Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Confederate Flag – The Push Me Pull You of Culture and Race

Tenured Radical had a post on the 2009 conservative march in Washington. If you follow the link you will see two men holding a flag. I also encourage you to read her full post. When I see the fabric that is called the “Confederate flag” I have very specific emotions. They are visceral. I feel fear inducing recollections based in historical facts and events. No, this is not about bashing white people.

First A Bit of Historical Context

One of the learning skills impressed upon me as a teen was to know what a word or concept really means. For the benefit of our overseas readers, I want to give a brief summary about what has become to be known as the Confederate flag. This is photo is the first actual Confederate Flag, 1861 from the Smithsonian Institute.

First Confederate Flag 1861


This is not the flag that gets people blood red upset. In fact, most Americans would probably confuse it with an early version of a American or Union flag. It is most certainly not a Union flag. When I look at it I have no immediate attachment, fear or hatred of it. It is a historically valuable object created at the time of the separation of the southern states during the Civil War. The history of that war is painful but it is a part of my collective American history and it is exactly where it belongs, protected in a museum. 

Rebel Flag

Rebel Flag


This is a Rebel flag. It is not a true Confederate flag; it is a latter day variation of the third Confederate flag from 1865.

During World War 2 some of the southern solders brought along the Rebel flag to show pride in their country and to represent their state. Other states and countries were doing the same thing. After World War 2 southern college students began bringing the flag to football games. The Rebel flag became a southern cultural icon, so I have been told. One that African-Americans at the time were nervous about but that is a story for another time.

David Sarratt writes about the historical Rebel flag’s resurgence:

White Southerners believed that their exclusive culture was being threatened, and the flag became a symbol against civil rights. The segregationist Dixiecrat party of 1948, who ran Strom Thurmond for president, took on the Confederate flag as its symbol. Anti-Civil Rights sentiment ran strong in the South, which was once again feeling imposed upon by a distant federal government. The conflict was on again.

The Rebel flag was embraced by the Klu Klux Klan and every anti-civil rights and hate group from here to Georgia and all points beyond. It was used to support intimidation, threatens fire bombing and murder. The victims were not just African-Americans but Jews, women and European-Americans.  It was used as a rally banner to defend southern land from any group that tried to challenge the Jim Crow laws and system of segregated government.

The rest of the country was in no way exempt from this type of behavior by the way. In some respects, they did dirt worse than the South.

The points that the Segregationists wanted understood was that they resented outsiders coming into the South to dictate change. They felt that they had a regional system that worked for them. Southerners felt race relations and integration was a state’s rights issue, not a federal concern. Segregationists felt they were defending their American rights of self-governance and expression.  They felt that the federal government was overreaching it jurisdiction.

Is any of this sounding familiar? In a 2009 sort of way?

Support for The Confederate/Rebel Flag

Other Points of View about the Contemporary Usage of the Rebel/Confederate Flag

  • Rev. Ryusho has the same questions I have, why bring that flag to DC?
  • Tension between NAACP and South Carolina Conservative Action Council on Confederate flag. You should view the video or read the text of the news story.
  • Fox The Poet uses the Rebel flag as a jumping off point for one of his poems.

Historic Culture Clash

I have tried and continue to try to understand the conservative point of view to the various issues of the day. There are legitimate concerns about the budget, corporate financial malfeasance, health care and repairing and developing new infrastructures.

That damn flag make it almost impossible to have those conversations. You see, that Rebel flag is a part of my history too. A part of my heritage.  The blood soaked one. The one stained in humiliations and screaming voices too numerous to count.  I can’t speak for Native Americans, Latinos/a or Asian-Americans, but I bet some of them ain’t feeling the warm fuzzes for the Rebel flag either.

When I see the Rebel flag at a conservative march on Washington or at healthcare protests that tells me I am not invited. In fact, it might be detrimental to my health and longevity to attend. I have history to back me up on this particular theory of mine. I have no desire to test it out in real life. It is scary enough reading blog posts and comments that damn me to hell for breathing.

I am not advocating suppressing any groups history or culture. I’m all about the solutions. Got any?


For more information about the History of the Confederate flag visit the American Studies Department of the University of Virginia historical overview.

The Smithsonian Museum has an online collection of military resources, images and objects called The Price of Freedom: Americans at War.

Gena Haskett is a Contributing Editor at BlogHer where this post originally appeared.


  1. You are so reasoned and thoughtful in your sharing of the history of the flag.
    I woulda just stopped at - from my/our side of the history, that flag has never meant anything nice.
    In fact, it brings fear.

  2. You don't get to hear or see my cussing and meditation before I write. There are posts I can't write because the anger is too deep.

    I got three or four posts benched because I don't have the skills to write without hostility or objectivity.

    There is enough hate floating around the country. I don't want to add to it if I can help it.

  3. I never seen a rebel flag at a conservative protest, that is nonsense

  4. You are not looking hard enough.

  5. Latinos and Indians (especially Cherokee) were very much incorporated into the Confederate States and military. That is a rather large hole in your research.

  6. lanning_tim@yahoo.com4/03/2012 10:50 AM

    the flag that you have displayed known as the rebel flag was actually comissioned as one of the confederate naval jacks in 1863