Battle flag backlash?

Something really unusual happened this afternoon.  I was headed back to my apartment when I met a pickup truck going the other direction with two ginormous banners fluttering from its back: Old Glory and a Confederate battle flag.  I’ve been running around Knoxville for a few decades now, but that was a first.

Come to think of it, I’ve basically spent my entire life in the South, and that was probably only the second or third pickup truck flying a ginormous Confederate flag I’ve ever seen, period.  People whose knowledge of the South is limited to pop culture and what they get from the news probably assume that pickup trucks flying big Confederate flags are ubiquitous down here, but my experience has been otherwise.  Pickups decked out with Confederate flag bumper stickers, novelty plates, decals, and the the like aren’t that uncommon, I guess, but huge, in-your-face flags on poles mounted in the bed are another matter entirely, especially in an urban setting like Knoxville.  Yet today somebody was driving around town with a pretty big Confederate flag flapping in the wind, in the midst of a national debate over that flag’s display.

Of course, one such sighting doesn’t amount to much, but there are other indications that the Confederate flag is becoming really popular all of a sudden.  I’ve always said that most southerners I know are neither strongly in favor of nor strongly opposed to the flag.  It’s just not the sort of thing that comes up in the day-to-day lives of most people.  It would therefore be really ironic if the recent groundswell of support for taking the flag down only ended up prompting a backlash, reversing what would have otherwise been the continuation of a long, slow, gradual decline in regional attachment to Confederate iconography.

Or maybe the uptick in sales noted in the article linked above is just so much statistical noise against a general backdrop of indifference or hostility to the flag on a regional or national scale.  Your guess is as good as mine.

In any case, my question for people who are suddenly rushing to defend southern heritage by buying Confederate flag merch is the same as it was a few days ago.  Wouldn’t southern heritage be better served if you devoted that energy and money to preserving historic sites and objects?


Filed under Civil War, History and Memory

11 responses to “Battle flag backlash?

  1. There have been rallies the last couple of weekends of trucks and vehicles like the one you saw, promoted through social media. It’s a response to the removal of the flag in Columbia and other places.

  2. Absolutely, the energy should go into saving our monuments. What’s going on these days, most recently, is coming at lightning speed and very scary. I just discovered my own Southern roots. In fact, Knoxville plays a large part, considering it was the former capitol of Tennessee and where my sixth great-grandfather resided for a time. I have not even been there, yet, but I do pray all will be as it is by the time I make it there.

    • Michael Lynch

      Advocating for the criminalization of private speech is, to put it mildly, a bit over the top. The Bill of Rights has served us pretty well for the past couple hundred years; I see no reason to toss it out in the case of people who display controversial symbols on their own property.

      • Richard Williams

        What about the banning of CBF’s on graves of Confederate soldiers such as the ones at Arlington National Cemetery? That’s being proposed in Congress.

        • Michael Lynch

          As I’ve said before, I have no objection to the use of the Confederate battle flag on Confederate graves or at certain Civil War sites and memorials. In fact, I didn’t see any substantial reason to remove the flags from Lee Chapel. There are contexts where I personally don’t find the display of the CBF inappropriate. I don’t think a state capitol is the best place for the CBF, but I think it’s quite reasonable to allow it at Confederate burial sites.

  3. Richard Williams

    As we’re seeing, the uproar of our symbolism and Nation’s history is not stopping with Confederate imagery. That’s simply the low-hanging fruit. We’re on the proverbial slippery slope.

  4. Richard Williams

    Sorry, should read “over” our symbolism.

  5. Jimmy Dick

    If people want to fly the CBF and show they are a racist to the world, more power to them. The other choice is they are ignorant. In many cases it is both. I think the decades of lies from the heritage people are catching up with them.

    • Michael Lynch

      I don’t think everybody who flies a CBF is racist or is doing so for racist reasons, but folks who choose to fly the flag should realize that it has inescapably racist associations for many people. You might be using it to express pride in your ancestry, attachment to region, or general sympathy with rebellion against authority, but that doesn’t mean people are going to take it the way you intend. The CBF has a history of association with racism, and you risk being taken for a racist if you use it.

      In other words, I fully accept that a person might be using the symbol for non-racist reasons, but given that symbol’s origin and history, I don’t think that person should be quick to blame those who see them using the CBF and assume they’re racist.

      If you use a symbol loaded with unpleasant meanings, you’re going to get associated with those meanings.

      • Jimmy Dick

        Exactly. However, many who do fly it are racist. If people want a symbol to express their ideas of rebellion, then they can make a new symbol. Stealing someone else’s symbol does not give their ideas legitimacy which is what is going on with many symbols of the past these days.
        If people want to fly a CBF, then they will be seen as racist and labelled as such. They can make a different symbol, but they want that particular one. Okay, enjoy the baggage that goes with it.

        What I usually find with anyone flying that CBF is that they explicitly reject the idea that the Civil War was caused by slavery. So that takes us right back to racist or ignorant.

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