I’ve written about the Confederate Battle Flag before but I don’t think I’ve written about when and where one ought to fly it. Brooks Simpson asked that, at least implicitly, in the post I wrote in response to yesterday. That comes to mind especially as I’ve followed the comic saga of the Virginia Flaggers, a group devoted to the strange position that Virginia wants to suppress and deny its Confederate history. One would think people who lived in Virginia knew better. After various defeats, they leased some private land by a freeway south of Richmond where they now fly their flag. Many of the bloggers I’ve read on the subject could not contain their awe at the flagger’s triumph. You can read all about it here. Andy Hall even gave them an apology. He, like probably everybody commenting, assumed they might be effective. I know that I did. Shows us, right?
But yahoos aside, where should one display that flag? To my knowledge, Germany does fairly well at answering the same question of its own troubled banner with “nowhere.” I don’t know all the details, but apparently any kind of Nazi emblem or memorabilia can only be displayed in proper historical context per German law. I don’t endorse importing that law and fining or arresting people for waiving Confederate flags, but the idea behind it seems like a good one for any historical symbols. They ought to go up and remain up where they aid in modern understanding of events, where they existed at the time, and so forth. If a battlefield marks Confederate positions with flags, or they fly from memorials to Confederate units, provided those are the correct flags for the era, that sounds fine to me. Flying it over historical buildings preserved as museums of the time also fits.
Flying the flag over current government buildings involves different issues, as the flag largely departed those buildings in 1865 or earlier. It came back to fight against Civil Rights and Jim Crow’s diehard supporters made that very clear. Continued display in that vein does tell a story about the past and the present, but in a very different way. That flag declares for White Supremacy and proclaims it the policy of the government. That it remains gives the impression to a fair observer that the policy commitment also endures. Sometimes, if not as often as it used to, it really does endure. I’d like to see the lot of those taken down. Put the originals under glass and display them in a museum about the Civil Rights Movement or American racism. They belong there. They do not belong flying over buildings in any government committed to serving all its people, regardless of the color of their skin. Nor do they belong flying ominously outside historically black churches.
I did not pull that example from thin air. One of the Virginia Flaggers went to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s church to show his flag. Over at CW Memory, Kevin Levin has the picture. When you bring the slavery and Jim Crow banner to display outside a church at the center of the Civil Rights Movement, it makes a statement about Southern heritage that viewers have little trouble understanding. It doesn’t quite reach the level of brandishing James Earl Ray’s gun, which would be hard to get, or wearing his face inside a heart on a t-shirt, but the content differs little. Would a white hood have been too on the nose?
Outside proper historical contexts, I have trouble seeing why one would even want to fly that flag unless they understand themselves as carrying on the politics that brought Confederate flags out of the attics in the middle decades of the twentieth century. Heritage? I would think that includes more than four years of war 150 years ago even if one’s idea of national heritage only includes the former major slave states…a problematic situation in itself.