The Confederate Flag Debate: A Few Good Sources

A couple of days ago Andy Hall posted “Charleston: Five Important Reads,” which included five essays concerning the Charleston shooting. Andy considered these essays to be worth reading and I have to agree with him, they are. I also came across some good sources to use which analyzing the current Confederate Flag debate and I intentionally left off those sources Andy used. Here are some of my favorites. Jon Stewart: The Daily Show (Clips below)

Tony Horwitz’s How the South Lost the War But Won the Narrative

…It now appears that Roof’s fusillade backfired. Seeking race war, he’s instead spawned racial reconciliation and calls for the rebel flag to be removed from the capitol grounds in South Carolina, from shelves in Walmart, and from the annals of Ebay. But listen carefully in coming days as legislators and others debate the flag’s fate. You’ll hear over and over again that the flag represents “heritage, not hate,” and that if the banner must now be furled, it’s because Roof, the Klan, and other extremists have hijacked and tarnished its meaning. What you’re unlikely to hear, at least from whites, is an honest and historically accurate reappraisal of the Cause for which Southerners fought….

…I’m not very optimistic that the debate over South Carolina’s flag will bring a deeper reckoning. Furling the statehouse flag may bring temporary relief to South Carolinians, but what we truly need to bury is the gauzy fiction that the antebellum South was in any way benign, or that slavery and white supremacy weren’t the cornerstone of the Confederacy. Only then, perhaps, will we be able to say that the murdered in Charleston didn’t die in vain, and that the Lost Cause, at last, is well and truly lost….

Eric Foner: The Historical Roots of Dylann Roof’s Racism

…Ideas about history legitimate and shape the present, and public presentations of history tell us a great deal about a society’s values. As in other Southern states, statues of Confederate generals, Klansmen, and segregationists dot the South Carolina landscape. Although a statue was erected recently in Charleston to Denmark Vesey, and historic sites like Drayton Hall plantation and the National Park Service’s Fort Sumter site have revised their presentations to deal directly with the black experience, South Carolina has no monument to the victims of slavery and hardly any to black leaders of Reconstruction or other eras. It took until 1998 for a portrait of Jonathan J. Wright, who served during Reconstruction as the first African-American justice of the South Carolina Supreme Court, to join the paintings of all the state’s white justices in the court building.

This warped public display of history confronts South Carolinians, white and black, every day with a stark message about who rules the state. South Carolina’s leaders cannot abolish the hate that spews forth on the Internet. But if they are serious about changing the way the state remembers and represents its history, let them erect not only a memorial to Reverend Pinckney and the other victims but also statues of the black leaders of Reconstruction and of courageous figures of the civil rights era such as Levi Pearson, who in 1947 filed suit against his child’s school district to protest the inadequate funding of black education and saw his home attacked in retaliation….

Nicholas Kristof: Tearing Down the Confederate Flag Is Just a Start

…South Carolina may finally remove the flag from the State House grounds, Alabama has removed four Confederate flags from its state Capitol grounds, and Mississippi may also take a Confederate battle cross off the state flag. Virginia, Tennessee, Maryland and North Carolina seem poised to keep the Confederate flag off license plates. A bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest, the Confederate general and early leader of the Ku Klux Klan, is expected to be evicted from the Tennessee State House. Walmart, Sears, Amazon, e-Bay and other retailers will no longer sell Confederate merchandise….

…So I’m all for celebrating the drawing down of the Confederate battle flag, but now let’s pivot from symbolic moves to substantial ones….

That means, for example, early childhood programs, which offer the most cost-effective interventions to create a more even starting line. These include home visitation, high-quality preschool and literacy programs….

Euan Hague: Why the Confederacy Lives

One hundred fifty years ago, on April 9th, 1865, Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox Court House and the Union triumphed in the Civil War. Yet the passage of a century and a half has not dimmed the passion for the Confederacy among many Americans. Just three weeks ago, the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) appeared before the Supreme Court arguing for the right to put a Confederate flag on vanity license plates in Texas. Just why would someone in 2015 want a Confederate flag on their license plate? The answer is likely not a desire to overtly display one’s genealogical research skills; nor can it be simplistically understood solely as an exhibition of racism, although the power of the Confederate flag to convey white supremacist beliefs cannot be discounted….

…For much of the post-Civil rights era, Confederate perspectives were in retreat, or so it seemed. What happened in the 1980s, however, was the establishment of magazines, such as Southern Partisan, that published reinterpretations. of recent American history through a Confederate lens. By the 1990s, publishers like Pelican Books of Gretna, Louisiana, offered new jeremiads like The South Was Right! (which boasts on its inside cover of 120,000 copies in print) and this small but active cohort began spreading their viewpoints through websites and by hosting conferences on topics such as a state’s legal right to secede. By the 2000s, supporters were able to fund the creation of research venues such as the Abbeville Institute. In these various forums, proponents rearticulated 19th century Confederate beliefs for a post-Civil Rights audience, joining tired but persistent arguments about states’ rights to articulations of laws regarding secession and the right to nullify federal legislation. Historical revisions claimed that the culture of the Confederate states was an Anglo-Celtic one that had stood in opposition to Anglo-Saxon culture for millennia, and that the Confederate States represented “Orthodox Christianity” in opposition to Union heresy.

Kevin Levin: Why It Is Still Wrong to Vandalize Confederate Monuments

…Ultimately it will be up to the residents of each community to decide what happens to Confederate monuments and other reminders of this particular moment in our history. Perhaps monuments should be moved to museums or other more appropriate spaces. There is nothing timeless about Confederate or any other monument. Each generation must decide how to utilize the limited space available for commemorating its collective past.

My only concern as a history educator and as a historian is that it be done with care.

It is true that the construction and dedication of Confederate monuments between roughly 1880 and 1920 tells us a great deal about how Americans confronted their past, what they chose to remember and what they chose to forget. What we do about them now will tell us a great deal about ourselves.

All of these articles and videos are quality and provide some pretty keen insight to the Confederate Flag issue. Kevin’s article rang true today after I had a discussion with a former student concerning Stone Mountain in Georgia. Happy reading!


  1. It’s horrible that it took the murder of 9 innocent people to make this a national conversation. At least their death means…something…maybe? I feel like this is like stale outrage that needed to be brought forth from the dark shadows of the internet where the various morons that troll your website live to “de(of)fend” their “Heritage.” I’ve been curious about their devolution, but I’ll wait for them to come here to bitch about how oppressed they are because they’re giant wastes of space… Thanks for sharing this stuff.

    • At least their death means…something…maybe?

      Precisely the reason I posted the article by Nicholas Kristof, because he looks for something substantial in it. Glad you liked it.

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