By Ian Briggs
Few symbols are more hated and loved than the Confederate flag. Its meaning has shifted over the past 150 years and continues to change. Walk around campus and you can see the occasional Confederate flag on the pocket of a shirt or hanging in a dorm room. The question is what do all these flags represent: Southern heritage, outright racism, or just rebellion against authority?
The original flag of the Confederacy was not what we know as the Confederate flag today. It was the Stars and Bars, a flag that looked extremely similar to the U.S. flag. While Southerners did want to abandon the Union, they were reluctant to abandon their flag. The only problem was that in a battle they could not tell which flag was U.S. and which was Confederate, leading to some obvious problems.
The solution was the creation of two flags, one as the battle flag, and one the parade flag. The battle flag that was adopted is what we now know as the Confederate flag, the only difference being that it was square, not rectangle. The battle flag gained widespread popularity and was later incorporated into a new national Confederate parade flag.
After the war, organizations like the United Daughters of the Confederacy adopted the flag as their symbol. While the battle flag was never the national symbol of the Confederacy, it has come to be recognized as such.
White Southerners saw the flag as a symbol of heritage and dignity. The “good old boy” connotations are attributed to Ole Miss football games and to distinguish Southern troops during WWII from their Northern counterparts. As for hate groups like the Ku Klux Klan, they did use the flag, but they did not give it its blatantly racist connotation. That emerged during the integration of Southern universities.
You can also blame the Dixiecrats for the racist implications of the Confederate flag. The Dixiecrats were a party made up of anti-integration college students who co-opted the flag as their standard. The image of Dixiecrats fighting the National Guard while waving Confederate flags became branded into the national psyche. And so, the flag became tied to racism.
Today, it’s handed out at rock concerts and is just as likely to be found in rural New York as sweet home Alabama. It’s no longer just a symbol of the South; it’s become part of the good old boy culture of guns, trucks, and country music.
So what does the flag stand for on this campus? Student Logan Murray, a proud Confederate flag owner, said it represents “standing up for what you believe in and honoring all who died for their country.” Student Kay Wicker, a non-flag owner had this to say: “I understand that it is viewed differently by different people, but on principal, it does bother me.”
While the Confederate flag may not be intrinsically racist, it represents the entirety of southern history, much of which was racist. There is a connection to racism and the confederate flag. People have the right to be offended, but they should not assume the motives of the person owning the flag, because it means something different to each person.
The Confederate flag has changed greatly since its creation and is likely to continue to do so. There may come a day when the blatantly racist meaning of the flag fades away along with the scars of integration. Until that day comes, the responsibility falls upon Confederate flag flyers to explain what it means to them. As for the rest of us, we should keep an open mind, about a symbol that has stood for so much to so many, be it right or wrong.