The Confederate Flag Still Flies in the South and the North

The mayor of Columbia, S.C., the capitol of the state that led the rest of the Confederacy off the cliff of secession in December 1860, has a letter in the local paper in which he pleads with racist conservatives who still run the state to remove the Confederate battle flag from the statehouse grounds:

To the rest of the world, the Confederate flag has become a symbol of racial hatred on par with the Nazi swastika

The presence of the Confederate flag in front of the State House … is an obstacle to economic development, and in particular to South Carolina’s and Columbia’s efforts to enter the knowledge economy. The flag creates an unnecessary, negative image of South Carolina to the world.

My experience is that outside of South Carolina, the flag creates a controversial and uncertain image of South Carolina that ties current state policy of flying the flag on the State House grounds to our history of racial segregation and intolerance. This negative image exists even though I readily accept the fact that most of the advocates for the flag do not intend to convey that message. Unfortunately, in today’s world of the Internet and national and international media, the Confederate flag, fairly or not, has become a symbol of intolerance.

The mayor, Bob Coble, is courageous for speaking out. He risks having a cross or two burned in his yard, at the very least. He could also be facing the end of his political career and, at worst, risking the safety of himself and his family.

He’s right about the battle flag. To the rest of the world, it has become a symbol of racial hatred on par with the Nazi swastika. As such, the flag at the South Carolina statehouse is one of the most lurid examples, since it was first raised in the Civil Rights era as a middle-finger salute to the United States Dept. of Justice, African-Americans, Yankees and anyone else who opposed Jim Crow.

There are still Southerners who cling to the delusion that the Confederate flag is symbol of the valiant cause of Southern independence. Whatever it once was, from the moment the North claimed victory, the Confederate flag became the symbol of a lost cause — and rightly so.

As long as the Confederate flag flies at its state house, South Carolina deserves its reputation as a backwater, with rankings in education, health care and productivity among the lowest in the country. And every multinational company that moves facilities there should be tarred with the same brush — especially including the German automaker BMW that saw no problem with a swastika, er, Confederate flag flying in the capitol when it opened a plant in Greenville.

As my colleague Trish often points out, stupidity about race is by no means a Southern trait. In Michigan, the Rapid City Businessmen’s Association flew a special KKK branded Confederate flag at its family picnic over the weekend:

The flag included a cross inside a circle, accompanied by the phrases “white power” and “Ku Klux Klan,” but its message didn’t bother everyone who attended.

“I didn’t care one way or another about the flag being up. It’s not a big deal,” said Tom Tucker, of Rapid City, a cookout volunteer…

Event organizer Stuart McKinnon, owner of Torch Plumbing in Rapid City, said the Klan flag was not meant to be there, but he knows who raised it. He refused to identify the owner.

“I’m not going to say because it doesn’t matter who did it,” McKinnon said… “He just wasn’t thinking,” he said. ‘People can fly what they want to.'”

Kalkaska County Commissioner Rob Crambell, of Rapid City, attended the event and saw the flag, but didn’t stop to read it. He thought it simply was a Confederate flag and didn’t mind because he “doesn’t have a problem with people voicing their opinions in this country,” he said.

“You see them everywhere, so no, I wasn’t (offended). I don’t think all those flags mean racism. If they did, you wouldn’t see them on NASCAR cars and all over the place. Do they question it when they see it on NASCAR or anywhere else? This is America, after all, and people can fly what they want to. It’s unfortunate that it was more than just a Confederate flag,” Crambell said…

Organizers said if anyone had complained, they would have removed the flag…

Organizers [said] the event was neither a Klan rally, nor a recruiting effort and nobody there belongs to the KKK, they said.

“I’m Catholic, so how can I be a Ku Klux Klan member? They’d hang me,” McKinnon said…

The Klan flag won’t fly over the next Rapid City cookout, [organizers] said.

“The businesses and people who participate in putting these events together apologize for offending anyone,” [said one].

“But for anyone to assume we were having some kind of Klan meeting is absolutely ridiculous.”

Sorry, but when you fly a Klan flag over your event, that makes it a Klan meeting.

Finally, my family is 100 percent Southern on both sides, and I have ancestors who fought for the Confederacy.


  • Aaron
    May 17, 2007 - 3:24 pm | Permalink

    I support a flag burning amendment to the constitution.

    Any confederate flag, or anything showing the symbology thereof (cf: first pic) is to be burned as the flag of treason. It is to be burned as quickly and as publicly as reason, public safety and good sense permit and the owner fined and/or jailed.
    If it attached to a vehicle and it cannot be removed, then the whole vehicle is to be burned.
    It may not even be displayed on private property where such is visible to the general public. (hang as many as you want in your living room, just dont let me see it)

    Exceptions include:
    the inside of scholarly texts,
    web pages that are scholarly in nature (wikipedia)
    historical flags that are over 100 years old that are displayed in government buildings and are outside the areas regularly frequented by the general public (ie: not in the central rotunda, but that side room which no one regularly uses)
    historical recreationalists where they are on historic civil war battlefields recreating historic civil war battles or where a civil war reenactment is taking place outside a historic battlefield, then where it is not visible to the general public (you can recreate in front of the visitors center on a historic battlefield but otherwise, just keep generally out of sight.)
    where it is a historic flag that is part of display of flags of the enemy that where captured.

    Confederate flags are the flags of treason and racism.

    Nazi flags are also included in the burning requirement.

  • Martin Niemöller
    May 19, 2007 - 2:47 am | Permalink

    First They Came for the Jews

    First they came for the Jews
    and I did not speak out
    because I was not a Jew.
    Then they came for the Communists
    and I did not speak out
    because I was not a Communist.
    Then they came for the trade unionists
    and I did not speak out
    because I was not a trade unionist.
    Then they came for me
    and there was no one left
    to speak out for me.
    Pastor Martin Niemöller

  • Brian
    June 3, 2007 - 1:34 pm | Permalink


    The south is full of some of the most educated people in our country, and yet you yankees think you hold the key to the brain vault, I hate to inform you but it was Southerners who wrote the decloration of independence and the constitution NOT a yankee!

    We are now a corporate fascist nation (if you dont know what that means please look it up in the dictinary) thanks to lincoln, we are now on our way to communism, just look at Venezuele they wanted communism now they have it and now they dont want it, well I hope this helps you, its easy to vote communism in and you must go to war to get a free nation back, we are just one step away, with people like you Hilory,Obama,Kennedy,Busch ect. in our country we should get there in no time at all.

    P.S. If you dont like what you see you can leave, close your eyes or change the channel!!!! The only true Patriot in polotics today is Ron Paul

  • Madison
    June 3, 2007 - 2:02 pm | Permalink

    Brian, good buddy, I suspect you are a hoax, but in case not, as a fellow Southerner, I have to say you are a poor representative for smart people from the South.

    Leaving aside the fact you misspelled Declaration, Venezuela, don’t, it’s, Hillary, Bush, etc. and politics — corporatism and communism are about as far apart on the spectrum as two systems can get, so how and why would a “corporate fascist” nation convert into a communist nation overnight? That makes no sense.

    I think the term you’re looking for is “oligarchy.” (Look it up.) That’s certainly what Bush seems to have in mind. Some of his followers want us to become a theocracy. But as far as I can tell Democrats, including Hillary, Obama and Kennedy, generally favor democracy. Hence the name, “Democrats.”

  • not ashamed of the outh
    December 11, 2007 - 9:08 am | Permalink

    well, there are certainly a whole lot of historians here. I would just like to clear up a few points before I am branded a “racist” or a “traitor”

    first, Aaron:
    As far as your “flag burning ammendment goes, why not just go ahead and repeal the rest of the bill of rights along with your eradication of the first ammendment. and since slavery was legal in the United States before, during , AND AFTER the war, why not go ahead and add “old glory ” to your list as well.
    second , design prof:
    You already mentioned the Klans use of the christian cross, and like you said they used it so its theirs now. heres a newsflash, teh Klan also flys the American flag and have done so for nearly a century. lets get together and remove all of the crosses and American flags from view as well.

    now that that is out of the way, I would like to bring up some points that no one has decided to mention thus far.
    It seems to be the consensus of this group that the war revolved around slavery, well how do yall explain the corwin ammendment? During beginning of the war in an effort to convince the south to ru-unite Lincoln endorsed a constitutional amendment proposed by Thomas Corwin, a congressman from Ohio that would have permanently legalized slavery. If the war HAD been about slavery and nothing else, why did the south not take this “easy out”? Lincoln himself told noted abolitinist Horace Greeley in a personal letter that teh war was about Union. that if he could save the union by freeing all the slaves he would, same for freeing none of the slaves. let me inform you of a few more reasons why the south seceded.
    Economy- at the time of secession, the South paid 80 % of national taxes. most of that money went to northern financial interests.
    states rights- regardless of the narrow mindedness of the arguments presented here, states rights WAS a key point for southerners. They felt that The Union was a servant of the states ( which according to the constitution it is) and they resented the centralization of power that was occuring at the time

    And as far as being “illegal and treasonous” can anyone point out where in the constitution Secession is prohibited? no where.
    since there is no prohibition mentioned, then secession is legal according to the tenth ammendment which reserves all rights not specifically enumerated in the constitution to the states.
    Another point I would like to bring up is the swastika refference. During Hitlers rise to power, one law he passed was to ban the confederate flag and all symbols of the Confederacy. Why did he do this? because he knew what most people knew at that time. That the Confederate battle flag (which is NOT the stars and bars, that nickname belonged to teh fisrt natinal confederate flag which closely resembled the American flag) was a symbol of decentralized government. As far as teh confederate flag being internationally known as a symbol of hate, that is ridiculous.
    and finally on a more personal note. I too am descended from Confederate soldiers. My family has never owned slaves. Why would my family go to war to defend an institutin that they didn’t even care for? It deeply saddens me that so many people are so ashamed of such a noble heritage, and that they would defame their own ancestors to continue the illusion of teh “glorious union”.

  • JohnRebel
    March 31, 2008 - 5:27 pm | Permalink

    Anyone offended by the rebel flag needs a history lesson. Some of you seem overly sensitive…. and others seem to have such a passion against people who fly the rebel flag I ? your motives and intelligence. Most educated white people would agree that the people flying confederate flags are def not the problem in this country.

  • March 31, 2008 - 9:21 pm | Permalink

    I have a master’s degree. People flying confederate flags are a major problem in this country.

  • April 1, 2008 - 6:09 am | Permalink

    Hey John, I noticed that you only considered “educated white people” in your comment. Ever given a thought to how educated black people might feel about the Confederate flag? Yeah, I didn’t think so.

    BTW, I almost have a masters degree, so I can pass as an “educated white person.” Can you?

  • eric
    May 15, 2008 - 10:14 am | Permalink

    The confederate flag is about pride and does not mean trailer trash or being poor. I’m educated and make six figures and I fly the flag in my front yard. I saw a black man wearing a tee shirt with a black fist with the saying “black power” and no one said a word. If I say that shirt offends me I’m a racist. Everything a white man does that is not mainstream is considered a racist, but the blacks are just showing their heritage…..WHAT A DOUBLE STANDARD.

  • eric
    May 15, 2008 - 10:18 am | Permalink

    I’m just real tired of black America relating everything they do to heritage and getting away with it. Why cant I say the black population has a huge crime problem and chances are if I go into the inner city I will be robbed. This is a fact, but if I make this statement I’m a racist. How can a factual statement be racist? No one can argue the fact that blacks are killing one another, but guess what its the white mans fault. Unitl the balck people stand up and take responsibility for their own actions they will always have major problems. Just look at the alcohalic who blames everyone else for his problems, he remains an alcohalic until he admits responsiblility.

  • Madison
    May 15, 2008 - 10:54 am | Permalink

    Why cant I say the black population has a huge crime problem and chances are if I go into the inner city I will be robbed. How can a factual statement be racist?

    Because it is not factual that “chances are if I go into the inner city I will be robbed.” That statement literally means that at least 51% of all anglos who go into inner city neighborhoods at any given time are mugged, and that is simply not the case. It’s more like less than .01%.

    Whatever the Confederate flag may have meant in the past is irrelevant. Today it is a symbol of bigotry, violence and repression equivalent to the swastika. If you’re flying the flag at your house, it says everything anyone needs to know about your ignorance and nothing positive about the South.

    Finally, Southern whites are 100% responsible for Jim Crow laws that deliberately kept blacks uneducated, thereby creating four generations, at least, of millions of people who were raised without the wherewithal to compete for good jobs and access to the middle class. We’re all paying for that today, black and white, in this country.

    Why don’t you take some responsibility for that?

  • May 15, 2008 - 10:22 pm | Permalink

    Madison, you were doing good until you said, “Southern whites are 100% responsible for Jim Crow laws.” According to the Martin Luther King Jr. web site, “From the 1880s into the 1960s, a majority of American states enforced segregation through “Jim Crow” laws (so called after a black character in minstrel shows). From Delaware to California, and from North Dakota to Texas, many states (and cities, too) could impose legal punishments on people for consorting with members of another race.”

    The History of Jim Crow, a resource for teachers, shows that while most Jim Crow laws were in the South, a buttload weren’t. Louisiana led the way with 29 of the nation’s 439 laws, followed by Alabama and Georgia with 27 each. But the site goes on to say:

    “In September 1949, only 15 states had no segregation laws in effect. These included Connecticut, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin. Of the remaining states, 30 states prohibited mixed marriages and “race mixing.” Twenty states proscribed separate schools for blacks and whites. Fourteen states permitted or required separate railroad accommodations.

    Outside the South, California passed more Jim Crow laws (17) than any other state in the country.

    Miscegenation statutes, intended to prevent racial interbreeding, led the list of Jim Crow laws enacted. At least 127 laws prohibiting interracial marriage and cohabitation were passed between 1865 and the 1950s nationwide, with 37 percent of the statutes passed outside the South. Western states enacted 33 such laws (27 percent). Both whites and blacks who ignored the law could receive sentences for up to ten years hard labor in the penitentiary in a number of states. Punishment for miscegenation in state statutes was still in force in the 1960s in Delaware, Florida, Indiana, Maryland, Mississippi, and North Carolina.

    Further testament that racism existed nationwide is evident in education laws. States outside the South enacted 23 percent of the laws that authorized segregated schools. Likewise, seven of the 12 laws that required race to be considered in adoption petitions were passed outside of the South.

    In 1945, California passed a miscegenation law prohibiting marriage between whites and “Negroes, mulattos, Mongolians, and Malays.” This was in addition to the state law enacted in 1931 barring marriage between Caucasians and Asians. After World War II ended, these laws were repealed.

    My point is that yes, we have a race problem in this country — a huge one. But saying the South is 100% to blame for it not only gets us no closer to resolving it, it keeps us mired right where we are. Let’s think bigger than cursing the unenlightened savages down south and take a big ol’ look in the mirror — all of our mirrors. Maybe then we can talk meaningfully about the problem and not just hurl hostilities at one another.

  • Madison
    May 16, 2008 - 7:38 am | Permalink

    Trish, I stand corrected on the pervasiveness of Jim Crow laws, but I’ll stick by the assertion that Southern states were 100% responsible for the laws on their books. You’re right, as ever, that racism exists everywhere in the U.S. Shortly before he was killed, Martin Luther King Jr. had declared that his next front in the war for Civil Rights was the North, starting with Massachusetts, which was, ironically, the first state to ban slavery — but his over-arching strategy was to address the situation in the South first, which brings us back to that stupid flag: In the Civil Rights era, the only states that were defiantly fighting efforts to repeal Jim Crow laws were the old Confederate states. That defiance 40 years ago is a big part of what the Confederate flag symbolizes today, for both its fans and its detractors.

    It is also true that California did not become the bastion of free-thinking it has become until very recently. In the 1850s, Southern California was an outpost of slavery, and tried to join the union as a slave state, separate from northern California. Until WWII, the black population was well under 1 percent. (It’s about 10 percent now.) In the wake of the Gold Rush, there were all sorts of laws that were maliciously discriminatory. For example, in the gold fields, if a Native American walked onto the property of an anglo, the law permitted property owner to enslave him and force him to work for a period of time. Until very recently, wealthy and middle-class neighborhoods throughout Los Angeles were restricted by “covenants” that were codicils in deeds that forbade property owners from ever selling the property to blacks, latinos, Asians and Jews.

    Interestingly. the California miscegenation law is in the news now in stories about the lifting of the gay marriage ban yesterday. I didn’t know it was passed in ’45, but the current stories note that it was overturned by the state Supreme Court in ’48, which was 20 years before Loving vs. Virginia.

  • May 16, 2008 - 10:57 am | Permalink

    “In the Civil Rights era, the only states that were defiantly fighting efforts to repeal Jim Crow laws were the old Confederate states.” So THE major Civil Rights decision, the granddaddy of them all, the one that started everything — Brown v. (Topeka) Board of Education — that was the old South? Kansas fought for the Union in the Civil War and it was a major destination during Reconstruction — 20,000 blacks moved to Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado and Oklahoma during that time. Most KKK activity you hear about today is in Colorado and other Western states. Meanwhile, the 2000 Census showed African-Americans moving to the South from the Midwest and Northeast in record numbers. That census also showed 54 percent of all African-Americans in this country lived in the South.

    Madison, all I am asking is for you to examine your constructs. Looking at everything in the same stereotyped way doesn’t advance good arguments. It just keeps the old ones going — and going absolutely nowhere.

  • Madison
    May 16, 2008 - 12:14 pm | Permalink

    By “defiantly fighting” I was referring to governors standing in school house doors, cops turning firehoses and German shepherds on peaceful demonstrators, rednecks lynching Civil Rights workers, grown adults spitting on high school students, churches being burned, waitresses refusing to serve people at lunch counters, etc. — all in an ugly, desperate attempt to hang onto the Jim Crow status quo in the South.

    While similar actions may have taken place elsewhere in the 1960s, and before and since, those specific actions were taken by white Southerners often with news cameras rolling. The Confederate flag has come to symbolize those actions and images.The fact that the rest of the country is racist — which I have stipulated — is/was irrelevant to my point. This is about the Confederate flag and what it symbolizes to certain of the descendants of the men who died for The Cause.

    Look back at what I said: “Finally, Southern whites are 100% responsible for Jim Crow laws that deliberately kept blacks uneducated, thereby creating four generations, at least, of millions of people who were raised without the wherewithal to compete for good jobs and access to the middle class. We’re all paying for that today, black and white, in this country.” I didn’t say only Southerners are responsible for oppressing black people. I said they are responsible for the oppression in the South. We’re all paying for it because federal tax dollars have gone to improving schools and economic development in the South specifically targeted at trying to right these ancient wrongs.

  • NewHampshireCopperhead
    June 13, 2008 - 9:52 pm | Permalink

    Strange that the cause of the War being tariffs and states rights was taught to me by a liberal US History teacher in Newport NH. Mrs. Rose and I didn’t see eye to eye on politics, so I almost shit myself when she told the class that Lincoln decided to emancipate slaves simply to avoid war with England.

  • Hannodb
    September 23, 2008 - 4:01 am | Permalink

    I’d like to give an Afrikaner’s (South African) view on this issue.

    Firstly, I agree that, as a historic symbol, the battleflag has no place on official state buildings. Only officially recognised flags should be flown. The correct place to fly the battleflag, would be at war memorials and museums.

    Secondly, I think African Americans – and Africans in general – should stop waisting time and resources on symbolic changes, and focus their energy on making real changes in their community. During the 1899-1902 Anglo Boer war, the Brittish rounded up the Boer population in concentration camps. 27000 Women and children died of disease and malnutrition. Even before the war, their relationship with the Boer republics was all but fair. However, I, and most Afrikaners, do not take offence to the Union Jack anymore. We also do not agonise over the fact that Brittain never fully compensated us for that destructive war: We cherriesh our past, but our focus is to the future. In South Africa, the local governments would rather spend millions on changing street and town names, instead of tackling water pollution, crime and poor service delivery.

    Thirdly, I do not think that mistaken ideas should be allowed for destroying people’s herritage. As I understand it, the American civil war was never about slavery. That only became an issue after the war started. The battle flag should be treated based on historic fact, not popular believes. In SA too, radical groups have harmed the image of the Vierkleur, but that image can be restored if moderate people decide to reclaim their heritage. We must not allow radical fringe organisations, like the KKK or the AWB to demonise our heritage. We must reclaim our historical symbols from them, so that they can be remembered for their original meaning.

  • October 25, 2008 - 12:39 am | Permalink

    Very nice…Lots of educated people (w/degrees) demonstrating their studied perception of Truth and Justice. Objectivity (seeming) clearly to have the upper hand over subjectivity, that is… the opinions with all embracing qualities claim Virtue as their own, all others in outer darkness,evil,ignorant rebels etc. A computer,though remarkable is objective… but sterile just like a marxist homogonized world in which the only virtue is equalized tolerance. The diversity so praised by the open minded heros of egalitarianism is being destroyed by their mad effort to destroy freedom of association. “Birds of a feather” is now considered evil by the self proclaimed (enlightened).Distinctness,individuality is what is at stake..(subjectivity). In as much as cooperation is a virtue so also is competition..Yin ang Yang. Equality is an interesting word… and virtuous if not used to legislate the death of inborn perceptions,organic identity’s. Equality as a god is the death of quality, this is a problem for those not satisfied with mediocrity or survival alone. What is often called human bigotry via different provincialisms by one worlders may in fact be organic anchors that make for healthier psyche’s. Who has the right to claim exclusive knowledge of what diversity model is correct? Is a (legislatively forced)geneticaly homogonized,transexualized world a more beautiful world? Is not the desire for a homogonized world a bais? Who has the Singular tuning fork for Ignorance or knowledge of TRUTH? The trampling of states rights is now evolving to the trampling of nation rights,…which eventuality implies globaly centralized POWER, (ABSOLUTE POWER) What is that saying about absolute power corrupting absolutely?…While stupidity IS ignorant, bais and idiosincrosy may not be,… these in fact may be the very things that make us most human and not computers, these may be our intuitive salvation.

  • Doug Prater
    January 17, 2011 - 9:31 am | Permalink

    When we speak of the war between The North and The South, we are not speaking of different directions but rather of two different cultures. One of the few things they had in common was the same language, and even that was spoken with different dialects. By 1861, Southerners had developed a philosophy of independence and individual freedom and were relatively free from governmental restraint. At the same time, the populous North embraced the notion of a strong central government, which resulted in its citizens giving up a large measure of individuality. The strained attempts at holding together two cultures so diametrically opposed resulted in a disastrous war. President Jefferson Davis predicted that if The South lost the war, The North would rewrite history in its favor, and today, virtually every school system in The South teaches its students from American history books produced in the North by Northern authors. A nation that is ignorant of its past is a nation that is ripe for deception and manipulation. Therefore, it is not what happened, but rather what people believe happened which determines the present actions of a nation.

  • Doug Prater
    January 17, 2011 - 9:32 am | Permalink

    Monday, Jan. 17, is a state holiday in Alabama in honor of Confederate States Gen. Robert E. Lee.
    The events propelling Gen. Lee into the limelight to attain worldwide fame for his unmatched record of brilliant military leadership all occurred within a two-week period in April 1861.
    On April 8, Abraham Lincoln attacked Charleston Harbor with 11 U.S. warships to collect a 40 percent federal sales tax from Southerners under the Morrill Tariff Act of 1861 at the federal tax collection fort, Fort Sumter.
    On April 13, Sumter surrendered to the Confederate States.
    On April 15 and 19, Lincoln declared, “Whereas, the laws of the United States for the collection of the revenue cannot be effectually executed,” and ordered 75,000 troops to invade the Confederate States and blockade their ports.
    On April 17, in response to Lincoln’s declaration of war, Virginia passed an ordinance to withdraw from the union called the United States.
    On April 18, Lincoln offered Lee command of the entire U.S. Army.
    On April 20, Lee refused Lincoln’s offer and resigned his commission in the U.S. Army, writing Gen. Scott, “Save in defense of my native State shall I ever again draw my sword.”
    On April 23, Lee accepted command of Virginia’s militia, soon to be Confederate Army.

    Roger K. Broxton, president
    Confederate Heritage Fund

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