A Southerner’s Thoughts on Southern Heritage and the Confederate Battle Flag

I want to give a hat tip to the CWMemory blog for highlighting the following video. It is from YouTube member “D Ennis,” and discusses what Southern Heritage and the Confederate Flag (also called the Confederate Battle Flag, or CBF) mean to him.

I have two thoughts on this video. First, I hope it’s not interpreted as meaning that the author is expressing intolerance for Southern heritage, or is saying, for example, that he’s against people being able to display the Confederate flag, if they so choose. He’s simply saying that, the Confederate flag means one thing to some people and another thing to him; and that his own view of Southern Heritage and the CBF is a legitimately Southern one.

Second, I think it’s important to understand how the video author’s feelings came to be. He associates the CBF with segregation and massive resistance, and there is a reason for that. During the Jim Crow/Civil Rights Movement/Massive Resistance Era, many whites associated their behavior with the CBF, and used the CBF and Confederate iconography as their symbol. Consider the famous 1963 inauguration speech of Alabama governor George Wallace, in which he invoked the Confederacy as follows:

Today I have stood, where once Jefferson Davis stood, and took an oath to my people. It is very appropriate then that from this Cradle of the Confederacy, this very Heart of the Great Anglo-Saxon Southland, that today we sound the drum for freedom as have our generations of forebears before us done, time and time again through history. Let us rise to the call of freedom-loving blood that is in us and send our answer to the tyranny that clanks its chains upon the South. In the name of the greatest people that have ever trod this earth, I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny . . . and I say . . . segregation today . . . segregation tomorrow . . . segregation forever.

Note that Wallace explicitly draws a straight line from the creation of the Confederacy to the continuation of racial segregation.

Images such as the following one (Wallace in front of the CBF) caused segregation and massive resistance to be conflated with the Confederacy, in the minds of a lot of folks.

This is a link to TV coverage of a protest that occurred in New Orleans in 1960, as groups of young whites protested against school integration. From a description of the video:

In this WSB newsfilm clip from November 16, 1960, white demonstrators protest court-ordered school desegregation, city and state officials discourage demonstrations, and injured bystanders wait at the hospital in New Orleans, Louisiana; in Baton Rouge, legislators welcome a congressional delegation and speak in favor of segregation.

The clip begins in New Orleans with white demonstrators in cars driving down the street; one boy hangs out of a car window and waves a flag. A group of white protesters stand in front of New Orleans city hall and chant “Two, four, six, eight, we don’t want to integrate.” After a break in the clip, another group of demonstrators stands in the city’s downtown shopping district with picket signs. Police and firemen turn on a hose and begin to spray the crowd; most of the demonstrators rush back from the hose although a few appear to play in the water. Two policemen carry an angry demonstrator, and groups of teenage protesters run down the street and are later held back by police.

The flags in the video are the CBF.

None of this is to say that the CBF was used exclusively as a symbol of massive resistance, or even, as a symbol of massive resistance itself. As I see it, it was used by people as a symbol of the South, with the explicit notice that their idea of the South included racial inequality. No wonder then that KKK use the flag as part of their “schtick,” if you will; it is something that, in part at least, came organically from the resistance experience.

• This should not be construed as saying that all Southern whites engaged in massive resistance.
• This should not be construed as saying that all Southern whites engaged in massive resistance used the CBF.
• This should not be construed as saying that all Southern whites are racist.
• This should not be construed as saying that anyone who flies the CBF is racist or a believer in massive resistance.
> I am sure there are other disclaimers I could make, but perhaps the above is adequate. We’ll see.

The bottom line is this: if some Americans – African Americans and others – associate the Confederate Battle Flag with white supremacy, it is because segregationists and massive-resisters created that association. Of course, all of that happened 50 or more years ago, but many people from that time are still alive, and this stuff is hard to forget. It’s going to take a lot of time to rehabilitate the image of the CBF in the minds of a lot of people, if it’s possible at all.


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