A new controversy has been plaguing Facebook and Twitter for the last few days. It seems that the government wants to take down the Confederate flag from being flown and sold in certain locations in the Southern States of America. This flag bears a lot of significance to many of the citizens in those areas, and as such the loss of privilege means a great deal to them. However, we must acknowledge that just because it’s historical does not mean, that it is not a symbol of something much darker. I spent a fair amount of hours researching the history of this flag before making a decision on which side I stood on. But, what I discovered was certainly eye-opening to the beliefs that were held in the past.
First of all I’d like to mention that this flag has had many itinerations. The symbol that we know today as the Confederate Flag has changed at least 3 times before it became the one it is today. These flags were all made with the same intention; to symbolize the meaning of what the Confederacy stood for. When viewed from this perspective it allows us to understand that a flag is simply a symbol from a country itself (our flag flies one star per state and will add more as they continue if the trend goes on). What the general populace tends to forget is that simply because you change the design of a flag, and add a new meaning, it does not change it’s history or what it once stood for. While it’s certain that the Confederacy did stand for independence, it’s values were not the most positive ones when viewed from our modern perspective.
The first Confederate flag called the Stars and Bars was very similar to the United States Flag, and was actually criticized because the Union stood for the abolition of slavery. Due to the massive negative reaction that was had the government was actually incited to look for a new design. The people did not approve of this flag simply because it was similar to something that opposed their beliefs despite the fact that the reason for the similarities was because these two groups originated from the same location/people. What was even worse was that due to the similarities they had this caused major confusions in the battlefield and thus it was deemed necessary to change it. They rejected the design because it was similar to the Stars and Stripes which was a symbol of something that the Confederacy opposed. You will notice that symbolism is a recurring theme in this article.
The second flag was known as The Stainless Banner. This design was probably the most controversial due to it’s nickname “The White Man’s Flag”. While this flag caused a separate array of confusion for the poor Union because when the wind was not blowing it would look like a flag of surrender. I’m fairly certain this must have caused much heartbreak amongst Union soldiers looking for an easy battle. This flag was originally designed to symbolize the Confederacy’s ideals that the white race was superior to all others by it’s creator. It was also very different to the Stars and Stripes which was another perk to the people of the south who hated the Stars and Bars. In 1863 William T. Thompson had the following to say “As a people we are fighting maintain the Heaven-ordained supremacy of the white man over the inferior or colored race; a white flag would thus be emblematical (sic) of our cause”. A flag like this would never fly in this age, and is another page in the muddled history of this flag. However, I must clarify that the significance of the white part of the flag was never formally incorporated by the Confederate Act in 1864 so people took various liberties with it’s meaning. But, due to the reasons mentioned above regarding confusion in the battlefield, another flag was created.
This led to the creation of The Blood Stained Banner. This flag was designed in order to avoid confusion by the troops when the wind was not blowing. This flag was more like a revision than a major change and did not add anything major to what this flag represented. I theorize that the flag’s red stripe at the edge was significant of the blood shed by the soldiers whose lives were lost in the war. If looked at it from this point of view this flag might have held some very emotional significance to some. Yet, this would be the last design before the surrender of the south, and after this event the flag would proceed to hibernate until it saw its popularity resurface by military units composed of southerners in World War II. But, this was not a very popular act to a certain descendant of one of the generals of the Civil War, since it was a war fought by people from all over the United States.
As the 1900’s passed certain groups like the Ku-Klux-Klan or the Skinheads started using this flag as a symbol with historian Gordon Rhea stating that “They did not appropriate the Confederate battle flag simply because it was pretty. They picked it because it was the flag of a nation dedicated to their ideals: ‘that the negro is not equal to the white man’. The Confederate flag, we are told, represents heritage, not hate. But why should we celebrate a heritage grounded in hate, a heritage whose self-avowed reason for existence was the exploitation and debasement of a sizeable segment of its population?”. This is what it all boils down to when congress is working to eliminate the sale, and flying of this flag because it symbolizes something that is marred by a history of hate. People who complain about political correctness have probably never been in the receiving end of racism or unwarranted hate. It’s not a good feeling. I understand that sometimes political correctness can go overboard, but in this case it’s the same concept as the name “Redskins” for the Washington football team. There will always be people who defend negative symbols because changing them would be like destroying tradition (I will elaborate on later on).
I’m not opposed to the observation of this flag in a museum or a history book. I am opposed to what this flag once symbolized, and the history that it carries. As a Puerto Rican I am aware of the plight of the underdogs, but in this case we must understand the comparison between the Swastika and the Confederate flag. Both of these flags symbolize something very negative to two respective groups of minorities, which is their oppression. When people look blindly at tradition as a motive for keeping the status quo it inhibits societies progress. But, this is simply not a good reason for flying this banner. I will admit the Confederate flag deserves respect, in as much as any historical artifact. It also deserves a place in the history books with a thorough explanation of what it once stood for in order to avoid the confusion that is happening at this time with future generations. We must never erase our history because without it we simply cease to grow as a society. But, sadly it sometimes appears that society is terrified of change.
There is a theory that this is due in part to a certain fear that is instinctive in humans to dislike change. When we can’t follow customs it feels like we deserved to be punished. To challenge the customs that our forefathers set for us is a betrayal that we must never commit. But, this is wrong. Most individuals simply don’t see this as fear, and instead see it as an infringement of their “Freedom of Speech”. However, if this bill passes it’s simply not going to make it a crime to fly the flag yourself. It’s not going to stop you from sewing a copy of the flag. It’s simply not going to be as easily acquired or flown in Government buildings, and is that really a bad thing? The government doesn’t want to be associated with something that stood for racism and hate at one point (oh God, the humanity will somebody please think of the children!!!). The way politics are these days it’s not like the Government is very popular either so it’s definitely got to work on its image. Traditions evolve all of the time. This case is no different than any of the ones that have come before it. If we are to look at a brighter future then we must be willing to make sacrifices even if those include symbols that we hold near and dear to our hearts.
As always like and share if you enjoyed the article and let me know if you have any suggestions for future topics. I hope you guys enjoyed reading on the history of this treasured American artifact as much as I liked researching it.
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