The Confederate flag (1861), properly known as the Confederate battle flag, was never the national flag of the Confederacy, the slave states of the American South that broke away from the US, starting the Civil War. Instead it is a rectangular version of Robert E. Lee’s battle flag:
The 1861 national flag of the Confederacy looked too much like the US flag to be useful in battle:
The redesigned 1863 flag was terrible too: it looked too much like a white flag of surrender:
So the use Lee’s battle flag spread, in rectangular form, becoming the most common battle flag by the end of the war.
What it stood for: On the eve of the Civil War, the vice president of the Confederacy said the government’s “cornerstone” rests upon:
“the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery – subordination to the superior race – is his natural and moral condition.”
After the Civil War, the battle flag was used to honour Confederate veterans at funerals, graves and parades.
By the 1920s it had become a symbol of the American South. It was used, for example, by college football fans in the South when playing against Northern teams.
In the 1940s:
- White Southern servicemen in the Second World War flew it in both Europe and the Pacific.
- The Klan began to use it.
- Dixiecrats, Democrats led by Strom Thurmond who opposed President Truman’s civil rights policies, used it.
In the late 1950s and early 1960s, its use became way more common, by the Klan and by Whites who opposed the civil rights movement. In 1956 it became part of the flag of Georgia (till 2001). In 1962 the battle flag flew over the capitol building of South Carolina. In 1963 it flew over the capitol of Alabama. In 1964 it was more common in some parts of Mississippi than the US flag (and is still part of the state flag).
By the 1970s, the flag lost much of its political value: school desegregation was a done deal and Blacks could vote.
But it still flew over the capitol of South Carolina.
In 2000, the NAACP pushed to have it taken down. They staged a boycott. Nearly 50,000 marched on the capitol. The flag came down – but then, as a compromise, it was raised in front of the capitol at a Confederate soldier memorial, still on public property.
In 2015, Dylann Roof, a Confederate-flag waving White supremacist, gunned down nine Blacks at a Bible study in the Charleston Massacre. Now even Republicans like Mitt Romney, Jeb Bush and the governor herself say the flag should come down.
According to a YouGov poll in 2013:
- 66% of Blacks and 63% of Democrats see the flag as a symbol of racism.
- 60% of Whites and 72% of Republicans see it as a symbol of Southern pride.
Its supporters say that it represents “heritage not hate”. Even though that is better than their naked Jim Crow racism of the early 1960s, no one but a skinhead would say such a thing about the Nazi flag.
– Abagond, 2015.
Update (June 24th): Walmart, eBay, Sears, Amazon and Etsy will no longer sell stuff with the Confederate flag on it. Mississippi is looking at removing it from their state flag. In Alabama the governor took down the Confederate flag flying at the capitol there.
Update (June 27th): Bree Newsome (pictured above) climbed the flag pole at the South Carolina capitol and took down the flag! They arrested her and put it back up.
Update (July 2nd): TV Land, an American channel that plays old television shows, has dropped “The Dukes of Hazzard” (1979-1985). The show featured a car with a Confederate flag on its roof (pictured below). It appeared in many a car chase.
Update (July 6th): Debate begins today among South Carolina lawmakers on a proposed law to bring down the Confederate flag. There is reportedly enough votes to pass it. It could be signed by the governor as soon as July 9th.
Update (July 9th): The governor of South Carolina has signed the law to take down the Confederate flag.
Update (July 10th): The Confederate flag at the South Carolina state capitol has just been taken down – after 53 years.
Update (October 28th): The University of Mississippi, aka Ole Miss, has taken down the state flag because the Confederate battle flag is part of its design (pictured below).
- Bree Newsome
- Dylann Roof, the Last Rhodesian
- Jim Crow racism
- Mitt Romney
- The N-word
- The Southern Strategy