On Thursday the South Carolina State Legislature voted to end display of the Battle Flag of the Army Northern Virginia (“Confederate Battle Flag“) on the State Capitol Grounds, and the flag came down on Friday. Defenders of the flag appeal to “Tradition” and “History,” but this statehouse flag “tradition” only dates from April 11, 1961, and its “history” is really in the Civil War Centennial (1961-1965), when symbols of the Confederacy were adopted and manipulated by white Southerners opposed to the era’s desegregation, the Civil Rights movement, and Federal efforts to guarantee racial equality in elections, education, employment opportunity, and residential choice. Chief among those symbols: the Battle Flag.
Laura McCarty of the Georgia Humanities Council explains this aspect of the Centennial:
“The anniversary coincided with the height of the civil rights movement in Georgia and the South. Some white Georgians used the commemoration to glorify the Confederacy, adopting its leaders, rhetoric, and symbols as a means for expressing resistance to civil rights ideals. While not all centennial efforts were driven by that agenda, the official commemorations upheld an idealized vision of antebellum plantation culture, celebrated Confederate military heroes, and omitted references to slavery as a cause for the war ….”
Southerners now in their fifties and sixties absorbed this symbolic system as children, and passed it on to their children and the children they educated and influenced. That’s the “heritage” the flag represents for them, not 150-year-old military gallantry but the ugly race politics of the 1960s.