Confederate Flags & Mississippi's Flag Are Worse Than Nickelback
Yup, I said it. They're more annoying. Let me start here...
In the middle of World War II's battle of Okinawa, Army Lieutenant General Simon Buckner Jr., observed some Marines flying the Confederate Battle Flag. Lt. Gen. Buckner ordered the flag to be taken down and told the soldiers, “Americans from all over are involved in this battle.” By the way, Lt. Gen. Buckner's father was General Simon Bolivar Buckner Sr. of the Confederate Army... yup, his father was a Confederate general. His father was defeated by US General Ulysses S. Grant. The two generals later became friends and Grant served as a pallbearer at his father's funeral (1). More Americans should follow the Buckners' example, is but unfortunately that's not happening.
Earlier this month, NASCAR announced the ban of Confederate Battle Flags from their events and properties. Social media erupted with a large majority praising the decision and a smaller but loud side defending the flag. This past Sunday, Confederate Battle Flags were displayed outside the Talladega Motor Speedway (though weather postponed the race).
A couple of weeks later, a noose was found in Bubba Wallace's car. Racers, NASCAR leaders, and fans responded with a peacefully staged walk with Bubba. After an investigation, the FBI determined that no one deliberately placed the noose in Bubba's car and that it was probably part of the garage operating system. Even if the noose was a mistake or hoax, it's not outlandish to have believed it was true given the climate of our society. What was worse was how people (and even Jesus followers) jumped at the opportunity to call Bubba a "Jussie Smollett" (which isn't fair because as this article discusses. Bubba was told about the noose and had no idea).
Last Friday, June 19, 2020, Michael Drake (the head of the NCAA board and president of Ohio State University) made the following announcement:
There is no place in college athletics or the world for symbols or acts of discrimination and oppression. We must continually evaluate ways to protect and enhance the championship experience for college athletes. Expanding the Confederate flag policy to all championships is an important step by the NCAA to further provide a quality experience for all participants and fans (2).
The presidents of Mississippi's eight public universities responded with a statement that read in part: "Today, we are committed to continuing to do our part to ensure Mississippi is united in its pursuit of a future that is free of racism and discrimination. Such a future must include a new state flag" (3).
For years there have been many unsuccessful efforts to change Mississippi's State Flag. While a 2001 vote to change the flag failed, word on the street is the Mississippi Senate is only a couple votes shy of passing a new flag vote.
Regardless of what the State of Mississippi does with their flag, people and organizations have already decided to change.
The US Marine Corps recently banned displays of the Confederate Battle Flag. A couple of days later, Walmart stores in Mississippi decided to no longer display the state flag. Mississippi NASCAR drivers removed the flag from their cars and outfits. Kaylin Hill, Mississippi State University's running back, won't play unless the flag is changed. The Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Mississippi also called for the flag's removal. The Mississippi Baptist Convention (the state's largest denomination--Southern Baptist Convention) wants the Confederate Battle Flag off the state flag. The Mississippi Baptist Convention's board recently stated:
While some may see the current flag as a celebration of heritage, a significant portion of our state sees it as a relic of racism and a symbol of hatred. The racial overtones of this flag’s appearance make this discussion a moral issue (4).
Good for them!!!
We need more large Christian groups and organizations saying as much because in some form or fashion, I've seen the following question raised again and again in public discussions, personal conversations, and social media: Is the Confederate flag racist? The answer seems obvious to me, but not so clear to others. There's confusion about how others feel about the Confederate Battle Flag and its history. Some may believe there's a "Oliver Stone type conspiracy" attempting ruin the Civil War image of the South. So, I decided to some research for myself. This blog post is a lot longer than what I'll normally write, but again, this represents my own research... and trust me, the Confederacy has themselves to thank for a tarnished image.
Before I go any further, I want to acknowledge those who don't and won't agree with my conclusions. Some of you had family fight on behalf of the Confederacy. Most Confederate soldiers didn't own slaves and probably saw their cause as reminiscent of the American Revolution. You may view the Confederate Battle Flag as representing different aspects of the South. Then, there are those of you who have another perspective of the Confederate Battle Flag. It takes you back your childhood, days on the lake, family gatherings, summer evenings, etc. As best you can, please try to keep an open mind throughout this post.
I'm not making excuses for anyone's refusal to acknowledge the Confederate Battle Flag's history and hate, rather I simply want to recognize the very real feelings involved in all aspects of this discussion. Hopefully, those who are sympathetic or indifferent to the Confederate Battle Flag will begin to accept and empathize with what the flag represents to African Americans and many of us.
One flag sympathizer framed his view this way: "As far as the racism goes, I dismiss it, because I'm not racist whatsoever. That flag doesn't mean that to me" (5).
Okay... But human beings and especially Christians should reframe his last sentence into an others-focused question:
What does the Confederate Battle Flag mean to others?
If you're passionate or indifferent towards the flag, then you already know what it means to you. What does the flag mean to others? How do people unlike you view the flag? I have friends who have seriously considered such questions. After investigating history and listening to the experiences of others, their perspective began to shift. The same can happen with anyone, so let's begin by investigating history.
The Confederate Battle Flag was used during the Civil War
What many call "the Confederate flag" today was actually the battle flag of the Confederate armies. It didn't show up on the Confederate national flag until the 2nd version of the flag was approved. Many Confederates believed the 1st Confederate national flag (which is the actual "stars and bars" flag) was too similar to the American flag. Soldiers on the battlefield had difficulty distinguishing between the Union and Confederate flags.
Still, more than a few individuals wrongly believe the Confederate Battle Flag was created after the Civil War or that it wasn't used during the war. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Confederate Battle Flag was featured as part of the following flags:
2nd Confederate national flag (1863-1865)
3rd Confederate national flag (1865)
2nd Confederate navy jack (1863–1865)
2nd Confederate navy ensign (1863–1865)
2nd navy ensign of the ironclad CSS Atlanta
Battle flag of the 11th Mississippi Infantry Regiment (1861-1865)
Battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia (1861-1865)
Battle flag of Gen. Forrest’s Calvary Corps (1863-1865)
Emblem of the United Confederate Veterans (1889-1951)
The Sons of the Confederate Veterans (1896-Present)
Pretty much sums it up, huh? The Confederate Battle Flag was clearly part of the Confederacy during the Civil War and as such, it represented Confederate values and beliefs. But, were slavery and racism important components of the South's separation from and aggression towards the United States?
According to the Confederacy, the fight was over slavery
Though slavery wasn't the only reason for the Civil War, it definitely was a huge reason. Despite an overwhelming consensus from historians that the Civil War was fought over slavery, non-historians believe they know better (gotta love Wikipedia). Revisionist historians argue that the South left the Union over "states rights." One revisionist said it this way: "The south wouldn’t have seceded if the federal government had allowed (white, male) voters to decide slavery per state or territory" (6). The author of the article who quoted this revisionist wisely added "(white, male)" for context as white males comprised the mid-1800's voting demographic.
Hiding slavery under the guise of "states rights" is laughable at best and despicable at worst.
Yes, Southern states wanted "states rights" which included a few non-slavery issues. But chief among the "states rights" was the right to keep slaves (even though no human has such a right).
Here are some facts to consider about the "right" to keep slaves: American slave trade seems to have begun around 1619. Even though no one can know for sure, there are historians who estimate that 6 or 7 million slaves arrived in American during the 1700's. At one time the US Constitution defined a slave as being 3/5 of a person. By 1804, most of what were known as Northern states got rid of slavery, but Southern states refused to follow suit. Slaves were raped, murdered, beaten, tortured, etc. The children and other family members of slaves were treated no differently (7).
Undoubtedly, the Southern leaders knew that President Lincoln would eventually end slavery in America. Though there's debate as to whether President Lincoln really wanted to free the slaves, the South's fears proved true on January 1, 1863 when Lincoln validated the Emancipation Proclamation. The South would have crumbled economically had they still been part of the Union (they separated in 1861).
A quick study of the South's economy highlights their tremendous economic dependence on slavery. "Between 1840 and 1860 per capita income in the slave states rose by 39 percent, as opposed to 29 percent for the free states and 33 percent for the nation as a whole" (8). Even though the South was very wealthy, their money "was primarily tied up in the slave economy. In 1860, the economic value of slaves in the United States exceeded the invested value of all of the nation's railroads, factories, and banks combined" (9).
The Confederacy had envisioned increasing their economic wealth by expanding their slave trade. There were even Confederate plans to invade, conquer, and enslave the people of Mexico, Brazil, and other such countries. Yet, their wealth vanished after the Civil War and loss of their "states rights" to slavery. Besides the unfortunate destruction of cities, towns, crops, stores, homes, and more in the South, slaves leaving their Southern taskmasters after the war greatly contributed to the South's financial collapse. One could say that besides a disregard for human dignity, financial survival drove Confederate's fight to keep slavery.
Besides economic proof, words from Confederate documents and leaders plainly show that slavery was central to their fight. One merely has to read the statements made by Confederate States when leaving the Union to see this. Take some time to read the words of Confederate President Jefferson Davis, other Confederate leaders, newspapers from the South, and even the Confederate Constitution. All confirm that slavery was a main reason for separation and war.
As mentioned above, one example is the 2nd national Confederate flag (which contained the Confederate Battle Flag). It was nicknamed "the white man's flag" by its creator (10). Case in point, here's Confederate VP Alexander Stephens poppin' off at the mouth:
Many governments have been founded upon the principle of the subordination and serfdom of certain classes of the same race; such were and are in violation of the laws of nature. Our system commits no such violation of nature’s laws. With us, all of the white race, however high or low, rich or poor, are equal in the eye of the law. Not so with the negro. Subordination is his place.
~Alexander Stephens, Vice-President of the Confederacy (11)
Still not convinced? Well, here's one for ya... In 1931, Florida Senator Duncan Fletcher said the following about the Civil War: "The South fought to preserve race integrity. Did we lose that? We fought to maintain free white dominion. Did we lose that?" (12). Being born in 1859, Fletcher was well aware of the Civil War's context and his words completely align with the Confederacy's racism and pro-slavery ideals. I'm sure Fletcher would have also seen the Confederate Battle Flag as representative of the Confederate leaders' words and values as well.
Perhaps the greatest proof of the flag's attachment to racism and slavery is its use over the last several years...
The Modern Reemergence of the Confederate Battle Flag
Ever since the South surrendered, there's been an effort to "improve" their history. Revisionist history literature started appearing near the end of the 19th century (view a revisionist history publication here). Those who try to revise the South's Civil War history support an ideology known as the "Lost Cause of the Confederacy." It depicts the Confederacy as a "suffering hero" while demonizing the United States. Revisionists falsely claim the South fought in the Civil War for almost any reason other than slavery and outright racism. Examples are given like pride in the midst of poverty, love for ancestors, a great lost cause, and other motives that have little to no historical support.
After years of hiding in the shadows, the Confederate Battle Flag reappeared during the 1948 Democratic National Convention. President Truman and other Democratic leaders campaigned to submit civil rights legislation to congress that would, among other things, guarantee African Americans complete and equal involvement in America's political process. Hubert Humphrey even challenged delegates to quit focusing on states' rights and focus on human rights--an obvious dig at Confederate revisionist historians (13).
In response, delegates from some Southern States brandished Confederate Battle Flags in the convention hall and walked out. They eventually had their own "democratic convention." They became known as the "Dixiecrats" and used the flag as their banner until they faded out of existence.
Though the Confederate Battle Flag has never been officially adopted by the KKK, it has been used by plenty of klansmen and at multiple KKK rallies. Why? Because of what they believe it represents--found in the accurate Civil War history. Additionally, the flag's use during the 1948 Democratic Convention probably prompted them. Even though General Forrest used the flag during the Civil War and a little after, the flag had been dormant. Sadly, nothing seemed to stir hate like the suggestion that African Americans should be equal.
Since 1948, the flag has been present at protests against civil rights marches, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s events, even made appearances during the recent George Floyd protests, and more. Some Southern States incorporated it into their state flags. Except for Mississippi, all of those states have removed the Confederate Battle Flag from their flags... and it was an uphill battle for those states as reflected in the State of Georgia.
There have been 7 official Georgia state flags (8 unofficial state flags). In 1956, the 5th official Georgia state flag was adopted with the Confederate Battle Flag taking up about 75% of the flag. In the years following, many politicians, religious leaders, and ordinary citizens tried to get the flag changed. Why? Because the Confederate Battle Flag was prominently featured.
In 2001, a new state flag was adopted, but it still featured a smaller version of the Confederate Battle Flag at the bottom right (ironically, it was featured before the American flag--which was last). In 2004, the current Georgia State Flag was chosen. While Georgia's current state flag no longer features the Confederate Battle Flag, it's still problematic as it's nearly identical to the first Confederate national flag. Hopefully, that can be dealt with soon.
In preparation for the 2001 flag vote, the Georgia State Senate Research office presented a lengthy report on the 1956 flag change, which included the following:
Despite some nonracist uses, the Dixiecrat, segregationist, and Klan uses of the flag by that time had distorted the flag’s connection with the Confederate nation and its soldiers. The raising of the battle flag over the capitols is clear – intimidation of those who would enforce integration and a statement of firm resolve to resist integration (14).
Even in the early 2000's leaders recognized the need for change. And yet, more sweeping changes need to arrive. Some states still celebrate some sort of a Confederate holiday (15). After the Charleston church shooting, Georgia actually stopped celebrating Confederate Memorial Day. Many other states have changed their flags and even monuments. Though some call this "erasing history" I personally believe it's an erroneous claim to do so. The Confederate Battle Flag is still in textbooks, museums, and people still have the right to purchase the flag.
Inserting our personal feelings into the "erasing history" argument actually erases the validity of our argument.
When some flag sympathizers are challenged, they appeal to their personal emotions. Don't. Do. That. Such an argument doesn't exist... it's just you sharing. Then, there are some who say, "I have a black friend who isn't bothered by it!" Well... congratulations? While I have many African American friends, there's only one who'd come close to not being bothered by the Confederate Battle Flag. We need to STOP with such ad hoc arguments and other logical fallacies. Leveraging one example, a person, or a small group to speak for many doesn't prove a point (except for using people as a means to an end).
Flag apologists (historical revisionists) use a similar logical fallacy to remind people that many USA leaders owned slaves. Nonetheless, the fact that USA leaders owned slaves doesn't "cancel out" or relieve the South for owning slaves and fighting to protect slavery. Wrong is wrong is wrong is wrong... To illustrate the ridiculousness of this argument, imagine Hitler pointing at Stalin and saying, "He's technically responsible for more deaths than I am, so shine the spotlight on him instead of me!" Sorry, but despite who killed what number of people, both Hitler and Stalin each bear the full individual responsibility for their actions.
Some have posed this equally toxic statement: "It's not a race issue until you make it one." Please... save your salt for cooking. Now, are "race baiters" involved in these conversations? Absolutely. And they gotta go! Leveraging racial pain for influence and gain is nothing short of wicked. However, the reaction ("It's not a race issue until you make it one") is still not empathetic and blatantly uncaring. Most people aren't race baiters and making such a statement reveals someone regurgitating their favorite news channel's opinion (liberals and conservatives both regurgitate like this). Since most aren't offering a solution, how can we be part of the solution?
Much of what I've stated might be difficult for some to accept. Regardless, the historical facts about what the Confederate Battle Flag represents and how it was used during the 19th and 20th centuries can't been erased.
Sometimes, evil actions and painful history can't be removed from a symbol.
Even the swastika was a cross before the Nazis hijacked it for their flag. Today, it's impossible to see a swastika without remembering Hitler, the Nazis, the Holocaust, World War II, and more... and that won't change. For countless African Americans and the majority of Americans of every ethnicty, the same is true of the Confederate Battle Flag. Each day the Mississippi state flag remains unchanged is another day that an estimated 1,125,832 African Americans in Mississippi have an emblem of slavery and racism thrown in their face.
Over the last two weeks, some lawmakers in Mississippi have largely rejected efforts to change their state flag. Even more unfortunate has been the Mississippi's Governor's response. Like some Mississippi lawmakers, Governor Tate Reeves has rejected the new flag proposal. He recently posted on Twitter: "I have repeatedly warned my fellow Mississippians that any attempt to change the current Mississippi flag by a few politicians in the Capitol will be met with much contempt."
Ummm... yeah, it will. Systems always fight change, but they need to change or they'll eventually plateau and decline. Mississippi needs a leader to help guide them through this change. If Governor Reeves' delay in action is politically based or reflects a negative view of race, then he needs to pack up his office. Perhaps he should consider going down in history as a leader who made a good moral decision despite elections. Didn't the greatest leaders in history face adversity head on?
Despite uncertainty and cost, strong leaders strive to make the right decisions and lead others down a moral path.
Undeterred by the uncertain future, such leaders changed lives, made life better for people, and literally saved lives.
Here's the good news: you don't have to wait for lawmakers to do something. You don't have to wait for the next social media Confederate flag fiasco to blow up. You can do things like:
Acknowledge the past... Choose to face history rather than cover it up.
Search your heart... Do you have any prejudice or racism that you need to repent of and ask forgiveness?
Make amends... Who needs an apology from you?
Get to know those unlike you... Who can you get to know that is different from you? Who do you know that is of a different race, votes for the other candidate, etc.?
Stand against racism... Is there a story you can share? Can you peacefully walk in response to a hate crime?
Write your elected officials... Regardless of whether they listen or not, which elected officials can you write? There is power in the pen.
Have Conversations, don't assume... Just because someone has a Confederate Battle Flag doesn't mean that person is necessarily racist. Maybe the flag means something else to them (though that doesn't negate how the flag represents racism). Refuse to assume and engage in respectful dialogue. How can you talk to that individual about the flag, their beliefs, etc.? How can you challenge someone's thinking? How can you help them walk down a journey of understanding rather than expecting them to change immediately?
There are many examples of institutions and people who didn't wait for a vote or legislation before taking action. For instance, all eight Mississippi public universities stopped
flying Mississippi state flag years ago. People stood and walked with Bubba Wallace. Whether the NASCAR noose incident was a hoax or a big misunderstanding, I'm still glad that in light of NASCAR's Confederate flag controversy, the racers, leaders and fans walked with Bubba. Others are writing, making videos, posting podcasts, writing leaders, and engaging in personal conversations. These are just a few of the many ways that people are making differences as individuals. Even the smallest of gestures can contribute to showing people value... and when people feel valued, society begins to see real change take place.
Despite the Confederacy's racist ramblings and revisionist history, God has consistently stated His love for all people.
Each person has equal intrinsic value. Everyone is someone that God created and Jesus died for. Deciding to value and love our neighbors is a choice to worship God.
I'm reminded of what Paul wrote in Romans 13:10, "Love does no harm to a neighbor" and how Philippians 2:3-4 implores us to consider others better than ourselves (my paraphrase). Paul also writes, “'I have the right to do anything,' you say—but not everything is beneficial. 'I have the right to do anything'—but not everything is constructive" (1 Corinthians 10:23). In other words, just because we can do something doesn't mean we should do something... just because we can doesn't mean we should. Again and again in scripture, God reminds us that when it comes to intentionally or unintentionally harming someone, our personal feelings take a backseat to the needs of others.
In light of Paul's words, are we prioritizing objects, heritage, and personal preference over people? In light of the history that the flag represents, if a majority say the Confederate Battle Flag is a constant reminder of hatred, shouldn't we consider them? Though you may believe the flag controversy embodies simple misunderstandings or unresolved tension between South and North, I can promise you there's more at stake here. Today, many see a person's stance on this flag as either supporting oppression or believing in freedom. Can you blame them? If you said you can, take some time and pray. Hasn't Confederate Battle Flag been used against people for over 150 years? How can we best stand for those who feel hated every time they see the flag? Do we have the strength to sacrifice our egos and choose to love our neighbors as ourselves... or more than ourselves?
Only you can answer for yourself. I know my answer. I hope you know or are praying about yours.
For more info, see Matthew Delmont, "Why the Confederate Flag Flew During World War II," The Atlantic (June 14, 2020). Accessed June 24, 2020. https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/06/how-us-military-came-embrace-confederate-flag/613027/ AND Thomas E. Ricks, "Time to Follow Gen. Buckner’s Example and Pull Down That Confederate Flag," Foreign Policy (June 22, 2015). Accessed June 24, 2020. https://foreignpolicy.com/2015/06/22/time-to-follow-gen-buckners-example-and-pull-down-that-confederate-flag/.
Eddie Timanus, "NCAA Expands Its Policy on Confederate Flags to All Championships," USA Today (June 19, 2020). Accessed June 23, 2020. https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/college/2020/06/19/ncaa-expands-confederate-flag-policy-championship-events-mississippi/3222212001/.
Caron Blanton, "University Leaders Respond to NCAA Position on Mississippi State Flag," Mississippi State University (June 19, 2020). Accessed June 19, 2020. https://www.msstate.edu/newsroom/article/2020/06/university-leaders-respond-ncaa-position-mississippi-state-flag.
Tom Elfrink, "Mississippi’s Flag Has a Confederate Emblem. Now Baptists Want It Gone and Walmart Won’t Display It," The Washington Post (June 24, 2020). Accessed June 24, 2020. https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2020/06/24/mississippi-flag-walmart-baptists/.
Sarah McCammon, "Feeling Kinship With The South, Northerners Let Their Confederate Flags Fly," NPR (May 4, 2017). Accessed June 23, 2020. https://www.npr.org/2017/05/04/526539906/feeling-kinship-with-the-south-northerners-let-their-confederate-flags-fly.
Donna Ladd, “Pride and Prejudice? The Americans Who Fly the Confederate Flag,” The Guardian (August 6, 2018). Accessed June 24, 2020. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/aug/06/pride-and-prejudice-the-americans-who-fly-the-confederate-flag.
The data was taken from: History.com editors, "Slavery in America," History. Accessed June 23, 2020. https://www.history.com/topics/black-history/slavery.
Shearer Davis Bowman, “Industrialization and Economic Development in the Nineteenth-Century U.S. South,” Global Perspectives on Industrial Transformation in the American South, eds. Susanna Delfino and Michele Gillespie (Columbia, MO: University of Missouri, 2005), 84.
Benjamin Arlington, “Industry and Economy During the Civil War,” The Civil War Remembered (The United States National Park Service and Eastern National). Accessed June 24, 2020. http://www.nps.gov/resources/story.htm?id=251.
Justin Wm. Moyer, "The Confederacy's Pathetic Case of Flag Envy," The Washington Post (June 23, 2015). Accessed June 22, 2020. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2015/06/23/the-confederacys-pathetic-case-of-flag-envy/.
Mark A. Graber & Howard Gillman, The Complete American Constitutionalism, Volume Five, Part I: The Constitution of the Confederate States (New York: Oxford University Press, 2018), 167.
Ta-Nehisi Coates, "What This Cruel War Was Over," The Atlantic (June 22, 2015). Accessed June 20, 2020. https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/06/what-this-cruel-war-was-over/396482/.
For more information, see: John M. Coski, The Confederate Battle Flag: America's Most Embattled Emblem ( Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2005), 99-106 AND Alonzo L. Hamby, "1948 Democratic Convention: The South Secedes Again," The Smithsonian Magazine (August 2008). Accessed June 22, 2020. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/1948-democratic-convention-878284/.
Alexander J. Azarian & Eden Fesshazion, "The State Flag of Georgia: The 1956 Change In Its Historical Context," The Georgia State Senate Research Office (August 2000). Accessed June 22, 2020. http://www.senate.ga.gov/sro/Documents/StudyCommRpts/00StateFlag.pdf.
This list may or may not need updated. I will update it as I learn about state updates. In some form or fashion, a confederate memorial day "holiday" is celebrated in Alabama (fourth Monday in April), Arkansas (second Saturday in October), Kentucky (June 3), Louisiana (June 3), Mississippi (last Monday in April), South Carolina (May 10), Tennessee (June 3 and called Confederate Decoration Day), Texas (January 19 and called Confederate Memorial Day), and Virginia (May 30). It's an official holiday in Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Tennessee. Some states like Florida recognize even more days in honor of Confederate leaders.