Misused Symbols and Scapegoats: Why I Stand Up for the Confederate Flag
Published on June 20, 2015
by Charles Culbertson
I, a white Southerner, offended by public displays of the Confederate battle
The answer, not
surprisingly, is no. My ancestors – dirt-poor Georgia farmers who did not own
slaves – threw themselves against an enemy that outnumbered them three to one
and outgunned them a thousand to one, and fought until they were too spent to
draw back the hammer of a rifle.
They fought to
preserve their homes, families and the sanctity of states' rights, and did so
under a slashed, red banner designed to reduce confusion in the heat and smoke
of battle. It was, and still is, a symbol of courage, fidelity and sacrifice on
a grand scale.
Not everyone, of
course, sees it that way. Black Americans in particular claim to be offended by
the flag's public display because, for them, it represents the institution of
slavery. Yet in any discussion about this particular symbol, we must remember a
couple of historical notes:
supported slavery, but so did the United States. In fact, it was the U.S. flag
that flew the longest over slavery, and it was the U.S. Constitution that
condoned and protected it as an institution. It was the United States that
allowed slavery to flourish so that Northern businessmen could get rich.
Lincoln – the Great Emancipator himself – wasn't terribly worked up over the
welfare of slaves and said so a number of times. His concern was that he
shouldn't preside over a divided country, and went to war to keep the South in
the fold, not to eradicate slavery.
So, if we're going
to start censoring symbols, there's a lot of candy-striped flags to remove from
statehouses, post offices, American Legion halls, cemeteries, school houses,
and office buildings.
My point is that no
cultural group celebrates its lowest common denominator. Blacks in this country
don't hold African heritage festivals to honor the fact that their own people
gleefully sold them into slavery, or to support the genocide, sexual mutilation
of women and absence of human rights that characterize Africa to this day. No,
they celebrate tribal family values that helped see them through the terrible
days of enslavement on a foreign shore.
Those of Japanese
descent in America don't celebrate the Bataan Death March, the Rape of Nanking
or the murder of tens of thousands of innocent Allied prisoners during World
War II. Rather, they point to centuries of beauty and art, and hold them up as
ideals of their culture.
don't exist to celebrate the slaughter of millions of Jews and an insane
attempt at world domination. Instead, Germans rightly point to the influence
their culture has had in music, architecture and philosophy.
Southerners who honor their Confederate heritage do not celebrate the
institution of slavery. We pay homage to superhuman courage and heroism in the
face of overwhelming odds. We list dedication, sacrifice and a willingness to
die for home and hearth as the height of what is good in the human spirit.
The day we say,
"You may no longer revere your cultural heritage because of your culture's
sins or the misuse of its symbols," is the day we must eliminate every
culture known to man.
But when you strip
the issue to its core, the problem isn't the Confederate battle flag at all.
The problem is that its most vitriolic opponents – specifically the NAACP,
which attacks Confederate heritage at every opportunity – aren't doing anything
to address real problems among blacks.
Confederate occasions and symbols, the NAACP succeeds in drawing attention to
things most people normally wouldn't notice – which, I submit, is precisely
what the group wants. Its aim is to deflect attention from the real dilemmas
facing blacks and from the fact that the NAACP is doing nothing to solve them.
For example, 70
percent of black children are born out of wedlock, which studies show puts them
at a much greater risk of living in poverty. Black 17-year-olds read at the
same level as white 13-year-olds. On average, black students score 200 points
below whites on the SAT.
Further, 52 percent
of prison inmates are black and another third are on probation or parole.
Fifty-two percent of blacks say they are afraid to walk alone at night in their
Where's the NAACP's
outrage over these deplorable social conditions? Where are the marches and
demonstrations and editorials and community programs designed to draw attention
to and solve these problems? Does the NAACP really think that the elimination
of Confederate events and symbols will suddenly make life a bed of buttercups
for blacks in this country?
I've got a news
flash for them. If all Confederate proclamations, commemorative events and
emblems disappeared overnight, the material interests of blacks wouldn't
improve one iota. Nor would racial stereotypes, bigotry and hatred miraculously
The enemy here
isn't a historical symbol or the long-dead soldiers who fought under it, but
rather the NAACP's unwillingness to come to grips with real dilemmas that need
real solutions. The flag is simply a convenient scapegoat.
Culbertson is a Civil War historian and a weekly political columnist for The
News Virginian, a daily newspaper in Waynesboro, Va.