One can’t look back on America’s checkered past and gloss over the uncomfortable parts. The same country that was built on the idea, “all men are created equal,” clearly had footnotes on that statement. The short-lived Confederate States of America, after its failed coup attempt, was made to fall in line with the Union’s demands and the United States of America remained one country. Why is it then this dark chapter of American history endures, while emblems of Southern heritage are frequently celebrated among the populace, the most iconic of which is the Confederate flag?
It’s important to recognize that the modern-day Confederate flag most people are familiar with never actually served as the national flag of the Confederacy. The “Southern Cross” as it is known now, was actually the battle flag used by Robert E. Lee’s army of North Virginia. Two of the Confederacy’s three flags were pure white with the “Southern Cross” image in the top left-hand corner.
Why then has this incarnation of the Confederate flag endured while others have faded into obscurity? Its resurgence into the mainstream is due to the use of the flag by the States’ Rights Democratic Party, or Dixiecrats, as they were known circa 1948.
The Dixiecrats, a white supremacist party, were founded on principles that opposed desegregation in favor of Jim Crow Laws. This was a time when the ideologies of the two major political parties were reversed; the nation had conservative Democrats and progressive Republicans. Though the Dixiecrats were ultimately short-lived, they had a long-term impact by planting seeds of what would become the Southern Strategy, a tactic used by post-civil-rights era Republicans to appeal to the racist underbelly of disenfranchised southern Democrats.
And what better way to appeal to those people than with a flag that represented a bygone era built on the idea that whites were, by their nature, more whole than others?
Those who choose to fly the Confederate flag understand why people may find it offensive; yet they insist that the flag is strictly a symbol of southern heritage. They claim it no longer carries the stigma of racism and white supremacy. But they only know of the flag, they only fly it because of its reintroduction by white supremacists a relatively short time ago.
Perhaps to some, the Confederate Flag really is just a symbol of southern heritage. But slavery and racism are also parts of that heritage; the south’s past is just a lesser part of the greater American history. One flag was on the side of slavery and the other was on the side of freedom.