Racial Violence, History, and the Debate over the Confederate Flag

By Vikki Bynum
As a historian, I have long regretted the widespread popularity of a flag that represents the cause of Southern secession during the American Civil War, and which was flown in defense of racial segregation during the Civil Rights Era. In the wake of Dylann Roof’s massacre of nine African-American men and women while they worshipped in the historic Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, South Carolina, we have learned that the Confederate Flag was a favored symbol of the racial hatred that burns within Roof’s heart. His horrifying crime, in turn, quickly reinvigorated the long debate over whether that flag should continue to fly over state buildings in South Carolina and other southern states.

I am well aware of the “heritage” argument against removal of the Confederate flag, particularly the insistence by many that the flag commemorates the brave soldiers who fought for the Southern Cause, and that it has nothing to do with slavery. My own Mississippi ancestors were among those soldiers, and I’m sure that they were brave. In no way do I mean to dishonor them or diminish their sacrifices.

But I also know that my Southern ancestors, even those who owned slaves, may not have realized the full extent to which the war was indeed about the preservation of slavery. They likely believed more broadly, as political leaders assured them, that secession would preserve Southern honor and the Southern way of life, a life threatened by an aggressive Northern juggernaut determined to transform (and ultimately destroy) their world. They wouldn’t be the first or last soldiers to believe the jingoistic rhetoric of politicians bent on war.

As long as the argument about secession (and the flag) is framed as an ideological dispute among white men, the above statement will ring true to many. It’s when we include the “others” of society—most pointedly, but not exclusively, people of color—that the argument breaks down. For what was the “Southern Way of Life” based on, if not slavery?  It was slave labor that built the cotton kingdom that underlay plantation society, and it was also slavery that kept the South overwhelmingly rural, a necessary condition for the livelihoods of small farmers and Piney Woods herders.

Racism was at the core of this way of life. I’m talking about the bred-in-the-bones belief among most nineteenth-century Southern and Northern whites that people of African ancestry were genetically inferior and decreed by God to serve them—if not as slaves then as poorly paid laborers. As several essays on this blog demonstrate, in the South violence underlay slavery as a system of control, just as after the war it would underlay racial segregation.

To be sure, not all white Southerners believed that the slaveholding class represented their best interests; some even opposed slavery. And, especially among common farmers, there were those who blamed slave-based commercial agriculture rather than the North for the monopolization of lands and forests that propelled generation after generation of them to migrate to the Southwest. Mississippi’s Free State of Jones and the East Texas Big Thicket’s “jayhawkers” represent those farmers and herdsmen who opposed secession and deserted the Confederacy when the “rich man’s war” threatened to destroy not only their “way of life,” but their very lives.

Were these Unionist white Southerners nonetheless racist? Most probably were. Did they support equality of opportunity for former slaves after the war? Most did not. Hear the words of Colonel Samuel Thomas, assistant commissioner of the Freedmen’s Bureau, as he struggled in 1865 to bring order to Reconstruction Mississippi: white people, he wrote, “still have the ingrained feeling that black people at large still belong to white people at large. . . . To kill a Negro they do not deem murder, to debauch a Negro woman they do not think fornication [or rape!].” That same year, North Carolina district superintendent Clinton A. Cilley lamented that, were it not for the Freedmen’s Bureau, “blacks would be no better off than before the war.”*

Like Dylann Roof today, many whites believed in the wake of Confederate defeat that blacks were taking over “THEIR” country.  Like him, they also believed that black men desired nothing more than to rape white women, although Col. Thomas’s remarks make clear that white men’s rape of women of color was the far more common crime.

As I wrote in 2010, “It is not surprising that Southern white men, especially former slaveholders, would rage against their loss of political authority and racial dominance.”* That sense of loss continues today in different yet historically-related ways for all too many Americans, and it is far more deeply-rooted than the mere removal of a Confederate flag can ever rectify. And, yet, that same flag symbolizes a sanitized and historically inaccurate version of the Civil War that has stood for far too long. Its removal could provide a useful starting point for a dialogue grounded in history rather than heritage.

*quoted from The Long Shadow of the Civil War, pp. 59-60

confederate flag

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36 replies »

  1. Dear Professor Bynum: As Jon Stewart said recently of the South Carolina murders by a hate-filled White supremacist, “it’s black and white”, but the Civil War was not Black and White. Whites of the South did not think and behave in a way that matches the simple pop-history model. Reading your book; I expect to finish it. Your application of history here is fresh — grazie Tom Doody middle-age American living in New Jersey near the Lincoln Tunnel

  2. As I visited with my brother last night he shared a question posed to him by his 12 year old daughter…who is wise beyond her years. After questions and answers concerning the Confederate flag she asked “then how do you think Native Americans feel every time they see the American flag?” For me that question certainly sheds a different light on the subject. I am totally in favor of retiring the Confederate flag to a museum as I will never be convinced that the motivation for keeping it is anything other than an attitude that should also be placed in a museum.

    • Thanks, Chuck.
      Indeed, what a thoughtful remark by your niece.

      There are so many aspects of our past that need to be faced honestly. I’m not for banning or obliterating the material evidence of our past, but I too favor its display in accurate historical context.

      Vikki

  3. This controversy over the confederate flag reminds me of Isis . Getting rid of anything you don’t like with total disregards for the feelings of others. If you disagree your automatically labeled racist so I’m probably banned .have a nice day

    • Removing the Confederate flag from state buildings–where it never should have flown in the first place–hardly amounts to a ban. Nor does pointing out the racist history of the Confederate flag amount to “automatically” labeling those who defend its presence as racist. Such people may indeed be racist, or they may merely be ill-informed as to its history.

  4. Here we go again. You must be stupid/ ill informed / agree with me or get labeled. I am direct decedent of the chain family. Some fought for the south ,some for the north. I respect all of them. I see mobb rule becoming the norm and its disturbing. We can’t do anything about the past ,if we could I would be the first to try. Today is what matters. Is this helping? Cleansing the earth of the confederate flag? Is this tolerance ? Or is this dividing Americans ? We need to try to come together because real trouble is coming.

    • Billie,

      “Ill-informed” is not tantamount to calling people “stupid”, as your latest remark implies. Everyone is ill-informed until they study an issue with a willingness to challenge cherished myths.

      In fact, your language in general is inflammatory: “mob rule” if we dare to remove a symbol from government institutions that has long been used—openly—to advocate racial segregation and white supremacy? “Cleansing the earth” of the Confederate flag? I’ve written nothing that advocates that on this blog—I used the flag itself to illustrate this post.

      I’m a historian who values the preservation of ALL artifacts of our history. But as a historian, I’m also offended by the misuse of those artifacts.

      “Is this tolerance?” you write. I think Americans have tolerated the misuse of the Confederate flag long enough. We’re “dividing Americans” you say. That’s exactly what flying the Confederate flag over a building that is supposed to serve ALL citizens has done in some states for more than a century. So, just what is your version of “coming together”? For those who have tolerated it all their lives to simply continue doing so?

      “Trouble is coming,” you say. I say trouble is here, and has been for a long time. It’s only when we confront trouble that real progress in human relations may occur.

      Vikki

  5. Vikki,
    I must say, what’s on my mind about this people have their rights and boy do they want them, but is this truly the way or just a stipulation to please. While I Don’t Hold with slavery I do agree it is the heritage of the south Vikki. I think the black community needs to take a look too their not the only discriminated race as the Native American can tell you, but this goes even further as the founding fathers and yes, even owned slaves so this isn’t just a southern issue it’s an American issue. But when is enough . do we ban all flags because someone don’t like it or just tolerate it Our history has many ups and down and we need to look at all not just some or the misuse of it by deranged individuals and hate groups. Well Probably said, too much but these things are on my mind . if nothing else seek God Before all

    Dale

    • Thanks for contributing your thoughts on this subject, Dale.

      You ask “is this truly the way or just a stipulation to please.” Anyone who thinks that simply removing Confederate flags will solve our nation’s deep racial problems is just plain naive. But that’s not what I hear people saying. As I suggested in my essay, removal of the flag from government property COULD be a starting point for a dialogue about its history as a hateful symbol not just of slavery, but of segregation and white supremacy as well. I agree that many of our political leaders are jumping on the flag removal bandwagon because they want to “please” certain constituencies. Shame on them if that’s their only reason, but it doesn’t change the fact that those flags have no business being flown over State Houses.

      As for your second point, that “the black community needs to take a look” at other groups that have suffered discrimination, such as Native Americans, what makes you think they haven’t? It’s a general truism that we all need to look for contradictions between we say and what we do, but that is certainly not limited to any one group, nor does it address the particular problem of the Confederate flag.

      Absolutely I agree with you that slavery was an American problem, as is racism in general. That’s why addressing the symbolism of the Confederate flag could be very useful. That flag is a popular cultural item among racists all over the United States! Of course we shouldn’t ban it, but we can—and should—refuse to sanction its sorry history of hate messages by displaying it on government property.

      Having said the above, let me also say a few words about the flag and “heritage.” I am not criticizing people who honor their Confederate ancestors’ service in the Civil War—my own great-grandfather was a Confederate soldier—and if they want to do so by displaying Confederate flags, that’s their business. And just as we’re urged to do today, we should recognize the sacrifices of all soldiers who fight for their country. That does not mean that we must honor the cause for which they are ordered to fight, however.

      The Confederate flag has a vital place in the heritage of the South with “all its ups and downs,” as you put it. But I hope we also remember that a flag representative of the “Lost Cause” of slavery is not the flag that represents the interests of most African Americans or, for that matter, reflects the choices made by Southern Unionists who remained loyal to the government of the United States.

      Vikki

  6. Vikki, Thanks for your coherent replies. You maintain your composure and eloquence much more gracefully than I!

  7. Vikki, I enjoyed your informed essay and your thoughtful replies in the comments. And I look forward to hearing you on the radio this afternoon.

  8. Vikki,

    Great interview… nice to put a voice with a face with a blog….keep up the good work!

    Chuck

    • Thank you for listening, Chuck! I really enjoyed meeting and talking with the Rag Radio people; I’ll be posting photos and the podcast soon.

      Vikki

  9. I believe if more ‘white folks’ had some idea of what the Confederacy was really like and what really went on in the Civil War vs. Lost Cause Mythology created AFTER the Civil War by the Daughters of the Confederacy and others, then far fewer would see the Battle Flag as a symbol of “Southern Pride”.

    I love the South……but there are so many reasons to love the South that have nothing to do with ‘that flag’.

    Read David Williams book “Bitterly Divided”…..man if even 25-50% of that book is accurate…….it sure takes the wind out of the Lost Cause Mythology!

    Randy

    • Hi Randy,

      Great to hear from you. I too love the South, but, yes, the Myth of the Lost Cause is just that—a myth. And I am a great fan of David Williams’ work!
      Vikki

      • New American Standard Bible
        “He who kidnaps a man, whether he sells him or he is found in his possession, shall surely be put to death.”

        Exodus 21:16

        You know it would be kind of hard to get a chattel Transatlantic Slave Trade off the ground with that one!

        “The African role in the slave trade was fully understood and openly acknowledged by many African-Americans even before the Civil War. For Frederick Douglass, it was an argument against repatriation schemes for the freed slaves. “The savage chiefs of the western coasts of Africa, who for ages have been accustomed to selling their captives into bondage and pocketing the ready cash for them, will not more readily accept our moral and economical ideas than the slave traders of Maryland and Virginia,” he warned. “We are, therefore, less inclined to go to Africa to work against the slave trade than to stay here to work against it.”…..Henry Louis Gates Jr. from “Ending the Slavery Blame Game” published in NY Times

        But the Bible says that blacks were cursed?…..well not in Hebrew it didn’t!

        http://bmcr.brynmawr.edu/2004/2004-02-53.html

        “In a work particularly valuable for its comprehensiveness and philology, Goldenberg’s research is monumental; the writing is clear as a bell; the arguments are not only cogent, but honest. Indeed, the book, to my knowledge, has no parallel in the scholarly literature and fills a real void.1 To top it off, the tone of the book is not only lucid and unpolemical, it is modest. Modest!? When last did I read an author admitting (187) “When I first dealt with the text I was not sure”? In short, this is a wonderful book and I hope that it finds many readers.”

        Then there’s the issue of free blacks in the south who owned slaves (quite a few in New Orleans according to the late Duke U. scholar John Hope Franklin) and how many people know maybe 1 to 1.25 million Europeans where kidnapped into the Islamic slave trade in North Africa from places as remote as Iceland between the middle of the 16th and 18th centuries?

        My point:….I have no special love for the Confederate flag but digging up Nathan Bedford Forrest is NOT going to fix anything. In fact it’s going in the opposite direction. If we are going to have the truth….we need the whole truth.

        Chattel forced slavery is not a white sin…a black sin….a northern sin….a southern sin…..it’s a human sin.

        Oh and you might want to read this:

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nathan_Bedford_Forrest#Speaks_to_black_Southerners

        Nathan Bedford Forrest attempted to abolish the original KKK in 1869…so why did we have a 2nd and then 3rd version (after WWII) of the Klan later?

        In Arkansas a group of former slaves and pro Union whites assembled by Governor Clayton Powell ran the KKK in late 1868 clean out of the state. It’s a shame it didn’t stay that way!!!!!

        http://www.encyclopediaofarkansas.net/encyclopedia/entry-detail.aspx?search=1&entryID=2293

        “Soon, order was restored throughout the state, and on March 13, 1869, the General Assembly passed a law that made the Ku Klux Klan illegal. With the militia, Clayton accomplished more than any other Southern governor in suppressing the Klan’s activities, and the organization virtually ceased to exist in Arkansas throughout the rest of Reconstruction.”

        “An enormous amount of modern ingenuity is expended on finding defences for the indefensible conduct of the powerful. As I have said above, these defences generally exhibit themselves most emphatically in the form of appeals to physical science. And of all the forms in which science, or pseudo-science, has come to the rescue of the rich and stupid, there is none so singular as the singular invention of the theory of races.”
        ― G.K. Chesterton, Heretics

  10. Thanks Vickie for this most insightful article. I appreciate your scholarship and eloquent writing style. Your blog and book, Free State of Jones, have been an education for me. I was born in Jasper County (didn’t grow up there) and had no idea of the complex history of the area. Thanks again for your contributions to my education.

    • You are most welcome, Fae! Thank you for taking time to comment. Yes, the history of the area in which you were born is indeed complex.

  11. Hi Vikki,

    Insightful post.

    Congratulations on the adaptation of Free State of Jones as a movie script. I can’t wait to see the movie. You are not only a gifted historian; you are a gifted writer as well. Newt Knight’s story deserved to be told. And tell it you certainly did! Arguably, it is through literature and art that history is truly passed from generation to generation, since understanding history involves an act of the imagination.

    • Sherree, It is great to hear from you here on Renegade South after too long a time! Thank you for your good words, and let’s stay in touch as this movie evolves.

      Best,
      Vikki

  12. Great to hear from you, too, Vikki! And yes, we will stay in touch.

    Do you have an email address where you can be reached? I wanted to send you some photographs. (I am probably overlooking it, but I don’t see your contact information)

      • Thank you, Vikki.

        I have read more about the upcoming movie. Fascinating. Matthew McConaughey is beginning to look strikingly like Newt Knight. He is an incredible actor. What a performance he gave in Dallas Buyers Club.

  13. Vikki since your a historian maybe you could shine some light on William Ellison, Anthony Johnson, Marie Weston in South Carolina 1860, Ciprien Richard in Louisiana and son Pierre, also have read in 1850 Charleston South Carolina 42percent of free blacks had slaves and the US government census showed only 1.4percent of whites had slaves but I am no historian the only thing that I can tell you is a flag doesn’t make someone hate someone else (I could careless about flag but I do America and a divide nation shall fall) please watch grinding down America maybe you can see why this is such a big deal the argument is started by groups that are funded by George Soros. may God have mercy on our country and open the hearts of the people! Everyone should know ALL the truth. thanks

    • Greg,
      I am quite familiar with your argument that the fact that some free blacks owned slaves refutes the racial degradation that was a fundamental aspect of slavery. It does nothing of the sort. Of course there were free people of color who owned slaves, especially in areas like Louisiana and South Carolina, where their numbers were particularly high. Many slaveholders of color bought members of their own family as a means of protecting family units and preventing loved ones from being forced into the larger slave market. But other people of color owned slaves because it was profitable to do so, and because they were products of the same slaveholding mentality as many whites. It is as much a mistake to lump all people of color together, as though they share a monolithic cultural mentality, as it is to lump all whites together. Often overlooked, even by some historians, is that many free people of color did not consider themselves “black,” although the white concept of the “one drop rule” of race designated them as such. Rather, to some people of color owning slaves was not only profitable, it “proved” their superiority over the great mass of black people held in bondage–or so they thought, just like many whites did. ALL human beings are subject to the temptations of wealth, freedom, and status; why would we expect people of any and all ethnic backgrounds to be exempt from these temptations?

      In any case, and regardless of the reasons why any individual—white, black, or multiracial—owned slaves, the origins of the Confederate flag remains the same. It was created to celebrate a war fomented by powerful politicians who seceded from the Union in order to protect slavery. That does not mean that the ordinary white farmer thought he was fighting for slavery. As Newt Knight himself said around 1892, the big slaveholders “tricked” the farmers into fighting their war through appeals to Southern pride and honor, and illusions of racial superiority.

      Likewise, the revival of the Confederate flag during the twentieth century was a effort to maintain white supremacy and segregation in the wake of an increasingly powerful civil rights movement. Racism, slavery, and segregation are ugly aspects of our history, and we live with their effects today. To fly the Confederate flag over state houses as a sanitized symbol of Southern “heritage” perpetuates the lie that the Civil War had nothing to do with slavery. The Southern men and women who opposed the Confederacy have a rich heritage, too, one that was effectively buried until recently by the Lost Cause notion of a “Solid (white) South”.

      The many fine studies of slavery, the Civil War, and Southern Unionism were not “started by groups that are funded by George Soros.” They are informed by historical documentation, research, and analysis—the hard work of over a century of historians.

      Vikki Bynum

      • Thank you for your reply the thing I was wanting is the WHOLE truth that it was not only white farmers and 1.6 percent of all Americans. One side divides our country is in big trouble and all I’m saying is we do not need to help stir things for those that have agenda Comunist and Muslim brotherhood please don’t take my word for it if you don’t believe me. Again I appreciate your time in replying may God have mercy

  14. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nathan_Bedford_Forrest#Speaks_to_Black_Southerners

    Personally, I should say that the modern monstrosity among Germans
    was not a result of race, but a result of culture—like Nero.

    Chesterton on War and Peace, 262. Illustrated London News, October 20, 1917……GK Chesterton

    “The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history.”
    ― George Orwell

    “Day by day and almost minute by minute the past was brought up to date. In this way every prediction made by the Party could be shown by documentary evidence to have been correct; nor was any item of news, or any expression of opinion, which conflicted with the needs of the moment, ever allowed to remain on record. All history was a palimpsest, scraped clean and reinscribed exactly as often as was necessary.”
    ― George Orwell, 1984

    http://www.dailykos.com/story/2015/05/03/1381214/-The-most-racist-areas-in-the-United-States

    Now if one were to look at that map…….and ponder.

    America has had 3 lady Lt. Governors of ‘African ancestry’………Ohio, Florida, and Kentucky. No governors as of yet.

    Kentucky….90 percent ‘white’…..7 percent ‘black’

    MY OLD KENTUCKY HOME, GOODNIGHT – Original 1853 Lyrics – Tom Roush

    Ben K 1 month ago
    Racial epithet aside, this is an antislavery song. The narrator character is a Kentucky slave singing a lament about being sold to a plantation further down south. It’s not quite abolitionist, but it exposes the cruelty of the system of slavery.

    ‘Racist,’ ‘Anti-Woman’ Conservatives Elect Black Woman as KY Lt. Governor
    News
    Trey Sanchez
    51

    “Hampton is a Detroit native who grew up in the inner-city with divorced parents and very little money to buy clothes. According to her profile at Bevin’s website, she was inspired by NASA as a child and figured that if man can make it to space, then “anything [is] possible.”
    And so she capitalized on those big dreams and paid her way through college to earn an Industrial Engineering degree from Wayne State University. After that, she joined the U.S. Air Force as a computer systems officer. She served in Operation Desert Storm as an Air Force Captain.”

    http://www.truthrevolt.org/news/racist-anti-woman-conservatives-elect-black-woman-ky-lt-governor

  15. Hello Dr. Bynum,

    I just discovered your blog today, and am greatly enjoying your posts. Even though it was a year ago, your take on the Confederate battle flag caught my eye, because at just about the same time you wrote this post, I was putting up my own battle flag reflections on my blog. It seems we agree about a lot of things. I hope you can take a few minutes to read my thoughts.

    By the way, we’re nearly neighbors, as I live in Lockhart, 17 miles east of San Marcos. I’m delighted to learn that you have chosen Texas State.

    Phil McBride
    Lockhart, Texas

    The Confederate Battle Flag and My Novel

    If I were God I’d spread my arms to calm the stormy waters, to stop the battle flag hysteria that has popped up following a heinous mass murder of innocents in church.

    But, I’m not God and I actually do have a dog in this fight. Take a look at the cover of my novel Tangled Honor. There’s the Confederate battle flag as a background feature at the top.

    In that context l admit that I’m conflicted. I’m more than conflicted. My feet are planted firmly on both sides of the fence. But here I go anyway:

    I probably included in one of my first blog posts my favorite quote from southern novelist William Faulkner: “The past is not dead. It’s not even past.” The current Confederate battle flag hysteria is living proof that Faulkner got it right.

    I don’t own a Rebel battle flag bigger than the size of my fingernail and those are attached to the pewter flag staffs of toy soldiers I use for wargaming the Civil War.

    I’ve also reenacted many battles as a Confederate soldier under a full-size cloth Confederate battle flag, and will continue to do so. Yet, I’ve never put a Rebel battle flag bumper sticker on my car or worn one as a lapel pin of my suit. Why? Because the battle flag makes me uncomfortable. It makes me uneasy. It makes feel like a whiner who can’t let go of a war my ancestors lost.

    Maybe that’s it. I don’t like whiners. Our ancestor Confederate soldiers gave it their all. As the poignant phrase goes, our Confederate ancestor soldiers gave their last full measure. God bless them for that. I’m like the John Wayne billboard I see nowadays: I don’t much like quitters. Go ‘til you fall, then get up and go further. Give that last full measure.

    But for all that courage and perseverance, in the end they (we) lost the Civil War. After 150 years we southerners need to get over it and move on. Quit whining, for heaven’s sake. That means taking down the damned battle flag from places where it is a slap in the face of the African-American citizens of our wonderful country. That doesn’t mean everywhere, but it does mean many public places.

    Forget the KKK and their “hijacking” of the Confederate battle flag. Those white-sheeted goons also carried the US Stars and Stripes and big Christian crosses. The KKK were (are) racist thugs who stole every symbol they could, so forget them.

    Symbols are powerful and important because they mold emotions, and the Confederate battle flag has outlived its initial positive function to motivate southern soldiers to honorably give their last full measure.

    I can’t get away from the stark fact that my Confederate soldier ancestors’ devotion was to a flawed cause. A deeply flawed cause. Not a lost cause, but a flawed cause. The wrong cause.

    Just think of the Confederate battle flag as the banner carried by an army forged to protect the southern states’ “right” to secede so that the institution of slavery might be continued and the political power of the southern plantation planter aristocracy secured for a few more decades. That’s enough.

    Come on, think about it: What can be more flawed than human bondage, slavery, ripping families apart? Generations of white men raping young African-American women with impunity? White men ignoring their children borne of a slave?

    Do you know that in 1860 the US Census had three choices of race: White, Negro, and Mulatto.

    White daddies of kids born to black women were so pervasive that a name was created for those kids. And how many of those couplings between a white slave-owning man and his young black female slave would have been consensual?

    A word worse than “flawed” or even “despicable” needs to be invented for what slavery did to the white men of the south. Not to mention the young black women, their mulatto children, and all African-American slaves destined to lives of bondage.

    How disgusting is it to create terms like “mulatto” to acknowledge white fatherhood, but to let the term replace any responsibility for that fatherhood, knowing he may even profit by the young woman slave giving birth to a new infant slave worth a $1,000, a sum that would be more like $25,000 in 2015. It may have been the norm in the south before the Civil War, good business even, but even the memory is despicable, abhorrent. And the battle flag is the primary symbol connected to that aberration.

    A short rhetorical question comes to mind. One used often with great effect in movies and books when a misguided person realizes in a moment of epiphany the great harm his actions have caused others. I remember it best from the grand WWII movie The Bridge Over the River Kwai when Alex Guinness’s incredibly strong, but flawed character utters, “Dear God, what have I done?”

    Personally, I think all of us should be asking “Dear God, what have we done?” about a lot of wrong-headed laws and individual practices that have grown large in our culture as aftershocks of the “peculiar institution” of slavery. Shame on us for Jim Crow voting eligibility laws and barring the doors of our schools and universities to African-Americans for a hundred years after the Civil War ended. Separate but equal schools were never equal, but were certainly very separate. Shame on us now for the ongoing white flight from our city schools to continue the separation of our white kids from kids of darker colors.

    Looping back to the battle flag on the cover of my second Civil War novel Tangled Honor. I liked it when the graphic artist revealed it to me and I still like it. I freely admit that the Confederate battle flag is a bold, beautiful and striking design. It’s on the cover of my book because the characters are southerners caught in the middle of the Civil War. As of today Amazon offers my book for sale, Confederate battle flag notwithstanding.

    Yet, at the same time as Amazon posts my novel for sale, the company has pulled from their virtual shelves all Confederate flags. As of yesterday, the National Park Service souvenir stores located on Civil War battlefield parks have reportedly pulled stand-alone Confederate flags from their shelves.

    I just read an hour ago that the head honcho at the National Cathedral in Washington DC has said the two Confederate flags included in stained glass windows honoring Robert E Lee and Stonewall Jackson need to go.

    That’s wrong-headed too. We shouldn’t try to scrub history shiny clean and simply erase the memories of devout Christian southerners as Lee and Jackson both were. By that line of thought we might as well “redact” all those Bible passages that tell the story of King David when he was less than a paragon of virtue.

    Jackson and Lee had flaws. Both owned slaves. Yet Jackson also practiced civil disobedience to Virginia law that forbade teaching slaves to read and write. Jackson openly founded and operated for many years a school for slave children from all over his home town of Lexington.

    Yes, winners of wars get to write the history books. But smart winners don’t try to erase their opponents’ most cherished symbols and heroes.

    So here it is for me: Take the Confederate battle flag down from modern public and government venues. Get it off statehouse lawns and off state flags. Let the Confederacy’s first national flag serve the heritage function that is a valid historical interest to many of us. Let the market decide where the battle flag will be seen in the private sector.

    Yes, some people and organizations will continue to flaunt the battle flag, just because they can. But most of us won’t. Its appearance will fade away in time.

    Back to my novels, I will say that even before the current battle flag hysteria began this week, I had already directed the graphic artist to replace the battle flag with the Texas flag on the sequel to Tangled Honor. My thought is the Texas flag on the cover will add variety and attract more buyers to the second book in the series, Redeeming Honor. Good timing, huh? I guess so. But I don’t plan on taking the battle flag off the cover of the first book.

    Philip McBride

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