Commentary: Undoing the Legacy of Hate?

Is the Confederate Flag merely Southern Heritage or a symbol of racism and treason?
Is the Confederate flag merely Southern Heritage or a symbol of racism and treason?

Of all of the fallout of last week’s shootings, the Confederate flag seems perhaps the most symbolic and, at the same time, having the least likely impact. And yet on Monday, it seemed that South Carolina’s Governor Nikki Haley, alongside both U.S. Senators Lindsay Graham and Tim Scott, an African-American, was prepared to do what the New York Times said “what just a week ago seemed politically impossible — remove the Confederate battle flag from its perch in front of the State House building here.”

She said that, while the symbol was long revered by many Southerners, it remains a “deeply offensive symbol of a brutally offensive past.”

“The events of this week call upon us to look at this in a different way,” said Ms. Haley. “Today we are here in a moment of unity in our state, without ill will, to say it’s time to move the flag from the capitol grounds,” she said.

Writes the New York Times this morning, “It was a dramatic turnabout for Ms. Haley, a second-term Republican governor who over her five years in the job has displayed little interest in addressing the intensely divisive issue of the flag. But her new position demonstrated the powerful shock that last Wednesday’s killings at Emanuel A.M.E. Church have delivered to the political status quo, mobilizing leaders at the highest levels.”

Southerners have and will maintain that the Confederate flag is not a symbol of slavery, segregation, or neo-racism. They argue for a states-rights interpretation of history and Southern legacy, as though the Civil War conflict was not primarily centered around the issue of race and slavery despite the best efforts of the leaders on both sides to attempt to avoid it.

They will ignore the fact that, for years, Southerners did not seek to memorialize the Confederacy.

As historian Eric Foner wrote in the 2000 essay “Rebel Yell,” “There is no better way to honor one’s forebears than by taking their ideas seriously…Despite claims that the flying of the Confederate flag is a tradition dating back to the Civil War, the fact is that for years after that devastating conflict few white Southerners felt any desire to memorialize the Confederacy. The cult of the Lost Cause did not flourish until the 1890s, just as a new system of racial inequality resting on disenfranchisement and segregation was being created throughout the South.

“Not until a century after the Civil War did South Carolina’s white leaders feel the need to display the flag above the Capitol, for reasons that had more to do with the 1960s than the 1860s. In March 1961, as the Civil War centennial celebration began in Charleston, a black member of the New Jersey delegation was denied admission to the headquarters hotel. President Kennedy then transferred the meeting to a nearby naval base, whereupon the South Carolina delegation seceded, holding its own “Confederate States Centennial Conference,” with the Confederate flag prominently displayed. A year later, the flag was mounted above the state Capitol as a gesture of defiance against the civil rights movement. To the flag’s previous association with slavery was now added a connotation of racial segregation.”

As CNN notes, “Back in 2000, civil rights activists successfully lobbied to have a much larger Confederate flag removed from the Capitol dome. But there was a compromise. The South Carolina Heritage Act decreed that just about all other tributes to Confederate history would be virtually untouchable. The only way to change anything of that nature — including the smaller flag that was erected on the State House lawn — would be to gain the endorsement of two-thirds of lawmakers.”

But for me this has a deeper and far more sinister root than even racism. Can one fathom Germany flying the Nazi flag over or near one of its capitols? One can argue that the Nazi flag was not a symbol of racism or anti-Semitism, and indeed the Swastika itself is more than 3000 years old with derivations back to Sanskrit.

Yet the Germans recognize that this is a legacy of shame. That they inflicted horrible atrocities on the Jewish people and indeed millions around the world. This is no legacy to celebrate.

When Apartheid fell in South Africa, they had the truth and reconciliation process which was a restorative justice-like body assembled to come to terms with their past. “Witnesses who were identified as victims of gross human rights violations were invited to give statements about their experiences, and some were selected for public hearings. Perpetrators of violence could also give testimony and request amnesty from both civil and criminal prosecution.”

In the United States we have changed the law – constitutional amendments and reconstruction quickly fell by the wayside of lack of political will in the late 1800s and segregation was codified by the Supreme Court’s unwillingness to step up and prevent discrimination, as they arrived at Plessy v. Ferguson’s “separate but equal clause.”

It would take another civil rights movement starting in the 1940s in the post-World War II era, gaining strength with the Brown v. Board of Education decision proclaiming “separate is inherently unequal” in 1956 and then a series of laws and court decisions in the 1960s to undo the legal forms of discrimination.

However, those efforts were met with fierce Southern resistance. Slavery was defended through secession and bitter civil war, white supremacy was defended through lynchings and other acts of terror.

By some estimates, the number of lynchings in the South approached 5000 people. Slavery, murders, terror, brutality, segregation, discrimination – and yet the legacy has never been addressed formally. Life has gone on. There has been no apology, no acknowledgement, no truth and reconciliation commission.

The flag of the Confederacy continues to fly and many defend it with no shame.

It is no wonder that race remains such a polarizing issue in the United States today, because we have not come to terms with it. There is much we can learn from South Africa and Germany in this respect.

Hopefully the actions in South Carolina are the first steps in acknowledging a legacy of violence and degradation, but I fear not. More likely it is a political move, set to mollify critics as the heat gets too high.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. hpierce

    One thing that has come up, not noted in your “reporting”, is the context in which the confederate flag that someone photo-shopped into the graphic (used twice now), flies.

    It is flown at the confederate soldier memorial.  Apparently REAL images, showing the relative prominence of the battle banner can be found at:,+columbia+south+carolina&espv=2&biw=1366&bih=667&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=O2iJVY3AC9ewogTy4ozoAQ&ved=0CC4QsAQ

    It would seem that if the flag is removed, so should the flag pole be, as what other flag would be appropriate?  After all, “old Glory” would be weird in that context…. perhaps the “stars and bars” that was more commonly used as the official flag?

    Should all the memorials to confederate soldiers be removed?

    Would this have been less of an issue had the battle flag been lowered to half mast as the other flags have?

    1. David Greenwald

      I think the image wasn’t photoshopped but rather it was the angle that the photo was taken. Regardless, the image is meant to illustrate the flag, not represent the exact arrangement.

      1. hpierce

        David… unless the winds were very unusual, the flags could not be at the relative angles from the flagpoles shown.  It appears my link “failed”, but if you look at the on-line images, you’ll see what I mean.

  2. Frankly

    The media is a circus of puppets with strings pulled by one-sided politicos and the people are duped into participating in the show of stupid.

    The story and national dialog should be about mental health services.  It should be about 20 something young men that go off the rails.  It should be about family and friends notifying the authorities and the authorities having the ability to do something before there is a tragedy.

    But the media and the puppeteers know this would be hard work and would not play as well on the front page and out of the mouths of the bubbly talking heads.

    And so we participate in the show of stupid and debate a flag.

    And the politicos feel they win something and people feel like they accomplished something.

    Until the next tragedy when we will again participate in a show of stupid.

    1. Don Shor

      The story and national dialog should be about mental health services. It should be about 20 something young men that go off the rails. It should be about family and friends notifying the authorities and the authorities having the ability to do something before there is a tragedy.

      And it should be about the hate groups that those young men find online to support their paranoid, racist views. And it should be about those young men having access to guns.
      Interestingly, I’ve seen discussions about all those things in the media that I read and watch. Here was a recent example where panelists discussed several aspects of this event:
      The Confederate flag is a symbol, and sometimes symbolic actions can speak to what we, as a society, value. Removing it from a public place is a symbolic action, and is appropriate in the face of this tragedy. I really think David Brooks said it best on the News Hour:

      I’m for getting rid of the Confederate Flag on simple neighborliness grounds.
      If a group of people is offended by it, that should be enough. That should be enough. We are good citizens to each other and we do not (do) things that offend other people in symbolic ways.

        1. TrueBlueDevil

          Really? The KKK is a historic group, and it is often injected as a punch line or put down as if it still exists today and is some commentary about America or racism. Thank goodness former KKK members like Congressman Robert Byrd (D) have died off.

        2. Davis Progressive

          one thing i respect about byrd – he didn’t run from it or try to make excuses:

        3. hpierce

          Please remember, Don, the KKK is an equal opportunity hate group that goes beyond race, including religions. The KKK is more about insecurity/fear, and needing to get “potent”, to cure their real fear.

        4. Davis Progressive

          on the other hand byrd fillibustered the 1964 civil rights act, voted against thurgood marshall for supreme court and was in favor of the vietnam war.  he was definitely outside of the mainstream of democrats even as he became a leader in the senate.  most of his type would end up either being defeated electorally or switching to the republican party in the 70s and 80s.  so he was definitely an enigma.

        5. hpierce

          to DP’s post about Byrd voting against T Marshall… when he was nominated, I thought great, breaking race barriers… during his confirmation hearings, saw a lot of “baggage”, and started to think his “blackness” was the main qualification.  Almost to the point of wondering if TM was a “token”.  Have not been impressed with his performance once confirmed.  Not the best example I think you could have found.

        6. TrueBlueDevil

          DP, the Republican Party, the party that fought for the freedom of slaves, proposed the first civil rights act, which the Democrats blocked!

          “In 1963 President Kennedy urged Congress to pass a civil rights law to protect the constitutional rights that Southern state governments were violating. Republicans in both House and Senate overwhelmingly supported the bill, but many Democrats opposed it….The Republicans overwhelmingly opposed segregation,”

          Al Gore’s father and Bill Clinton’s mentors were allegedly segregationists… Democrats filibustered the Civil Rights Act for 57 days!

          Please, enough of the sanctimony.

        7. TrueBlueDevil

          DP: “(Senator Byrd, D, former KKK Grand Wizard) he was definitely outside of the mainstream of democrats even as he became a leader in the senate.”

          Actually, the Democratic Party was the party of slavery, segregation, and Jim Crow. See one link above.  

          Revisionist history doesn’t change what actually happened.

          Human Events: Democrats Should Know Jim Crow, They Created Him

          “When Bill Clinton was 18, his future vice president’s father, Sen. Al Gore Sr., was locked arm-in-arm with other segregationist Democrats to kill the Civil Rights act of 1964.  Clinton’s “mentor” and “friend,” klansman J. William Fulbright, joined the Dixiecrats, an ultra-segregationist wing of Democratic lawmakers, in filibustering the Civil Rights Act of 1957 and in killing the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

          “Clinton, now 64, in his dotage, probably forgot (or was too embarrassed) to mention to the far-Left crowd of youngsters that his party is the party of segregation.  Or as Congressman Jessie Jackson Jr. (D.-Ill.) explained in an interview with Fox News contributor Angela McGlowan in her bookBamboozled

          “There is no doubt that the Democratic Party is the party of the Confederacy, historically, that the Democratic Party’s flag is the Confederate flag.  It was our party’s flag.  That Jefferson Davis was a Democrat, that Stonewall Jackson strongly identified with the Democratic Party, that secessionists in the South saw themselves as Democrats and were Democrats.  That so much of the Democratic Party’s history, since it is our nation’s oldest political party, has its roots in slavery.”

        8. Davis Progressive

          the democratic party was the party of the confederacy and segregation, however, that began to change in 1932.  the new deal expanded the democratic base out of the south and slowly it began to change. by the 1950s and 1960s, the democratic party (at least in the north) led the way on desegregation efforts.  even in the 1930s, the southern democratics would join with the republicans to block new deal.  prominent southern politicians first thurmond and wallace started splitting away from the democratic party.  and nixon used the southern strategy to further that evolution.  it was a slow process but you can track it first at the national level in the 1960s as the south moved red in national elections and by 1994, red in congressional/ senatorial election.

          in the end, it’s really not a partisan issue – it’s a geographic sectarian issue.  southern politicians favored segregation and white supremacy.

        9. hpierce

          Has no-one remembered their history?  in 1860, there were two “Democratic Party”s, @ odds with each other.  The Republican party was nearly “brand-new” at that time.

          Thomas Jefferson owned slaves (and more than owned, in at least one case), and he was a “Democratic-Republican”.  Yet, he is famous for “all men are created equal, etc.).

          Then there were the ‘Dixie-crats’…

          When George Wallace was “in-play”, just like in the 1860’s, their was a huge rift in the “Democratic Party”. so huge he had to form the AIP to run for President.

          Perhaps it would be better to stick to concepts than labels.  Labels/words morph.  Faggot used to be a perfectly acceptable word, having nothing to do with sexual preference/orientation.  Same with gay. I probably could remember at least a dozen others.  Twain described a close, respectful relationship between Huck and Jim and used “the N word”.  Have seen little evidence that Twain (actually, Clemens) was rascist, but he was weaving his story in the cultural terms of the time.

          Am about 10% along the way to accepting Frankly’s “victim” philosophy.  We need to get over ourselves, say what we mean, and mean what we say.

          Labels (and all of the perjorative adjectives that often occur with them [let those who have ears, hear]) will not move “the ball down the field”.

        10. TrueBlueDevil

          Good points, hpierce, but given your post, I’m not sure if you’re supportive or not of Janet Napolitano’s new speech codes for the UC system.

        11. hpierce

          TBD, re: your 5:39 post…

          A) have not seen Napolitano’s (sp?) speech codes, and truly don’t care… no particular respect for her…

          B) if I had seen it, my reaction, would probably off-topic.

      1. ryankelly

        I wish the Vanguard had a like button.  I am in agreement with Don here.  A young musician was attacked, stabbed and his arm severely injured in Sacramento last weekend by a group of thugs who used homophobic slurs.  He is in the hospital recovering and, for now, cannot perform with his band.   It has been deemed a hate crime by police.  The musician’s offense?  Wearing skinny jeans.   This kind of random hatred and violence against others can’t be dismissed as mental illness, when there is so much out there that promotes these views, recruits members and supports their hateful actions.

      2. hpierce

        I do not disagree with your main thrust, but what if the “neighbors” are offended by the Star of David, the Cross, the Crescent, etc.?  What “symbols” (which may and do mean different things to different people) are OK, and which are not?  Vox populi?

  3. TrueBlueDevil

    Frankly makes a good point. We avoid many serious issues that affect our whole country, like a sputtering economy, high unemployment, and debt across the board.

    Three days ago, before everyone jumped on the bandwagon, Mitt Romney was one of the first to take a stand.

    Romney Twitter, June 20: “Take down the #ConfederateFlag at the SC Capitol. To many, it is a symbol of racial hatred. Remove it now to honor #Charleston victims.”

    June 18: “Heaven weeps again today, this time for God’s children killed in His Charleston house of prayer.”

    1. Davis Progressive

      it’s hard to argue that the issue of racism is not a serious and long lasting issue.  as david writes, we’ve never really reconciled our past, we’ve just kind of moved on and tried to forget it.  maybe that’s why the race issue remains so polarizing today.

      1. TrueBlueDevil

        Others argue that Democrats / Progressives are addicted to the topic, and given the failed economic policies, they prefer to trudge out “gotcha” issues like racism, gun control, and abortion.

        Never reconciled the past? Has he read the paper, watched TV, or listened to talk radio the past 30 years? It is an unending topic. He must be living in a silo somewhere.

        – President Bill Clinton had his blue panel commission on race – which was a one-sided panel with one token person from the right. From this came one suggestion regarding affirmative action, “Mend it, don’t end it”, if I am correct. BC panel is just one of countless discussions.

        – BTW, it’s not the President, Attorney General, and Joint Chief’s of Staff who are black in Argentina, Mexico, Canada, or France … its America!

        – I would not say we’ve tried to “forget it” when we have spent trillions of dollars trying to alleviate poverty, poor choices, racism, education, bad luck … but still the left wails, even though it is easy to argue that these social programs have caused more harm than good.

  4. hpierce

    Ah, racism is not ‘owned’ by whites… whenever a ‘person of color’ assumes that I have racial biases that affect how I act towards them, it is they who are ‘racist’.  I tend to respond to the old admonition, “that they all may be one”.  After all, we are all nominally of the human “race”.

    And yes, I know racism still exists, but much diluted over my lifetime.

  5. TrueBlueDevil

    FWIW, I continue to find that President Barack Obama adds little to these discussions and instead inflames the conversation in unneeded ways. He could help us heal and mend, but that doesn’t seem to be his approach.

    Yesterday in a podcast interview he used the “n word” – unneeded, superficial, not “cool”, not instructive. He continues to be divisive.

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