In the wake of Dylann Roof’s murders, an anti-Confederate flag campaign is in full swing. The Stars and Bars–which I believe was not the official flag of the Confederacy, but rather the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia–can’t actually be banned, of course. So the focus is on not flying it at public locations. And on accusatory questions directed at Republican presidential candidates.
I don’t know how many public places in the South display the Confederate flag. Most famously, it flies next to the Civil War memorial on the capitol grounds in Columbia, South Carolina:
Those who now attack the flag say that it is a symbol of racism and an affront to African-American citizens. This is a relatively new idea, I think. When I was a college student, one of my friends, who was from Alabama, had a Confederate flag hanging over his bed. (“The South will rise again!” was his mantra. He turned out to be right about that.) It didn’t occur to us then that the flag had anything to do with race. Of course, race relations were better then.
If the Confederacy can’t be remembered in any terms other than racial, it isn’t only the flag that is in question. Virtually every town and city in the South has memorials of one sort or another to Confederate leaders and the Confederate dead. Years ago, I had a case in Cleburne, Texas. The courthouse lawn featured a statue of General Patrick Cleburne, after whom the town was named. If nothing can be said about the Confederacy, but for the fact that it was a failed effort to preserve slavery, why don’t all such statues and memorials need to come down?
Historically, it has been Democrats, not Republicans, who have tried to preserve a positive image of the Confederacy. (It was, as everyone knows, the election of the first Republican president that prompted secession in the first place.) So calling for the flag to come down, as Lindsey Graham and Nikki Haley did this afternoon, is a painless decision for Republicans. For similar reasons, I don’t much care what happens to the Stars and Bars. It’s not my flag.
It seems pretty obvious which way this purely symbolic issue is trending. I don’t think we will be seeing much of the Confederate flag in the future; not in polite society, anyway. But before such images are lost to memory, let’s consider two of them. This one is from a recent anti-flag rally:
And this one, courtesy of Jim Treacher on Twitter, is from the 1992 Clinton-Gore presidential campaign:
Confederate flag, RIP.