by Ryan M. Jones, Museum Educator
In the recent weeks across the nation, the tension and controversy surrounding the flag of the Confederate States of America have hit its boiling point. With the senseless tragedy in Charleston, South Carolina, where nine African Americans were executed during Bible study by a young white male, racial tension is at its peak. The photographs of the 21-year-old mass murderer holding the Confederate flag have circulated nationally and have caused uproar with the people and the American government.
Micah and Nora Feinstein protest at the base of a Confederate memorial against the confederate flag in front of the South Carolina State House in Columbia, S.C., July 4, 2015. (Tami Chappell/Reuters)
South Carolina and Alabama have since removed the flag from the State’s House grounds and have received mixed responses. Other former Confederate states government officials have also lobbied to remove Confederate symbols from automobile license plates. Some suggest that the flag is a symbol of heritage and pride and should be memorialized as Southern history. Others advocate that the flag is a symbol of racial oppression and violence. Which is correct? Well, the answer is both.
Is the Confederate flag history? Sure it is. The 13 states that seceded in early 1861 is the history that we all read and studied growing up in grade school. Those same states that became the Confederate States of America began an approximate four yearlong war with the United States of America, which is still the bloodiest on American soil. The question still remains; why was the Confederacy founded and why was the Civil War fought? State’s rights and money top the list. However, the original constitution of the Confederacy, which was adopted in March of 1861, one month before the first battle of the Civil War, says otherwise and convincingly so.
While 60% of the U.S. Constitution is stated in the Confederate Constitution, certain changes for the Confederate version are deliberate. Section 9 states, “no bill of attainder, ex post facto law, or law denying or impairing the right of property in Negro slaves shall be passed”. This essentially says there will be no laws to end slavery and protects the rights of slaveholders in the Confederate States of America. Probably the most disturbing of all says “The Confederate states may acquire new territory and in all such territory, the institution of negro slavery as it now exists in the Confederate States of America shall be recognized and protected by Congress and have the right to take to such territory any slaves lawfully held by them”.
Ku Klux Klan members hold lighted torches as they participate at a rally in Delaware, U.S., in 1965. (The Hindu Archives)
For the next four years, historical battles such as Gettysburg and Antietam resulted in the Union defeating the Confederacy in April 1865. Even though the Confederacy ended as a country, the flag and injustice of African Americans soar. For example, a year after the war, six ex-Confederate soldiers form the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, a group with a long history of racial intimidation and violence. Speaking of violence, there were 4,723 lynchings that occurred in the United States from 1882-1968. Of them, 3,446 were of African American victims, which is 73%. And of the 3,446, an overwhelming 94% or 3,240 were lynched in the former Confederate States of America. These statistics alone solidify a just response in the recent removal of Confederate memorabilia such as the flag.
The 1st Amendment is just. Every citizen is granted that privilege. Even the once Vice-President of the Confederate States of America, Alexander Stephens, agreed. Known as the “Cornerstone Speech” delivered March 21, 1861 in Savannah, Georgia, Stephens stated, “The Declaration of Independence was fundamentally wrong. It rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. The Confederate States are founded upon exactly the opposite ideas. Its foundations are laid, its cornerstone 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 moral condition”.
If the flag is a symbol of bravery and heritage, I ask you to then question exactly whose heritage is it representing? The flag is an historical symbol that represents the history of racial oppression and division. It should not fly on government property, but be preserved as a part of America's history, in a museum.