For many of you who know me personally, you may know that I’ve had the experience of living in an another country (Kenya, if you’re curious). While living there, I figured out that little truth that most Americans don’t realize: most of the world loves America, but everyone hates Americans. If you’re American, and you don’t understand why people think that way, well here goes. We Americans tend to be ignorant. Most of the world that interacts with American tourists in their countries tend not give them points for knowledge (I’m not generalizing here, just using an average, there are smart American tourists for sure).
One anecdote I was told by one of my cousins who lives in Kenya, puts this in perspective. Once she met with an American for a work project and takes her out to the mall for lunch. The American lady was shocked at how the mall was there. She told my cousin, “I never imagined that there are malls here!” How does this relate in any way, shape or form to the Confederate flag? It’s a really simple extension, we Americans tend to be ignorant- of our own history too, especially about the truth behind the Confederate flag and why it truly is such a racist and treasonous symbol.
Why the Civil War was Fought
Let’s work our way forward in this timeline, beginning from 1860. Abraham Lincoln was just elected as president and many Southerners were alarmed. This was because he was known to have an anti-slavery stance, which they thought could lead to slavery being abolished nationwide. Lincoln on the other hand, did not actually want to abolish slavery where it already existed. All the same, Southern slave-owning states decided that slavery was worth breaking up the Union for, so they seceded and formed the Confederate States of America. (Fun fact, the so-called “Confederate flag” was not the Confederacy’s actual flag. That flag we refer to as the Confederate flag is actually the battle flag for the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia.) That’s the treasonous part, but unfortunately is only the beginning of the racist part.
All this does affirm, very negatively, claims of Confederate flag sympathizers: that the Civil War was fought over “states’ rights”. Yes, “states’ rights” to allow people to own slaves. If all that didn’t make it clear, South Carolina’s Articles of Secession will definitely do that (FYI: South Carolina was the first state to secede) I searched the word “slave” in that page, and it pops up 18 times, most referring to anger at Northern states for not returning runaway slaves and for many in those states wanting to end slavery. Yes, the Confederacy definitely fought “Northern tyranny”. The “Northern tyranny” of not getting their slaves back if they stepped foot in a free state.
The Resurgence of the Confederate Flag
The Confederate flag begins to fully take on it’s racist attributes in the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s. It wasn’t much of a popular symbol in the South before then. It became popular due to the rise of the Civil Rights Movement. Many Southerners used it as a symbol of Southern defiance against attempts to have the federal government abolish Jim Crow laws (for those who slept in their history classes, that was the common name for the racial segregation laws in Southern states). The flag went from a little presence, to flying on state flags, over state capitols, in Ku Klux Klan rallies and as the primary symbol of the Dixiecrats. I’m not going to into detail about the State’s Rights Party (aka the Dixiecrat Party, I’ll leave you a link to read further), but their main platform idea was opposition to desegregation. This isn’t looking great, is it?
Why does it seem that so many unsavory characters and ideals lie at the feet of the Confederate flag? That’s a simple question to answer, it’s an unsavory symbol and does represent ideals like racism and treason. I am in no way stating that all people who fly the Confederate flag are KKK members, promote rebellion or are even racist at all. I am simply letting the facts and history of the matter shine for themselves. If it is such a terrible symbol, why fly it? My simple advice for Southerners who see it as a symbol of Southern pride: please, for the sake of progress and reason, put that flag away. I’m sure a less problematic symbol could be found for the South. Until then, all of us will always have the American flag, which does represent something good to all Americans, things like one nation under God, with liberty and justice for all.
(The above photo is courtesy of Snopes.com)
- Civil War background info: Civil War Trust
- Some more info on the war: History Channel
- Further reading on Lincoln and Slavery: Lincoln’s 1st Inaugural Address, Bartleby
- South Carolina Articles of Secession: Yale Law School
- Modern history of the Confederate flag: New Republic, PBS
- More on the Dixiecrat Party: PBS
- Further commentary on this topic: Politico