Another Conjob Conflab over Con-flag

I waited to comment on a Washington Post story from August concerning a band of Virginia rednecks causing still another conflab over one of the biggest con jobs of all time: the so-called Confederate flag–though it's actually no such thing. The Virginia Flaggers hoisted a 30' by 22' Confederate battle flag along a busy Virginia highway. They call themselves "activists," though a different word beginning with "a" comes to mind.

Did I wait because I was too angry? Because the issue is too delicate? Because I didn't wanted to offend people from the South? Nope. I waited because this is what journalists call an "evergreen" story–one you can run any old time because it's always ripe. There's never a shortage of racists who wave the Stars and Bars and claim it's about Southern pride and has nothing to do with race. They know damn well they're being provocative, so they hide behind an artificial heritage hedge, and play wounded when anyone calls them out.  

I'll give the Virginia Flaggers grudging credit for riding the Zeitgeist Hogwash Loader. One of their spokesmen, with a Visine-aided tear in his eye, spoke of a broken heart as he considered that unknown, unburied soldiers might be lying on the very site upon which the flag is raised. One might note that's an appropriate fate for traitors, but I'd rather address historical ignorance.  

I sometimes see Con-flag T-shirts emblazoned with the slogan: "If this shirt offends you you need a history lesson." Sorry, but if you wear such a shirt, you're the one in need of a history lesson. (You also need a grammar lesson to brush up on comma usage.) The first Confederate flag was a single white star against a field of blue, known in parlance and song as the "Bonnie Blue Flag." The one called the "Stars and Bars" wasn't adopted until May of 1863 and it wasn't the one "heritage" abusers call the "Stars and Bars." The first Confederate States of America bannerol looked like the U.S. flag, albeit with fewer stars and just three broad stripes of red, white, and red. The design today's good old boys love was actually the battle flag of the Army of Tennessee or, in square form, the Army of Northern Virginia. In 1863, it made its way onto the official flag on one of the uglier designs in flag history: an undersized perversion of Scotland's St. Andrew's Cross on a white background. It looked like an envelop stamped on the wrong side.  

Once the Civil War war ended–a struggle to preserve the Union and end slavery, by the way, not malarkey over state's rights, the tariff, or Northern aggression–all the flags were closeted away. Occasionally they came out for Civil War reunions, but they didn't fly over state capitols until later. They came out again when Southerners fought and (eventually) lost another war–the one against civil rights. Defenders can cry "heritage" until the kudzu comes home, but that shameful blue and red rag is indeed  a racist symbol.  

As with most heritage claims, it's important to ask when a symbol becomes "heritage" and who is pushing that agenda. The second part is easy: white groups such as the Sons of the Confederacy and the United Daughters of the Confederacy pedaled a load of ideological hooey known as the Lost Cause during Reconstruction (1866-1876) that sought to transform treason into a noble quest. Alas, they were somewhat successful. Once Reconstruction ended and the Jim Crow era began, it was okay to be racist again. In 1894, Mississippi added the battle flag to its state flag because the white folks in the blackest state in the Union didn't want black folks doing radical stuff like voting, holding political office, or thinking they might be first-class citizens. Not to be outdone, Alabama modified its state banner to allude to the battle flag in 1895–just in time for the Plessy v. Ferguson decision in 1896 that shamefully gave the stamp of constitutionality to segregation. Florida altered its flag in 1900.

2003 in GA
Lest you think this was just the times, consider what happened when the times they were a changing. Southern Dixiecrats throughout the South dusted off the battle flag during the 1950s for the sole purpose of symbolizing their opposition to civil rights. Georgia put the starry cross on its flag in 1956! Think Brown v. the Board of Education or the rising civil rights movement may have had anything to do with that? When Governor Zell Miller tried to alter the design in 1993, the legislature voted him down. When those white peachy Georgians finally altered their flag in 2003, they sewed the controversy right back into it.

Most egregious of all, South Carolina waited until 1962 to start flying the self-proclaimed Rebel flag from its capitol dome. I'm sure that decision had nothing to do with the sit-down movement or the Freedom Rides, right? Know when it came down? In 2000, and only then because a four-year boycott knocked the wind out of the tourist industry. It still flies beside a monument to the Confederate war dead on the capitol grounds in Columbia. Austin has three monuments to the Confederacy outside its state capitol.

Everywhere the Stars and Bars flies it causes uproar, whether it's in a dorm room at Harvard (1991) or if you color it yellow and wave it a LSU football games every other autumn Saturday. Each time decent people get upset, cowards cry "heritage" because they lack the guts to proclaim their racism. Does this flag offend me? Yes it does. And those who fly it need a life and a history lesson. I'd settle for a one-way ticket to Syria.

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