Guest Editorial: History of Confederate flag stirs debate

Recently Lexington, Va., passed an ordinance that banned using the Confederate flag on city poles in response to Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell’s declaration of a Confederate history month last year.

It’s insane to think that more than 150 years since the U.S. Civil War ended, the flag is still a controversial issue, but its usage since the conclusion of the War is actually at the center of the debate.

To some, such as student Adam Greenman, it “shows my freedom to defend myself, to live free.”

To others it stands for states’ rights. This shows how the flag’s proponents have conveniently ignored whose freedoms it represented, and which states’ rights it blocked at the expense of others.

The ambivalent treatment of issues of race in America has blurred the historical significance of the Confederate flag.

In recent history, it was a rag waved by white parents and students who feared integration in their classrooms.

They wanted freedom from the “northern imposed” desegregation policies that were ordered by the Supreme Court in 1968.

For our parents, who were probably just entering high school around the time, it still wouldn’t have been weird – depending on what region they are from – to hear of facilities that continued to keep people of color out.

Many of those who support the flag also insist that the Civil War had been about states’ rights the whole time and this is precisely what the flag represents. Yes, it was.

It was a particular case of how the southern states believed they had the right to preserve slavery as a legal institution. Article I and IV of the Confederate Constitution elaborated how “no law denying or impairing the right of property in negro slaves shall be passed.”

Indeed, South Carolina, Georgia, and Mississippi pointed out in their secession statements that it was about slavery. As Mississippi’s declaration read, “…our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery – the greatest material interest of the world.”

This is not to say that those who sport the Confederate flag or hang it from their dorm windows have a racist political agenda.

Adam is most likely far from being a white supremacist, and I have plenty of “redneck” friends who don’t see anything wrong with the symbol.

But am I being too uptight when I say that they should be more critical of the claims that historical revisionists put out about the Civil War?

Is it also too much to ask that there should be a degree of repulsion to a flag that has consistently represented Black oppression since its inception in 1860?

TOM STILLER

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