Why You Can’t Separate The Confederate Flag from its History

Here’s a blog post from Jarret Ruminski, Ph.D., on how the confederate battle flag can’t be separated from its racial history.

That Devil History

An Army of Tennessee Confederate Battle Flag. This is image is historically linked to the preservation of slavery, no matter what other symbolisms later generations have attached to it. An Army of Tennessee Confederate Battle Flag. This image is historically linked to the preservation of slavery, no matter what other meanings later generations have attached to it.

The Confederate battle flag inspires, shall we say, some passionate opinions among different groups of Americans. To a particularly weird contingent of neo-Confederate apologists, including the various branches of the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV), the flag symbolizes “Loving the South and defending its culture, symbols and heritage.” These groups go out of their way to separate the Rebel flag from its historical associations with slavery and racism and claim that the emblem merely represents their love of all-things Dixie. To other groups, however, especially African-Americans, the Confederate flag is a historic symbol that invokes the legacy of slavery and racism that defined the American South for generations.

So who’s in the right here? Does the Rebel flag today merely serve as a…

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49 comments

  1. His use of the prejudicial term “historically illiterate Bubbas” in the second paragraph rendered the rest of his essay not worthy of reading and consideration. He’s already announced that his position is not objective.

    1. Actually, Connie, he’s writing about his position after he came to it based on looking at the facts. Once again, your lack of understanding of the process is again highlighted by your own words.

      1. I understand what he did, Al, and his prejudicial language renders his objectivity and credibility in the cellar. You don’t see it because you are in agreement with his prejudice.

        1. His language indicates that he has developed a good understanding of many groups.

          1. Many? In that paragraph and sentence, he singled out one group and attempted not only to smear them with his opinion, but to sway others with his namecalling. It was prejudicial and bigoted.

          2. Very many. Just because he singled out one representative group doesn’t mean anything. It was accurate.

        2. Following that logic, Connie should remind her readers to stop reading after the first sentence….

          1. They want bias.

    2. You do realize that this puts you in the position of reminding us that you live in a glass house. Now throw some more rocks.

      1. So? I’m not a historian. Don’t claim to be. I make no secret of having an agenda. But if you claim to be a historian, and and you write stuff that announces your bias, prejudice and bigotry about certain groups, there’s a very good probability that your writings about history will also fall victim to your bias, and can’t be trusted to be objective.

        1. So then you admit that anything you write isn’t worth reading because you’re biased?

          1. Jimmy Dick · ·

            SNAP!

          2. Nope, I haven’t admitted any such thing. I was speaking of historians. I’m not a historian. I do write with an agenda. I thought you knew.

          3. So then you’re saying you’re a hypocrite. Okay.

          4. Why, no, Al, that’s not what I’m saying, and you’re intelligent enough to know it — which makes your statement disingenuous. But since you are pretending to need it spelled out … what I’m saying is that someone who claims to be a legitimate, professional historian should be held to standards that are different from — higher and more stringent than — those for a retired insurance secretary blogger, capisce? This has been discussed before. http://mybacksass.blogspot.com/2011/08/coreys-back-for-more.html According to the dictionary definition, I’m a historian. But I don’t “do history for a living,” as presumably Mr. Ruminski does, or has done, which means he does, or should, adhere to a higher standard of objectivity.

            I have never claimed to be objective. I have said flatout I have an agenda.
            //mybacksass.blogspot.com/2012/12/pusillanimous-pooltroons.html

            But if you’re palming yourself off as a legitimate, professional historian, name-calling such as he has done undermines objectivity and believability. (Except, of course, for those who share the bias, such as yourself.)

          5. I understand completely, Connie. Do what you say, not what you do.

          6. No, Al, you don’t understand. You deliberately misunderstand.

          7. Or, perhaps more accurately, Connie, you don’t understand.

  2. Pat Eakin · · Reply

    Al, I see that Jarret Ruminski has a Phd in American history, and the experts that Connie relies on do not. That same thing happens to me when I try to debate neoConfederates.

    1. To be fair, Clyde Wilson has a Ph.D. in History, Pat. Of course, he has another problem that neoconfederates have, one that we’ll discuss in the not-too-distant future. 🙂

    2. Pat Eakin, my problem is not with his history education but with his use stereotyping and prejudicial language.

      1. Perhaps his slur was annoying, but that doesn’t mean you get to say “Wee! I’m off the hook! I don’t have to read anymore!” Um, no. Not unless you just don’t want to know. Anyone who’s interested in a debate glides past a minor irritation like that to see if the writer’s argument makes any sense. Then decide. But to say, “he’s biased so I don’t have to understand his argument” is just silly. I despise the bias of Thomas DiLorenzo, but I read his arguments because I need to know what they are if I want to refute them. (Although I avoid actually buying his books because it’s the most expensive toilet paper I’ve ever seen. [H/T Jimmy D.])

        Maybe that’s the problem, then, Connie: you can’t refute his facts or his argument, so you deny he has any worth reading.

        For my part, I thought it was an accurate, well-written essay on the controversy of the CBF.

        1. It’s not a minor irritation. It’s a telltale sign of the author’s prejudice and bigotry, and for me, that makes me suspect that those mindsets influences what he writes. As for his arguments, I’ve encountered them over and over for years, and I am cognizant of why I reject what I reject.

          1. Well, how convenient.

  3. Hi from one of those weird contingent folks your phd and you describe. my o my labeling, name calling, [edit] with a one-sided point of view you all have. What a dirty rotten shame we have those people in our education system who never make such a big deal about slaves for over 200 years under the Stars and Stripes flag that brought him here to begin with is never mentioned. At least Some of those slaves had the advantage of living in the Southern Bible Belt culture and the Confederate Flag.

    1. Longtime no see, Ms. Bass. Nice to see you posting under your actual name for a change. You certainly have a one-sided point of view, so if it’s a bad thing, then perhaps you ought to heal yourself first. You should go back to class because your view of history is riddled with errors. In the first place, slaves were brought to North America under the British, Portuguese, and Spanish flags to begin with. When slaves were first brought here the Stars and Stripes didn’t exist. Secondly, if slavery existed for 200 years under the Stars and Stripes it would have ended in 1976. Thirdly, I’ve taken a few history classes in my day, and every one of them that discussed American History talked about slavery in Colonial America and in the United States before and during the Civil War. Thanks for proving my point and Dr. Ruminski’s point about some folks being historically illiterate.

  4. Hi, from one of the weird contingent folks. Everyone is getting really tired of this constant one sided bashing of the People’s Confederate Flag. What you see has so many missing parts and holes in it and just to name one that you refuse to see It was the people’s heart in that flag when they were digging those cold potatoes out of the ground to keep from starving under the USA Flag. It is the people power that you want to crush. As usual you skirted my real points and managed to make a whole paragraph and say nothing. I see the same thing on blogs where people are correcting somebodies spelling, while they lightly skip over the meat of the matter, and never answer a question. You make it clear that The Target to hit with a mean spirit is the SCV and all Southern Confederate Americans just like I said so why mention the USA Stars and Stripes at all. 150 years or 200 years, What difference does it make everybody knows it is so. It is really hard to respect what you all write when you ignore the facts about the USA Flag while like a bully constantly pound away at the Confederate Flag. I feel you are being grossly unfair and bigoted and not deserving of the paper you and your phd write on. Why not put on your blog a comparison of each Flag in the context your phd friend wrote? That would be a worthy project. that a creditable person as yourself could undertake and would show you are at least being evenhanded in your approach.

    1. Hello, Ms. Bass. Since there’s no such thing as a “people’s confederate flag,” then there’s no bashing of it. Additionally, there’s no such thing as a southern confederate American. Sorry, but I don’t deal in the delusions of others. Nobody is ignoring anything about the US Flag, but when your history is flawed it has to be corrected. When you make accurate statements we’ll deal with those. 150 years would put the end of slavery at 1926, so your history is still pretty poor, which reflects badly on your judgment about what is fair and unfair in this case.

  5. Thanks for re-blogging the post, Al. Regarding the issue of blaming the United States for slavery: historians have written exhaustively on this topic. I’ve covered it on several past posts on my blog, including this post: http://thatdevilhistory.wordpress.com/2013/10/21/slaverys-legacy-why-race-matters-in-america/.

    So the idea that historians don’t assign a fair amount of “blame” to the U.S. for slavery is utter nonsense and demonstrates that people who make such a claim have not read the wealth of historical scholarship produced over the last FIFTY years or so.

    Secondly, to Josephine’s point: “It is really hard to respect what you all write when you ignore the facts about the USA Flag while like a bully constantly pound away at the Confederate Flag.” This is a version of the “two wrongs make a right argument.” As I noted in my post, the U.S. Constitution was indeed a pro-slavery document. But what makes the Confederacy unique is the the fact that it tried to end the sectional debates over slavery by creating a new country in which slavery would be legally defended forever. That’s called being on the wrong side of history, and the Confederacy is guilty-as-charged.

    One of the tiring things about having any discussions about the Rebel flag’s legacy is that neo-Confederates don’t do primary research. Notice how in my post I highlight sections from the Confederate Constitution to show how it explicitly defended slavery. Further, in other posts, I’ve covered the Southern Secession commissioners who flocked across the South in 1860-61 to convince border South states to secede alongside the Deep South. Their speeches were FILLED with vile, white supremacist rhetoric, and they made clear that the Confederacy was formed to protect slavery. Mississippi secession commissioner William Harris,for example, told a Georgia audience that, “Our fathers made this government for the white man, rejecting the negro, as an ignorant, inferior, barbarian race.” This new [Lincoln] administration comes into power, under the solemn pledge to overturn and strike down this great feature of our Union…and to substitute in its stead their new theory of the universal equality of the black and white races.”

    It’s this kind of primary source rhetoric that neo-Confederates just don’t talk about. Read more at my previous post: http://thatdevilhistory.wordpress.com/2013/10/10/big-government-and-race-an-american-saga/. And if you want full transcriptions of the secession commissioners’ speeches, see this sight: http://civilwarcauses.org/commish.htm or read Chrles Dew’s book, “Apostles of Disunion: Southern Secession Commissioners and the Causes of the Civil War” (University of Virginia Press).

    Finally, regarding my calling SCV-types “historically illiterate bubbas.” Perhaps I’m guilty of a bit of crassness there. On the other hand, if the shoe fits, I’m not afraid to make the wearer try on the right size.

    Thanks again for the cross-post, Al.

    – Jarret Ruminski

    1. You’re very welcome, Jarret. You’re absolutely right that neoconfederates don’t get into the primary sources. Perhaps we should more accurately say they don’t get into the complete primary source record. I second your recommendation of Charles Dew’s Apostles of Disunion. It’s an outstanding piece of scholarship. Neoconfederates tend to ignore it. Another excellent letter highlighted by Dew is Alabama Secession Commissioner Stephen Hale’s letter to Kentucky Governor Beriah Magoffin. He’s very clear about what the confederacy was all about. Probably 99% of neoconfederates have never heard of it.

      1. Oh yes, the Hale letter is excellent, and I believe it’s in Dew’s book as well. By the way, you have a great blog and I’ve added it to my blogroll. Regarding my own writing: I blog in my spare time and I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not afraid to express political opinions when it comes to history. But I certainly don’t mind when readers disagree with me either, since (reasonable) debate is fun most of the time.

        1. Thanks for the kind words and adding this to your blog roll. I try to post on a regular basis if I can. Disagreement is okay with me, though I do tend to lose patience with neoconfederates rather quickly.

          1. Now THAT is the hilarious understatement of the day!

    1. Another neoconfederate idiot who is too stupid to carry on an adult conversation crawls out of the slime. Back in the slime he goes.

  6. jfepperson · · Reply

    Here’s my take on all this: If the SCV and UDC had loudly condemned things like the Dixiecrats’ use of the CBF in 1948, or the Klan’s use of it in the 50s and 60s (and 70s, 80s, 90s, …), or its use in countless protests against school and college integration, they might have a leg to stand on in saying the flag simply represents the noble and bedraggled soldier in butternut rags, etc. But they didn’t object to any of those things, in fact they embraced the use of the CBF as a symbol of those opposed to segregation. Regardless of arguments about historical context and historical issues, the very people who are complaining now are responsible for the tarnishing of that flag. “As you sow, so shall ye reap.” And they have reaped a whirlwind which they do not like. Should have thought about that back in 1948, folks…

    1. Jimmy Dick · · Reply

      Notice how the SCV and UDC fail to remove the KKK and white nationalists from their ranks today?

      1. The SCV embraces them. I don’t recall seeing the UDC embrace them, though. I think I would need to have evidence to include the UDC.

        1. jfepperson · · Reply

          I don’t think the UDC embraces them today (they used to, in the past). I don’t think they are very outspoken in condemning them.

      2. BorderRuffian · · Reply

        JD-
        “Notice how the SCV and UDC fail to remove the KKK and white nationalists from their ranks today?”

        AM-
        “The SCV embraces them.”

        There may be some KKK or white nationalists in the SCV but I don’t see them being “embraced.”

        The NEA probably has an assortment of Marxists, Maoists and other leftist kooks. Have they been denounced? They may even have a few KKK and white nationalists in their ranks.

        1. A perfect example of what passes for logic among neoconfederates.

          We know for a fact that there are KKK and white nationalists in the ranks of the SCV. We know this because of things those particular people have written. They’ve been public about their views, and the SCV has previously put them in high positions.

          You daydream about the political ideologies you believe are held by certain people with no proof whatsoever and you try to equate that with 21st Century white supremacists. You people are a trip.

        2. Jimmy Dick · · Reply

          I just love the communism thing. It is so Cold War. I’d like to point out that the Cold War ended in 1991. The world has moved on. The communism thing isn’t a big deal anymore. It only matters to a small select group that doesn’t even understand what it is.

          1. Especially trying to equate those who hold a particular political ideology with those who hold what in the 21st Century is widely held as an immoral viewpoint–without any evidence, of course, that anyone who holds that ideology is actually in the forenamed group. “At long last, have you no decency?” I had a couple of Marxist professors in college, and I would rather associate with them than several neoconfederates I’ve run into along the way. The Marxists at least were honest, even if they were wrong.

  7. Michael Rodgers · · Reply

    Neoconfederates wish to display the Confederate flag as a trademark of their imagined society and wish to make new Confederate flags and spread them everywhere, to mark their territory and to connect with some people — and disconnect from others — culturally and politically for unclear — or clearly ridiculous — future purposes. To neoconfederates, the Confederate flag is about an imagined future that belongs to them.

    Historians wish to display the Confederate flag as an artifact of an important historical period and wish to preserve old Confederate flags and display them in the context of the Civil War, to remember this historic period and to connect all people historically to the important service and sacrifice of soldiers in the past. To historians, the Confederate flag is about a real past that belongs to all.

    Neoconfederates take, historians give.

    1. If I am a neo-Confederate, Mr. Rodgers, your description of my “wishes” is completely erroneous. It’s probably wrong about the wishes of a lot of “neo-Confederates.” From the little I’ve seen of you, mostly on comment threads, you seem to share the mentality that all “neo-Confederates” are clones who all think and believe the same thing, have the same aspirations, the same life-experiences, the same personal perceptions. And I can”t help but wonder what you base it on. How many “neo-Confederates” do you know, and how have you come by your knowledge of their “wishes.”?

      1. Michael Rodgers · · Reply

        Hahahaha! Whoo! completely? #notallneoconfederates? What specifically is erroneous, anything at all, nothing? You don’t wish have new Confederate flags made and displayed? I’ve described different groups of neo-confederates: those like you who are doing what they’re doing for unclear purposes and those like the LOS who are doing what they are doing for clearly ridiculous purposes.

        I live in South Carolina. I’ve also met many neoconfederates from out of state, including Hunter Wallace, Kirk Lyons, H. K. Edgerton, and these charming fellows, as you can see in the video.

        1. Seriously, Mr. Rodgers? You’ve visited, and presumably read, my blog, and you didn’t get a glimmer of my wishes? You think they’re unclear? Perhaps I should write a blog post specifically about that, and type real slow, so folks can get it…. Of course, if you’re determined to misunderstand, or to hold onto your preconceived notions, all the clarification in the world won’t help.

          1. Michael Rodgers · ·

            Is this better?

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