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That Flag … and What It Symbolizes

Copyright © 2000, 2001, 2017, 2020 by David E. Ross

Flying high over the South Carolina state capitol in Columbia, the Confederate battle flag is a symbol that evokes strong emotions in both its supporters and its opponents. But what does it symbolize? Over time, the flag has become a symbol of lost causes, of disputes in which those who waved the flag seemed always to be on the side opposed to basic human principles.

Originally, that flag represented an attempt — initiated by South Carolina — to dismember our nation, to disunite the United States. The final straw that prompted South Carolina to act — and then caused ten other states to join it — was the election of Abraham Lincoln as President. Lincoln was committed to ending slavery, South Carolina's cherished peculiar institution. The Confederacy was supposedly formed to protect states' rights, but the primary right they wanted to protect was the right for one man to own another man. Thus, the Confederate battle flag was a symbol of an attempt to protect the unjustifiable. Since it was flown in battles waged against our government by our own citizens, it was also a symbol of traitors.

However, flying over the state capitol, the flag does not represent a lingering tribute to that lost cause. For almost a hundred years, it did not fly over the capitol at all. Then, in 1962, the South Carolina Legislature enacted a law requiring the Confederate battle flag to be flown again. As with the firing on the federal Fort Sumter a century earlier, this was an act of defiance, an act in favor of a lost and unjustifiable cause. This time, the protest was against the growing realization across the nation that racial discrimination is wrong and that segregation was doomed. Yes, almost a century after slavery ended, South Carolina resurrected a symbol of the subjugation of one race by another in a futile attempt to continue that practice.

Many residents of South Carolina still support flying the Confederate flag. They fail to see that it is indeed a symbol of treason, bigotry, and futility. There is nothing noble or honorable in that flag, nothing to celebrate.

In the meantime, some candidates in the 2000 election for President decline to denounce the dishonorable symbol of the Confederate flag flying over a government building where laws are enacted for all people. They do not see the disgusting irony of it flying on the same flagpole as the flag of the nation that the Confederacy attempted to destroy. Those politicians — concerned more about votes from South Carolina bigots than about what is right — lack the necessary courage and integrity to be President.

NOTE: The state flags of Georgia and Mississippi contain the Confederate battle flag within their designs. Much like South Carolina's modern act of futile defiance, Georgia only added that to their flag in 1956. Mississippi adopted its current flag over a century ago (1894), when the equality of all citizens was not yet accepted in much of our nation. With the Confederate emblem actually within their state flags, these states are different from South Carolina, which flies three flags over its state capitol: the United States flag, a state flag without any Confederate emblem, and the battle flag. Nevertheless, Georgia and Mississippi need to realize that discrimination and segregation are wrong and that slavery will never be revived. They too must abandon the symbol of lost causes, of a war of treason and inhumanity and of the subsequent century of bigoted subjugation of one race by another. Their state flags should indeed be redesigned to remove the symbol of hateful divisions.

29 January 2000

Mississippi state flag

Since the above was written, South Carolina did indeed remove the Confederate battle flag from the state capitol. Georgia redesigned its state flag twice: once to reduce the Confederate symbol to one small historical relic among others and then again to eliminate the Confederate symbol entirely.

Only Mississippi holds on to its lost cause. The voters of Mississippi overwhelmingly voted to keep its flag because they are proud of what it represents. But the Confederate symbol still represents treason, inhumanity, and dishonor.

17 April 2001
Updated 20 August 2017

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The Los Angeles Times had an excellent unsigned editorial on this issue on 22 September 2017.

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In 2017, white supremacists marched and rallied under the name White Nation, carrying a mixture of Confederate and Nazi flags. Although they claimed they were merely agitating in favor of retaining monuments that celebrated the Confederacy — celebrating traitors and treason — this mixture of flags revealed the true agenda of White Nation. Sadly and also frighteningly, President Donald Trump expressed his thoughts that they are not all bad people. Nazis are not bad??

In July 2020, Trump then declared his support for the Confederate flag. In an interview with Fox News, he said:

When people proudly had their Confederate flags they're not talking about racism. They love their flag, it represents the South. They like the South … I say it's freedom of many things, but it's freedom of speech.
NO! It symbolizes slavery, Jim Crow, lynching, denial of rights, and other aspects of racism.

As those who defend statues of the Confederacy's so-call "heroes" assert, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and other "founding fathers" indeed owned slaves. However, they created a nation that eventually corrected their wrongs. Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson and other leaders of the Confederacy tried to tear the nation apart and perpetuate the wrong of slavery. Statues and other monuments to those "heroes" of the Confederacy — and its flag — actually celebrate traitors and treason.

Updated 19 July 2020

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