Recent news events require a repost of this Classic TfK from March, 2007:

i-5ad6261606fc18cd8c9636b8b7b0f66c-hangconfflag.jpgAs art or as political statement, I have no beef with the installation shown here. It is an artwork produced by John Sims entitled “The Proper Way to Hang a Confederate Flag.”

Neo-Confederates disagree. The Mary Brogan Museum of Art and Science refused a request to remove the artwork:

The request was made by Bob Hurst, commander of the Tallahassee camp of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. Mr. Hurst said the exhibit violated a Florida law that makes it illegal to “mutilate, deface, defile or contemptuously abuse” the Confederate flag. The law includes an exemption for decorative or patriotic purposes, but Mr. Hurst said Mr. Sims’s work was not art.

The Confederate flag represents the history of racism and slavery that continue to haunt American society. Never mind the free speech issue, setting a symbol of a failed rebellion outside the realm of public debate and display serves only to defend and aggrandize the horrific harm done to this nation by people who used that flag as a rallying point for racism and brutal slaughter of their fellow women and men in battle and in cotton fields.

I don’t know why it is, but I often feel like, regardless of who won on the battlefield, the Confederacy somehow managed to win the war of ideas. The concept of antebellum nobility, the genteel Southern lifestyle defended in sovereign states is a myth, and a harmful one. States certainly are entitled to wide latitude regarding internal affairs, and can serve as useful testbeds while a national consensus forms.

There was never a testbed on slavery. The South would never permit a state to freely reject slavery, and that refusal bred Bloody Kansas and ultimately the Civil War. Our concept of antebellum Southern gentility is equally fictional, concocted by novelists and movies. For a century after slavery’s official abolishment, slavery’s legacy persisted with just enough changes to avoid federal interference. It nearly took another bloody war to finish that job.

The scars of two centuries of institutional racism still fester, however hard we try to mask the stench with sugar magnolias and mint juleps. The Confederacy and the idea of the Confederacy richly deserve to be buried. As Tacitus wrote: “Traitors and deserters they hang upon trees.”


  1. #1 Joel Mathis
    November 30, 2010

    I don’t know why it is, but I often feel like, regardless of who won on the battlefield, the Confederacy somehow managed to win the war of ideas.

    I know what you’re saying, but there was that whole “no more slavery” thing.

  2. #2 Scott
    November 30, 2010

    Seems patriotic enough to me.

    And that’s actually a law? Surely it’s one of those ridiculous, long-outdated laws that no one takes seriously any more.

  3. #3 Russell
    December 1, 2010

    Scott, you omitted the key phrase: blatantly unconstitutional. Because the Confederacy lost. If there were one bit of civic knowledge that is poorly understood, it is that all Americans are protected by the Bill of Rights only because a) the Union won, b) the radical Republicans framed and ratified the 14th amendment, and c) a long line of court decisions, many pressed by the ACLU, incorporated most of the individual protections in the Bill of Rights into the 14th amendment’s guarantee of “due process.” Were it not for that, states could still establish religion and ban political literature that rubbed them the wrong way. As they did in the days antebellum. And Florida’s law on respecting the Confederate flag would have some teeth.

    Fortunately, the south lost, and we all won.

  4. #4 J.J.E.
    December 1, 2010

    I think it bears mentioning that the impetus behind the Civil War was a tangle of political, economic, and moral issues. It manifestly was not a war for liberation of slaves, though it certainly was a war of liberation for slaves. That the North ended up on the side of the angels is worth noting and trumpeting, but were it possible to broker peace and unity without emancipation, I strongly suspect emancipation would have been delayed.

    For similar reasons, the Confederate flag isn’t a binary black and white symbol of slavery. It is again a tangle of political, economic, social, moral, and nationalistic ideals. Indeed, many southerners are willfully blind (or at least too charitable) to the slavery implications of the flag precisely because the Confederacy doesn’t boil down to “Slavery is awesome!”. Of course, there are many southerns who aren’t blind to those implications and flock to the flag because of its racial implications.

    But as with any issue (including religion!), while the conclusion is very simple (Southern patriotism is divisive on any number of levels and should be discouraged, or at the very least purged of its racist roots), the discussion surrounding it shouldn’t be simplistic (there are many well-meaning southerners who are as delusional about Dixie’s complicity with evil as there are religious people who in denial about the evil of religion).

  5. #5 SocraticGadfly
    December 1, 2010

    Josh, between the Civil War sequicentennial, Tea Partiers and a black president, expect a boatload m ore of BS like this over the next couple of years.

  6. #6 Pohranicni Straze
    December 5, 2010

    As a life-long Southerner and the descendant of about a dozen Confederate veterans and many slaveholders, I… completely agree with you. I think the root of the problem is the conflict between the near-ancestor worship of Southern culture, and the idea that those same ancestors were, in a very fundamental way, seriously wrong about such a major issue. We pass names down like heirlooms (I have one branch of the family that kept the same surname-as-middle-name from the 1600s to the 1900s), and it isn’t easy to keep a pride in your heritage while at the same time acknowledging that great-great-granddad was a traitor to his country.

  7. #7 Tommy
    December 7, 2010

    Well if you would search, you would find that the Confederate Battle Flag never flew over any of the Slave states, but the one that did was the United State flag. The Confederate flag was made because the other ones either looked like the US flag & the other looked like a flag of surrender so they wound up with the one now. The KKK, & other groups have turned it into a HATE symbol, it is a flag of Heratage for the people of the South, nothing else, people need to be more educated on this subject. I am proud to be from the South, that doesn;t make me a Jew, Black, Hispanic hater.

  8. #8 Tom
    December 7, 2010

    I think the Puke that hung that flag like that should decorate a tree himself. Its people like that, that show there ignorance & give the flag a bad name.

  9. #9 Jon
    February 12, 2011

    All hail the Confederate troops that gave their live for freedom from the yankee bastards.

  10. #10 Troy
    August 5, 2012

    The confederate flag did NOT represent racism and slavery. It represented freedom from an oppressive government. In fact did you know that not even 1/10 of southerners owned slaves? Seems kind of odd that people would going to war to fight for something that doesn’t have anything to do with them. Slavery is a dark part of American (not southern) history. It was something that occurred not only under the confederate flag, but the American flag as well. Should we take all of our American flags down in shame? No we should fly it proudly and accept that every country’s origin came across a few shaky parts in its history.

  11. #11 Josh Rosenau
    August 5, 2012

    Troy: I suppose I could agree that the Confederate flag did not just represent racism and slavery. It also represented treason against the United States, our Constitution, and our flag. If you fly the US flag proudly then I don’t see how you can see the Confederate flag as anything but an insult.

    And if one wants to talk about “oppressive government,” one should remember two things. 1) The “oppression” cited by states seeking to separate themselves from the Union was, consistently, interference with the practice of slavery. 2) The CSA, not the USA, was the government founded explicitly to maintain a system of legalized oppression based on race. To talk about “oppression” without acknowledging that the war was about slavery is simply untenable.

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