Being a resident of Ohio ("the farthest northern state in The South), comes with a price at times. One of them is rather frequent encounters with entrenched southern symbolism. Everything from ceramic mammies, Nigger Jim lawn jockeys and door-stops, minstrel-like advertisements that still hang in more rural areas and, perhaps most ominously, Confederate Flags...everywhere.
The Confederate Flag is a highly polarizing (don't understand why), exceptionally controversial (do know why), reasonably off-limits (why I am writing about it) subject. There seems, to me, to be a wholesale acceptance by otherwise reasonable people of this symbol as, minimally, a Southern "institution" and therefore, not really subject to national discussion.
I beg to differ!
The Civil War (or "War of Northern Aggression" if you live below the Mason-Dixon line) was not fought "to end slavery," as so many still believe to this day. The war was instigated and fought to preserve the idea and practice of slavery, which was threatened by a sweeping election victory of the (Northern) Republican Party, led by President Abraham Lincoln in 1860.
This prompted long-time Unionist, "true American" and eventual President of the Confederate States of America, Jefferson Davis to relinquish his seat in the United States Senate and return to his plantation.
Before the start of the war Davis would write that the old United States was founded on the "false pretense" that all men were created equal. Continuing:
"The Confederacy, by contrast, is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; it's
foundations are laid, it's cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the
negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the
superior race, is his natural and moral condition. This, our new Government,
is the first, in the history of the world, based on this great physical,
philosophical, and moral truth."
So much time, money, research and scrubbing have gone into diminishing this
FACT. Instead, there seems to be a wholesale acceptance to a new Mythology:
One of "Northern Aggression" and "State's Rights" and protecting the "flower
of the South," white women, who were increasingly "under attack." The
problem with all of these theories are...they lack evidence.
- When you go to war, the other side tends to be aggressive, thus the Northern Aggression argument.
- If the country goes about outlawing a practice within it's borders and you want to keep the practice alive in your state, I guess you would then be for State's Rights.
- If there had been, ever (I mean EVER), an instance of wide-spread (medium or small-spread, too) attacks on white women, by black men, in the South (or anywhere else) we would not only have heard about it, but still hear it as often as the out of place O.J. Simpson references that fall from the lips of commentators from time to time.
So what we are talking about is a War, proactively instigated by southern anticipation of change. Or as we would call it in 2009, "YOU LIE!!!" Syndrome.
Seven, then ultimately eleven, States chose to separate, fight and kill residents of, the United States of America. With the hope of bringing it's existence to an tidy end. They elected their own government, established their own capital (actually three), raised their own army, printed and distributed their own money and, to represent this "clean break from villainy," created their own flag.
When the public was asked for feedback on flag designs from a Alabama newspaper, the overwhelming response was to "leave it alone." So many respondents objected to the idea of a flag other than the Stars & Stripes, the new government was forced to keep the process in house.
The first national flag of the Confederacy, designed and made by a Prussian immigrant, Nicola Marschall, was raised on March 4, 1861. According to many Southern newspapers, this was done to great cheers and hoopla. However, more than a few accounts mention scores of "white men openly weeping as Old Glory (U.S. Flag) was taken down, as many of them had fought for the military under it's banner."
Another witness at the ceremony put it in more stark terms. Mary Boykin
"We stood on the balcony to see our Confederate flag go up. Roar of the cannon,
etc. Miss Saunders complained of the deadness of the mob. 'It was spiritless.'
'No cheering, or so little - no enthusiasm.'"
The flag raised that day, the new flag of the Confederacy, looked like this:
Not what you expected, I know. It was not what I expected either. My research has turned up so many inconsistencies and homogenized myths about the Confederacy, I may actually have to write more on the subject later.
Anyway, the more familiar flag. The one hanging in the South "You Lie!!!" Carolina capital, the one's I encounter so frequently and you, hopefully, less frequently, is the Battle Flag of the Confederacy.
this flag was only used in battles against the North (ie America/this government/U.S. citizens) in the Civil War. The flag was not universally used, as only two secessionist States (Virginia and Tennessee) and Kentucky (never seceded) adopted the flag for it's regiments.
Other little known facts about this Battle flag:
- The flag was not rectangular, as you see it today, but square. The initial flag was meant to look the same, but with a vertical cross (religious people opposed it because of the symbolism of the cross),separating four equal quarters, so the cross was flipped on its side to make an "x" instead of a "t". The rectangular version came about after the war.
- They put 13 stars on the flag, even though only 11 States seceded. The other two were for Kentucky, which never seceded, and Missouri, which did, but were not allowed to joined the Confederacy because Lincoln sent federal troops their early on to "change the sentiment."
- Due to embargoes on the South, red dye was limited, so early flags were made of PINK instead. Orange was used on a few occasions and frequently, flags were made "much smaller" than regulation because a lack of material.
- After the war, so few people knew of, or recognized, the flag, it was not generally used throughout the South in ceremony. It took it's adoption by the United Confederate Veterans to bring the flag to light in much of the South and bolster it's popularity.
- The Battle flag was virtually unknown in the north until stories from recently migrating freed blacks told of terror campaigns and the flags adoption by the Night Riders and Ku Klux Klan in the 1870's.
So what we have here is a flag that is built around the totally false mythology of chivalry, political disagreement and "protecting" their homeland. When in actuality it was used by a group:
- That wanted to put an end the United States of America.
- Killed Americans in that quest.
- Whose sympathizers killed an American president (Lincoln)
- Has been adopted by terrorist groups WITHIN THE BORDERS of The United States of America.
And I am meant to respect and accept it as "a part of our American culture?"
I think not!
Imagine, if you will, encountering one of the many convenience stores throughout big-city America, owned and operated by recent immigrants to this country. What would be the national pulse if they chose to hang the flag of Japan (WWII), Korea, Vietnam, Iraq or Afghanistan in front of their stores every morning? I think so as well.
The Confederacy was not a part of America, it's government was only formally recognized for 35 minutes, long enough to sign the Documents of Surrender. So how did this thing become a part of our national heritage? The short answer is, it hasn't and it shouldn't!
Symbolism is too important to allow to go unchecked (see swastika for more info) and I think it's time we put this great (not really) national (not really) mythology (really) to rest.
Besides, most people only care about that thing because of the Dukes of Hazzard!