Sunday, June 28, 2015

The Rout of the Confederate Flag

Cross posted from Civil Warriors

As surely you already know, in the wake of the murder of nine worshipers at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, a petition was circulated demanding the removal of a Confederate battle flag from the grounds of the South Carolina state house. It quickly generated a massive number of signatures and a national ground swell of pressure arose for the state government to do precisely that. This story is already well-covered on Kevin Levin's Civil War Memory blog, so I won't rehearse the details any further.

Just for the record, I fully support the removal. The battle flag represents an army that fought for the preservation of slavery and has a long, notorious association with white racism. Yet it flies on the capitol grounds of a state whose population is 30 percent African American, most of them descendants of slaves. But this post isn't about that. It's about recent decisions to eliminate sales of the Confederate flag or to forbid its presence in certain sites. Those sites do not include National Park Service battlefields. But the park service has adopted a policy of ending sales of souvenirs in which the Confederate flag is depicted on "standalone" merchandise; that is to say, merchandise devoid of historical context. Gettysburg National Military Park has reportedly urged private businesses in Gettysburg to do the same. Tragically, this would result in the elimination of merchandise such as this:

Confederate Swim Suit Gettysburg Summer 2009 (sm)

I'm still learning about this issue, so consider this post a work in progress. It first got on my radar thanks to a Facebook status update by a friend of mine. Since his privacy settings are limited to friends, I'll quote the update without attribution:
So according to the NPS page, the only Confederate flags allowed are with permitted and approved living history events. You or I couldn't have one, you can't have one on your vehicle (I assume that means stickers too). The Lutheran Seminary at Gettysburg has banned them on the outside grounds completely.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Nonsense About the Confederate Flag

From (for some bizarre reason) FoxSports, written by one Clay Travis and entitled, "On the Confederate Flag."

Travis begins:
Only in modern day America could a racist psychopath kill nine people in a Southern church and the focus turn to a flag. Only in modern day America could our nation's largest retailer, Wal Mart, announce -- to substantial applause -- that it will no longer sell merchandise featuring the Confederate flag, but will continue to permit any mentally ill nut on the street to walk into its store and buy as many guns and ammunition as he can afford.

Did I miss the part of this story... where Dylann [sic] Roof stabbed nine people to death with a flag? Because every time I think we can't get dumber on social media, we get dumber.
Here's a link to the complete opinion piece.

Possibly I missed something, but in this writer's entire rant I never saw an effort to explain why it's important that the Confederate flag continue to fly over the South Carolina state house, or any acknowledgment of the arguments concerning why it is problematic to do so. Instead it suggests--actually, damn near says outright--that the arguments are focused on eliminating usage of the Confederate flag, period.

That's absurd. I would imagine that in the vastness of the Internet you can find someone advocating making the flag illegal, but no one I have seen is doing that. I think it is a matter of simple decency to remove the flag from a government facility that is supposed to represent every citizen in South Carolina, 30 percent of whom are African Americans, in most cases the descendants of slaves.

I think it is a matter of simple First Amendment rights to use the flag in non-government contexts: Civil War re-enactors, private homes, automobiles like the General Lee, even KKK rallies. Aside from re-enactors and other highly contextualized uses, know that you're going to offend a lot of people and some of them may tell you they're offended, but that's their First Amendment right. To paraphrase the author, Just when I think opinion pieces on this issue can't get any dumber, someone proves me wrong.