20 Jul 2020

The Confederate Flag and the Nation for Which it Stands

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Black History, Bobby's World, Christian hope, Contemporary Ethics, Culture, Discipleship, Love, Politics, Race Relations, Slavery
Heritage, not Hate??

(The photos in the blog are essential. Study them. They show the historical meaning of the flag). I grew up in the South (Alabama). I have lived in the centers of “Southern culture” like New Orleans and as deep South as you can get in Grenada, MS.

I have plunged the depths of the South from elementary school to high school to college to campfires and the beaches from Florida to Texas. I am deeply proud of the South and its very unique and surprisingly diverse cultural gifts it has shared with the United States. See my blog Southern Heritage to Be Proud of …

I know something about the South and the mythology of the Confederate battle flag. As I was growing up, Robert E. Lee brandishing a sword on horseback was on one side of my class ring and the Confederate flag was on the other. The battle flag dangled from the mirror in Nissan 4×4 pick-up in the form of a bandana. I understand people’s emotional attachments that are deeply rooted in a certain mythical retelling of the past. And I was convinced I “did not have a racist bone in my body” (I even used those exact words). I uncritically bought into those myths myself but have drifted away from those false conceptions only by conscious research into the Confederacy and what it stood for.

Have you done some dispassionate research on this matter? Without being to controversial, I ask because some of the underlying assumptions we make seem to be based on Lost Cause stereotypes that we all have drunk to the dregs unconsciously (especially the Reconstruction myths of the South promoted zealously by Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind).

I got rid of the flag for biblical, theological, historical, and finally because of love. I will explore a few with you.

September 1963, Birmingham, Alabama, USA — Teenagers wave signs and confederate flags from their car during the fight over desegregating Birmingham’s public schools. — Image by © Flip Schulke/CORBIS

Sometimes Symbols Become Idols

God commanded Moses to fashion a “brazen serpent” in Numbers 21.4-9 that functioned as a type for Jesus’s crucifixion, John 3.13-15. But Hezekiah destroyed Nehushtan though it was holy and directly from God. According to the Scriptures he pleased God in doing so.

He [Hezekiah] did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, just as his father David had done. He removed the high places, smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles. He broke into pieces the bronze snake Moses had made for up to that time Israelites had been been burning incense to it. (It was called Nehushtan)” (2 Kings 18.3-4, see the whole chapter).

The brazen serpent had become an idol. As ancient and revered as it was it had to be destroyed. But the fact is that the battle flag is neither holy in origin nor commanded by God. It please God for Nehushtan to be destroyed, I can only imagine his feelings on this flag.

Heritage, not Hate??
Everyone in this photograph knows the meaning of that flag. Read the Sign.

Flags Share the Meaning of the Nation they Represent, the Confederate States were Created to Preserve Racist Ideology

I do not think it can be contested that a national flag shares in the meaning of the nation that flies it. How can the Hammer and Sickle be separated from the Soviet Union. How can the Swastika be untangled from Nazi Germany? How can the Stars and Stripes not represent the United States? How can the flags of the Confederate States of America be disconnected from the nation that created them, the armies the waged war under them, and the mission of that nation as stated in its founding documents? I for one do not see how it is possible.

I’m a Good Old Rebel

The flag, like the nation for which it stood, is an exclusively white race flag. It is the symbol of the Confederate States of America and there is no way to get around this with integrity. The old song, “I’m a Good Old Rebel” captures unapologetically what it was all about.

Oh, I’m a good old rebel
Now thats just what I am
And for this yankee nation
I do no give a damn
I’m glad I fought against her
I only wish we’d won
I ain’t asked any pardon
For anything I’ve done
I hates the Yankee nation
And everything they do
I hates the declaration
Of independence too
I hates the glorious union
‘Tis dripping with our blood

I hates the striped banner
And fought it all I could
I rode with Robert E. Lee
For three years there about …
Oh, I’m a good old rebel
Now that’s just what I am
And for this Yankee nation
I do no give a damn
I’m glad I fought against her
I only wish we’d won
I ain’t asked any pardon”


Is it possible to misunderstand these words?

William Tappan Thompson

If “Good Old Rebel” fails to communicate then perhaps a talk with William Tappan Thompson, the man who designed the official flag for the CSA, will shed some light.

As a people we are fighting to maintain the heavenly ordained supremacy of the white man over the inferior or colored race; a white flag would thus be emblematical of our cause. Such a flag would be a suitable emblem of our young confederacy, and sustained by the brave hearts and strong arms of the south, it would soon take rank among the proudest ensigns of the nations, and be hailed by the civilized world as THE WHITE MAN’S FLAG.” (The complete text of both this and subsequent words on the flag by Thompson can be read in James W. Loewen and Edward H. Sebesta, The Confederate and Neo-Confederate Reader: The ‘Great Truth’ about the ‘Lost Cause, pp. 194-197).

South Carolina’s December 25, 1860 Slavery Invitation

On December 25, 1860, South Carolina had already seceded from the Union. Her delegates in convention extended this invitation to the slave holding states to form a confederacy. The document is long and I omitted all of the first half. The first half argues that the Colonies of 1776 provide precedent for rights of secession. The second half attempts to show what the essential grounds that call for such radical action in 1860. Near the end of the address you will note the words “TO BE ONE OF A GREAT SLAVE HOLDING CONFEDERACY.”

Citizens of the slaveholding States of the United States! Circumstances beyond our control, have placed us in the van of the great controversy between the Northern and Southern States. We would have preferred, that other States should have assumed the position we now occupy. Independent ourselves, we disclaim any design or desire, to lead the councils of the other Southern States. Providence has cast our lot together, by extending over us an identity of pursuits, interests and institutions. South Carolina, desires no destiny, separate from yours. To be one of a great Slave holding Confederacy, stretching its arms over a territory larger than any power in Europe possesses …”

You can read the entire text of South Carolina’s call for the creation of a “great slave holding Confederacy” here Address of South Carolina to Slave Holding States, December 25, 1860.

How can the flag of the nation created for the purpose of slavery not share in the meaning of the nation that created the flag?

Alexander Stephens, Vice President of the Confederate States

Alexander H. Stephens, Vice President of the Confederate States of America, March 21, 1861. This about 3 weeks before the Confederacy started the war by firing on Ft. Sumter on April 12, 1861. The Cornerstone speech was a famous speech. And it is as clear as a bell. He knew, like the South Carolina invitation a few months previously, exactly what the nation stood for that flew that flag. In the excerpt, Stephens has just referred to the opening lines of the Declaration of Independence and repudiates it. You will recall in “Good Old Rebel” the line that said, “I hates the declaration of Independence.” The Confederate States of America was a repudiation of the United States of America and its own flag.

Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea [i.e. all men created equal as found in the Declaration, BV]; its foundations are laid, its corner-stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth. This truth has been slow in the process of its development, like all other truths in the various departments of science. It has been so even amongst us. Many who hear me, perhaps, can recollect well, that this truth was not generally admitted, even within their day. The errors of the past generation still clung to many as late as twenty years ago. Those at the North, who still cling to these errors, with a zeal above knowledge, we justly denominate fanatics. All fanaticism springs from an aberration of the mind from a defect in reasoning. It is a species of insanity. One of the most striking characteristics of insanity, in many instances, is forming correct conclusions from fancied or erroneous premises; so with the anti-slavery fanatics. Their conclusions are right if their premises were. They assume that the negro is equal, and hence conclude that he is entitled to equal privileges and rights with the white man. If their premises were correct, their conclusions would be logical and just but their premise being wrong, their whole argument fails. I recollect once of having heard a gentleman from one of the northern States, of great power and ability, announce in the House of Representatives, with imposing effect, that we of the South would be compelled, ultimately, to yield upon this subject of slavery, that it was as impossible to war successfully against a principle in politics, as it was in physics or mechanics. That the principle would ultimately prevail. That we, in maintaining slavery as it exists with us, were warring against a principle, a principle founded in nature, the principle of the equality of men. The reply I made to him was, that upon his own grounds, we should, ultimately, succeed, and that he and his associates, in this crusade against our institutions, would ultimately fail. The truth announced, that it was as impossible to war successfully against a principle in politics as it was in physics and mechanics, I admitted; but told him that it was he, and those acting with him, who were warring against a principle. They were attempting to make things equal which the Creator had made unequal.”

Stephen’s speech should be required reading of every American. Stephen’s was unashamed in his proclamation. You can read the entire text of the Cornerstone Speech here, Alexander H. Stephens, Cornerstone Speech, March 21, 1861.

The Constitution of the Confederate States of America

What the Confederate flag stood for is the Constitution of the nation it represented, the Confederate States of America. The Constitution that flag represents is stunningly clear.

Article I, Section 9, Clause 4 prohibited the Confederate government from restricting slavery in any way:

“No bill of attainder, ex post facto law, or law denying or impairing the right of property in negro slaves shall be passed.”

Please note the Constitution is explicit, “property in negro slaves.” It is not property in white slaves but only black.

Article IV, Section 2, Clause 1 also prohibited states from interfering with slavery:

The citizens of each State shall be entitled to all the privileges and immunities of citizens in the several States; and shall have the right of transit and sojourn in any State of this Confederacy, with their slaves and other property; and the right of property in said slaves shall not be thereby impaired.”

Article IV, Section 2, Clause 3 addresses escaped slaves:

No slave or other person held to service or labor in any State or Territory of the Confederate States, under the laws thereof, escaping or lawfully carried into another, shall, in consequence of any law or regulation therein, be discharged from such service or labor; but shall be delivered up on claim of the party to whom such slave belongs; or to whom such service or labor may be due.”

Article IV, Section 3, Clause 3 offered to slavery in all future territories conquered or acquired by the Confederacy:

The Confederate States may acquire new territory; and Congress shall have power to legislate and provide governments for the inhabitants of all territory belonging to the Confederate States, lying without the limits of the several States; and may permit them, at such times, and in such manner as it may by law provide, to form States to be admitted into the Confederacy. In all such territory the institution of negro slavery, as it now exists in the Confederate States, shall be recognized and protected by Congress and by the Territorial government; and the inhabitants of the several Confederate States and Territories shall have the right to take to such Territory any slaves lawfully held by them in any of the States or Territories of the Confederate States.”

This provision ensured the perpetuation of slavery as long and as far as the Confederate States could extend it’s political reach, and more then a few Confederates had their eyes fixed on Cuba and other places for future expansion (Manifest Destiny was not limited to the North).

Slavery was the heart, soul, and the very reason for the existence of the Confederacy. The flag of that nation represents its national values. Its values are literally in black and white.

1948 Dixiecrat Convention, Birmingham, Alabama. The party was created to oppose Truman’s civil right’s agenda and the preservation of white supremacy. The Confederate flag was the official symbol of the party. Its meaning was not disputed by anyone.

The Confederate Flag and the Civil Rights Movement

It is common to find white Southerns (I am one) that claim the flag is heritage not racism. How can the flag be divorced from the nation that flew it? How can it be disconnected for its reason for existence? But the claim makes no sense at all. If you asked Nathan Bedford Forrest in 1870 what that heritage was he would be stunningly clear. If you asked Dr. Moody on April 26, 1903 at the dedication of the Confederate Memorial in Florence, Al, the meaning of heritage was stated explicitly. No one disconnected the meaning of the flag from being a white man’s flag until contemporary times.

In 1948, Harry S. Truman was nominated as the Democratic candidate. Truman adopted a plank in his platform the demand of civil rights for African Americans. Thirty-five Southern delegates withdrew from the Democratic Convention and formed the counter party called The State’s Rights Democratic Party or popularly known as Dixiecrats. They held their convention in Birmingham, Alabama calling for the preservation of Jim Crow laws and white supremacy. They adopted the Confederate flag as their official party symbol. The flag was certainly heritage, the heritage of white supremacy. The Dixiecrats knew it and so did everyone else.

The meaning of the flag was not hidden. The State of Georgia incorporated the battle flag into the state flag in 1956 as a reaction to the Supreme Court’s Brown decision. The Georgia Assembly made a statement in support of “segregation and white supremacy.”

The State of South Carolina did not fly the Confederate flag over its State House until June 21, 1961. The flag was not raised over the Alabama State House until April 25, 1963 by George C. Wallace in the face of a visit by Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy.

The flag was used from the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement as a symbol of segregation and white supremacy. No one ever claimed, from the 1860s to the Civil Rights Movement, that the flag was anything but a white man’s flag representing a white man’s government.

The claim that the flag is not deeply enmeshed in white supremacy ideology is disingenuous.

James Coski

James Coski is the Historian and Library Director at The Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond, Virginia, his is also considered to be one of the leading historical authorities on the Battle Flag. Coski wrote that the Stars and Bars (the CSA’s first official flag) was renounced precisely because it too closely resembled the Stars and Strips of the United States. So when the committee of the Congress of the CSA met to consider flags, “the foremost consideration influencing the committee was that the new flag not resemble any other nation.” What was needed was a symbol “of our absolute severance from the United States and complete separation.” James M. Coski, The Confederate Battle Flag: America’s Most Embattled Emblem (p.15). The flag is, from the beginning, the “anti-USA” flag.

Love

I can guarantee you that the vast majority of people of color do not think the Confederate flag is a matter of “southern pride.” I have never had a discussion with an African American about the Confederate flag in which he or she was neutral about it. I understand why they see the flag as symbol of hate. The flag flew for a nation that denied their very person hood. Then the flag has been used repeatedly to deny their basic human rights. It is, like the nation that created it, a racist symbol of hate. That is the “heritage.” I have no pride, as southerner, for the heritage that flag represents.

Thankful

In June NASCAR banned the Confederate Flag from its races. Also in June, the State of Mississippi dropped the Confederate emblem from the state flag when Republican Governor Tate Reeves signed legislation pushed by a coalition of representatives, see Mississippi Officially Removes Confederate Emblem from State Flag in Time. These are positive moves for which we are grateful but it should never have been there to begin with.

3 Responses to “The Confederate Flag and the Nation for Which it Stands”

  1. Margaret Kennedy Says:

    Wow. Thank you so much! I want to print out this entire page and distribute it around the country. God bless you, you truly are a disciple of Christ.

    • Bobby Valentine Says:

      Thank you for coming by and reading my thoughts Margaret. I am humbled. I appreciate the kind words. And you have permission to share this with whomever you think it may be a blessing.

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