederate flag means.I am not racist. I wanted to show that I am not for what’s going on in this country. There are a lot of people like me.You cannot change history.You can make new history with it.

  6. I don’t see why it’s so controversial. It’s a symbol of the democrat party after all, and isn’t EVERYTHING the democrats do and say infallible! The democrat party said slavery was good and convinced thirteen states to secede from the union, then fight a civil war over it. I bet the democrats still get your votes despite this verifiable and historical truth. So again, why is it so controversial? It’s you democrats damn flag, display it with pride!

  7. let me tell all of yall im 16 an im a boy an I live in the country an cmt mest up an yall when they took dukes of hazzerd off it not racist show
    an ill say this not meaning bad by it but all you dame nigers get the hell over it slavery is over an now your free so give it a rest I don’t ever say bad words but let me tell you this you mess with my me but you mess with my flag you got anuther thing coming yall got that have a good night and god bless

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