The flag of the Confederate States of America flew at Belleview, Florida’s City Hall on April 26, a ceremony of the Sons of Confederate Veterans in recognition of Florida’s Confederate Memorial Day. The flag-raising didn’t provoke much local controversy, according to WKMG News 6, and the Sons of Confederate Veterans made the usual statement about how the flag doesn’t stand for slavery.
Florida isn’t the only state that still celebrates its Confederate past with an official “history” or “heritage” month. According to the Jackson Free Press, there are Confederate memorial months in Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, and Alabama, as well as Florida. Georgia used to have one too, until neo-Confederate mass murderer Dylan Roof killed nine people after posing with the same flag the Sons of Confederate Veterans raised over Belleview, Florida, on April 26.
Some people argue that the flag of the Confederate States of America stands for slavery and white supremacy. Others argue that it stands for heritage or history or state’s rights or anything else but slavery and white supremacy. So who is right?
It seems to me that if we want to know what the Confederacy was really all about, the only reliable way to find out is to see what they had to say for themselves at the time. When the Civil War began in 1861, five of the Confederate states released official statements explaining exactly why they were seceding. Unfortunately for the proponents of “heritage not hate,” these statements couldn’t possibly be more clear that secession was all about slavery. The state of Mississippi said so in plain English.
“Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery– the greatest material interest of the world.”
The state of South Carolina blamed the activities of Northern abolitionists.
“…they have denounced as sinful the institution of slavery… They have encouraged and assisted thousands of our slaves to leave their homes; and those who remain, have been incited by emissaries, books and pictures to servile insurrection.”
The state of Texas went even further, identifying the cause of the Confederate states not only with the economic institution of slavery but with white supremacy as a matter of principle.
“We hold as undeniable truths that the governments of the various States, and of the confederacy itself, were established exclusively by the white race, for themselves and their posterity; that the African race had no agency in their establishment; that they were rightfully held and regarded as an inferior and dependent race, and in that condition only could their existence in this country be rendered beneficial or tolerable.”
There is really no way to read these statements and then argue with a straight face that the Confederate flag stands for something other than slavery and racism. The Confederate states themselves were happy to tell the whole world that they were rebelling for exactly those reasons. Anyone making those same statements today would be immediately regarded as a white supremacist and extremist. Simple honesty requires us to admit that the CSA was a white supremacist state.
Regardless, the declaration of the state of Georgia contains a point we should bear in mind, especially those of us who wrongly associate racist ideologies primarily with the South and those who live there. Georgia’s declaration argues that “the subordination and the political and social inequality of the African race was fully conceded by all” and that the issue between North and South was only slavery, as both sides upheld white supremacy.
This is simply the truth. The Lakota War of 1862 happened in Minnesota during the Civil War and was suppressed by soldiers loyal to the Union and acting on the orders of President Abraham Lincoln. The ethnic cleansing of the Lakota from Minnesota was just as clear an example of white supremacy as anything the Confederate States ever did.
The flag of the Confederate States of America should not fly in Florida or anywhere else. That doesn’t make the history of the United States as a whole any less racist.
[Featured Image by John Bazemore/AP Images]