March 1, 2007

Flags of Our (Southern) Fathers

I don't know if I've mentioned this on my blog, but I work part-time as a research assistant at the Woodrow Wilson Center. Basically, I look up articles and peruse reels of microfilm for a professor named Theda Perdue who is writing a book on Native Americans in the segregaged South. Dr. Perdue teaches at UNC-Chapel Hill, but is taking a year-long sabbatical as a Wilson Center Fellow to finish her book.

Anyway, I stopped by Dr. Perdue's office yesterday to drop off a few articles I had found for her at the Library of Congress. She is a very nice woman in her late fifties with a soft Southern accent. Dr. Perdue grew up in rural Georgia during the Jim Crow era and so she has interesting insights about the South and how it has changed in the past fifty years.

I gave Dr. Perdue the articles and we chatted for awhile about random things like the recent scandal at the Smithsonian and the recent renovations at the American History Museum. Our conversation somehow drifted to the Civil War, which led to a discussion on the modern-day usage of the Confederate flag in the South.

I've always viewed the Confederate flag as a symbol of racism. I know some people think the flag stands for Southern heritage and pride, but I have a hard time separating the Southern pride aspects of the flag from the racist and bigotted aspects of it. Sure, the flag may represent Southern pride today, but in the past it was used as a symbol of hatred and white supremacy. (Not to mention treason.) I would never allow such a thing to be hung in my house.

Dr. Perdue brought up some very interesting points about the history of the Confederate flag. When the Civil War ended, Southerners basically abandoned the flag and returned to the ol' Star Spangled Banner. But the Confederate flag was resurrected in the 1920s with the resurgence of the KKK; and it gained further popularity in the 1960s when Southern statehouses flew the flag as an act of rebellion against desegregation. In 1956, Georgia even went so far to change its state flag to include the Confederate flag in it. (Brown vs. Board happened in 1954.)


Georgia Flag 1920-1956
Georgia Flag 1956-2001

I really try to be an open-minded person and I know I shouldn't dictate to others how they should live their lives. But it makes me mad when people tout the Confederate flag as a symbol of heritage---as something to be proud of---because I don't think we should take pride in something that has spurned so much hatred in our country.

Throughout American history the Confederate flag has represented slavery and then segregation, not to mention political treason. Thus the usage of the Confederate flag today doesn't even make sense on a patriotic level. And after talking to Dr. Perdue and learning more about the modern usage of the flag, I don't even see a historical explanation that justifies the flag as a symbol of Southern heritage. Unless you want to celebrate slavery.

OK. Rant done. I feel better.