Flags. Man, have we seen a lot on flags lately. Of course, I’m referring to two flags in particular, both of which that incite feelings of hatred, discrimination, division and/or exclusion. One was created purposely to incite those feelings; the other was created to show solidarity among one group of people being excluded and discriminated against.
In this blog, I’m going to address the controversies surrounding the Confederate Battle Flag. While the Supreme Court ruling confirming gay Americans have the same rights to marry as heterosexual Americans is very important, I’ll have to save that for another day. There’s just no way to fit both in one blog. In this blog, I will not be advocating the total ban of the Battle Flag, removal of Confederate monuments, changing street names, etc. Don’t go getting your panties in a wad before we even begin, okay? I will be addressing only FACTS, my favorite of all the f-words. I will include source material so all of you can look this stuff up for yourself if you think I’m bullshitting.
Buckle down, this one is going to long. There will be material used that should be offensive to you. I will not edit facts just to be politically correct or downplay what happened here in my beloved south. The rewriting of history is how some of us have been misled to believe in false ideologies. You have been forewarned.
Bitch of the Moment:
I am as southern as it gets. I have lived in the south my entire life, with the few months here and there that I lived in a small town in Illinois. I was born and raised in Little Rock, Arkansas and currently live in the Baton Rouge, Louisiana area. All I have to do is speak, and people instantly know what part of the country I am from – I have a truly horrendous, southern accent. I love sweet tea, gossip and crawfish boils. The food, the weather, the landscape and the flora of the south are all very near and dear to my heart. I even love the humidity (yes, I’m odd – I can’t live without humidity as my eczema-ridden ass would dry up completely without it). I could not imagine living anywhere else in the U.S.
Here in the south, I have seen the Confederate Battle Flag displayed prominently and proudly more times than I could ever count. When I was young, many people I knew displaying the flag in and around their homes, family or otherwise, were racist. That’s not an assumption, it’s fact. Some friends couldn’t even go to a friend’s house for a sleepover if that friend’s mother was married to a black man. Where at all possible, separation of races was not encouraged but demanded in these white, southern homes. This wasn’t the 50’s or 60’s, folks. This was the late 80’s and 90’s. There is a portion of this nation’s 30-somethings who were raised this way. Unfortunately, some are now passing that legacy of hate down to their children.
Some of you may be thinking, ‘Well, that’s not how I was raised. I’m not a racist. I display the flag to show my southern heritage as I’m proud to be from the south! The flag is a symbol of states’ rights and not racism.” Great. I’m genuinely ecstatic you didn’t grow up around those types of people. If you see all people as equal, without any prejudgments based on skin color or that race’s culture, you are a phenomenal human being. I, too, am proud to be from the south as I stated above. However, the Confederate Battle Flag and the Confederate Flag (yes, they are two different flags) are not symbols of states’ rights. Even if they were about states’ rights, what was the biggest “right” that the Confederate states were fighting to keep? They both absolutely represent racism, and the only heritage they symbolize are the southern heritage of racism and slavery. There is a reason the Battle Flag was/is flown during lynchings and KKK rallies and was adopted by those defending segregation in the very same states that fought for slavery.
Stay with me, here come the FACTS. When you see a (*), there will be a link taking you to the source material.
First, we have to have a little history lesson before we can get to the actual design of the Confederate flags and their intended meaning as told directly by those that designed them.
What caused the Civil War?
Abraham Lincoln was elected President on November 6, 1860. He was known to the slave-holding states as an abolitionist and hostile to slavery.* Lincoln’s first inauguration was held March 4, 1861. Before Lincoln took office in March 1861, seven states had already seceded from the Union to form a new “permanent federal government”, the Confederate States of America (South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas). On April 12th, South Carolina (the first state to secede from the Union), fired on Fort Sumter in Charleston, which was held by the Union. The attack on Fort Sumter initiated the Civil War. Four additional states would join the Confederacy shortly thereafter (Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee and North Carolina).
Why did the Confederate States secede?
Only four of the eleven seceding states issued formal declarations of causes for secession. Those four were: South Carolina, Mississippi, Georgia and Texas.* The other seven states issued ordinances announcing their secession from the Union. Those seven were: Florida, Alabama, Louisiana, Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee and North Carolina.*
I cannot list every single declaration or ordinance of secession in this blog as it would make it an unbearable read. However, the four states that issued formal declarations of causes for secession make it explicitly clear their reasoning for abandoning the Union (soon after ruled illegal*), and those reasons were the preservation of slavery and the superiority of the white race.
Of the seven remaining states that seceded, Virginia and Alabama reference aligning with slave-holding states in the Confederacy to end the slave-holding states’ “oppression”*. That oppression being the abolishment of slavery.
Louisiana did not reference slavery in their ordinance, but they did in their letter urging the state of Texas to secede from the Union*.
Arkansas, like Louisiana, did not reference slavery in their ordinance. However, my home state tried to have the U.S. Constitution amended to end the “hostility to the institution of African slavery, as it exists in the Southern States, …”*.
Florida apparently drafted a declaration of causes but the committee formed to draft it was dismissed before it was completed. Only an untitled and undated draft remains in the State Archives of Florida*. If this is truly a genuine draft of Florida’s declaration of causes written sometime in February of 1861, it definitely references the preservation of slavery and the inferiority of Africans to whites, stating, “Their natural tendency every where shown where the race has existed to idleness vagrancy and crime increased by the inability to procure subsistence”. As a bonus, this draft also refers to President Lincoln as “an obscure and illiterate man…”. Florida – Keeping It Classy Since 1861.
North Carolina and Tennessee are the only two Confederate states that simply withdrew without mentioning causes.
For those not keeping count, nine of the eleven states that seceded from this country and by their actions caused the largest loss of American soldiers’ lives to date (620,000*), did so to protect the rights of slave owners. Their main objective was to maintain control of their “property”. Slaves were so dehumanized that they weren’t even referred to as people.
In the very likely event that some of you can’t be bothered to click on the (*) links I have so painstakingly provided for you, here are a few gems from those sources (these are all verbatim – I will not correct spelling, grammar, etc.):
Excerpts from Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union, adopted December 24, 1860:
“But an increasing hostility on the part of the non-slaveholding States to the institution of slavery, has led to a disregard of their obligations, and the laws of the General Government have ceased to effect the objects of the Constitution.“ Here is where the states’ rights argument falls apart. If the seceding states were FOR states’ rights, they wouldn’t have protested other states enacting laws that protected people from degradation and entitled them to the basic, human rights that all Americans are guaranteed. But again, the Confederacy didn’t see slaves as people, they were “property”. The seceding states were acting against OTHER states’ rights.
It goes on to state: “Those States have assume the right of deciding upon the propriety of our domestic institutions; and have denied the rights of property established in fifteen of the States and recognized by the Constitution; they have denounced as sinful the institution of slavery; they have permitted open establishment among them of societies, whose avowed object is to disturb the peace and to eloign the property of the citizens of other States. They have encouraged and assisted thousands of our slaves to leave their homes; and those who remain, have been incited by emissaries, books and pictures to servile insurrection.” OMG! They gave them books! The horror!
Lastly: “A geographical line has been drawn across the Union, and all the States north of that line have united in the election of a man to the high office of President of the United States, whose opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery. He is to be entrusted with the administration of the common Government, because he has declared that “Government cannot endure permanently half slave, half free,” and that the public mind must rest in the belief that slavery is in the course of ultimate extinction.” That statement says volumes. South Carolina did not want slavery to become extinct so they said, “Fuck you, guys! We’re out!”
Excepts from A Declaration of the Immediate Causes which Induce and Justify the Secession of the State of Mississippi from the Federal Union, adopted January 9, 1861:
Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery— the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun. These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization. This statement isn’t buried in the declaration. It’s starts with the second sentence. Fearing they would have to expose themselves to the tropical sun and actually get their hands dirty OR god forbid, hire workers that would be treated humanely and would receive actual payment for their labor, Mississippi seceded to ensure the prosperity that slavery afforded them.
That we do not overstate the dangers to our institution, a reference to a few facts will sufficiently prove. It advocates negro equality, socially and politically, and promotes insurrection and incendiarism in our midst…. It has enlisted its press, its pulpit and its schools against us, until the whole popular mind of the North is excited and inflamed with prejudice. Equality? Well we certainly couldn’t have that, could we Mississippi? I think it’s hilarious they complain about prejudice against them.
Excerpt from Communication submitted by Geo. Williamson, Commissioner from the State of Louisiana to the Texas secession convention, written February 11, 1861:
Louisiana looks to the formation of a Southern confederacy to preserve the blessings of African slavery, and of the free institutions of the founders of the Federal Union, bequeathed to their posterity…. Louisiana and Texas have the same language, laws and institutions. They grow the same great staples—sugar and cotton. Between the citizens of each exists the most cordial social and commercial intercourse…. both States have large areas of fertile, uncultivated lands, peculiarly adapted to slave labor; and they are both so deeply interested in African slavery that it may be said to be absolutely necessary to their existence, and is the keystone to the arch of their prosperity. Sounds a lot like what Mississippi had to say, huh?
Louisiana remembers too well the whisperings of European diplomacy for the abolition of slavery in the times of annexation not to be apprehensive of bolder demonstrations from the same quarter and the North in this country. The people of the slave holding States are bound together by the same necessity and determination to preserve African slavery. Nothing needs to be said here.
Excerpt from the draft of Florida Declaration of Causes:
By the agency of a large proportion of the members from the non slaveholding States books have been published and circulated amongst us the direct tendency and avowed purpose of which is to excite insurrection and servile war with all their attendant horrors. A President has recently been elected, an obscure and illiterate man without experience in public affairs or any general reputation mainly if not exclusively on account of a settled and often proclaimed hostility to our institutions and a fixed purpose to abolish them. It is denied that it is the purpose of the party soon to enter into the possession of the powers of the Federal Government to abolish slavery by any direct legislative act. This declaration is by far my favorite. The whole thing just rambles on aimlessly and it’s the only one that directly insults Lincoln. “Oooooooh, sick BURN! We really stuck it to him.” I can just imagine them giving each other high fives and slapping each other on the ass.
Now class, what have we learned from our little history lesson? After reviewing the materials outlined, what seems to be the prevailing cause for the secession of Confederate states that led to the Civil War? It’s okay, you can say it. Slavery. That’s right, A+ for all of you.
On to the flag(s)! I can’t link to an electronic source for this part. So here is the source material that you can look up if you wish. The part on the Confederate flags starts on Page 383: Our Flag: Origin and Progress Of The Flag of the United States of America with an Introductory Account of the Symbols, Standards, Banners and Flags Of Ancient and Modern Nations By Captain George Henry Preble, U.S.N., 1872.
The Flag(s) of The Confederate States of America
The Confederacy had several issues with the design of their flag.
The first version, the “Stars and Bars” was meant to look similar to the Union flag. They were essentially stripping the United States flag of “their stars and bars”. The issue with this flag was that it looked too similar to the Union flag. During battle or in undesirable weather conditions, it was too hard to tell the flags apart. It proved problematic during the First Battle of Bull Run.
The second version of the flag sought to end the confusion and to completely separate the Confederacy from the Union. The man who designed the “Stainless Banner” was William T. Thompson, Editor of Savannah Morning News. As he was the Editor of the “News”, he had the free reign to publish his intent with regard to the flag’s design. I’m very glad he did. Directly from the man himself:
Our idea is simply to combine the present battle flag with a pure white standard sheet; our southern cross, blue, on a red field to take the place on the white flag that is occupied by the blue union in the old United States flag or the St George’s cross in the British flag. As a people we are fighting to maintain the heaven ordained supremacy of the white man over the inferior or colored race a white flag would thus be emblematical of our cause. There it is in black and white. This isn’t conjecture; this isn’t a broad interpretation – this is directly from the man who designed the flag that was to represent this new government. This is the heritage he sought to convey.
But again, the Confederacy had issues with this version. As it was on a predominantly white sheet, when the flag wasn’t flying at full mast, say on a windless day, it looked like the flag of surrender or truce. You can see why that would cause problems.
The third and final version, the “Blood Stained Banner”, kept Thompson’s original design but added a vertical red bar to the end to prevent it being seen as a flag of surrender. Mr. Thompson, once again, took up his pen to state:
Such a flag would be a suitable emblem of our young confederacy, and sustained by the brave hearts and strong arms of the south, it would soon take rank among the proudest ensigns of the nations and be hailed by the civilized world as THE WHITE MAN’S FLAG. By the way, I didn’t capitalize that last bit. That is exactly as it was published. There shouldn’t be any confusion over what he meant. He emphasized it for us.
The Confederate Battle Flag
This is not the flag of the Confederate States of America. This is the Confederate Battle Flag. It was designed by Colonel William Porcher Miles. Col. Miles doesn’t say much in as far as what he wished the flag to convey. He mainly spoke of preserving the red, white and blue in the flag and avoiding religious objections by having the cross displayed diagonally instead of upright. However, he did write this with regards to getting recognition for designing the Battle Flag after the war was over: It is certainly not worth while for us vanquished Confederates to contend among ourselves for the honor (if there be any honor in it) of having designed it and cheerfully would I yield my own pretensions to any merit whatever in the matter. The very man who designed this flag said he would gladly give up any claims to it. If the creator of this flag found no honor in it, why should we 150 years later?
Even Robert E. Lee distanced himself from this flag or any other divisive symbols from the Civil War that his side lost. He declined invitations to be honored from the Gettysburg Battlefield Memorial Association, stating, “I think it wiser moreover not to keep open the sores of war.” Even in death, Lee abstained from promoting the Confederate cause. There were no flags flown at his funeral, Confederate or otherwise.
This was the flag flown during battle by the Confederate soldiers. It’s the banner under which men fought and died to enact secession, with the ultimate goal of preserving slavery. It’s not a symbol to be proud of or one that should be used to express our southern heritage. It definitely should not adorn any state or federal building in this country, as that flag does not represent the United States of America. It represents separation, not unity.
If you bothered to click on the (*) links above, you’d know that no state may secede from the Union (U.S. Supreme Court case, Texas vs. White, 1869). Therefore, this is a flag of treason. Sugar-coat it anyway you want, that’s what it is. If a large group of individuals today decided to shed allegiance to the U.S., and carried out an attack on a U.S. military installation, would they be called heroes or domestic terrorists? If you are a proud to be an American and love the freedoms you enjoy as a citizen of this UNITED country, this flag does not represent that sentiment.
Now, I said in the beginning that I do not advocate the total ban of the Battle Flag. I believe this flag does have its place.
It belongs in museums and textbooks, so that future generations can learn from our past transgressions. Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. I don’t believe the flag or what it represents should be white-washed or revered as some sacred artifact from the South’s glorious past (Texas, do you hear me?). It should be represented as what it was and still is, a symbol of degradation and oppression.
It also has its place in Civil War reenactments. These are historical demonstrations and they provide valuable learning opportunities. These reenactments are a way to remember the 620,000 fallen soldiers and they provide a historical perspective on the turbulent times during the Civil War. Not all soldiers who fought for the Confederacy were bad people who advocated slavery; many were there unwillingly (look up the Confederate law of national conscription if you want more info on that). They died fighting a war they did not volunteer for and as such, they deserve to be honored along with Union soldiers who died in battle.
It also has a place in individuals’ homes if they wish to display it. We, as United States citizens, are free to express ourselves. If someone wants to fly this flag on their property, they have every right to do so. I don’t want to live in a country where personal expression isn’t allowed. However, just know if you do decide to fly this flag in or around your home, you are being judged. Anyone displaying the Confederate Battle flag will be judged in the same manner as those judged for flying a Nazi swastika or an ISIS flag (again, they have the right to do so if they wish). All three flags symbolize genocide, oppression and discrimination. If that’s what you wish to convey, go ahead and fly the Southern Cross. If it’s not, I beseech you to reconsider and find a flag better suited to represent your “southern heritage”. The only flag I plan on using to display my “southern heritage” is a New Orleans Saints flag. Can I get a “Who Dat?!?”
I can’t leave without saying at least one thing about marriage equality: Love won!