It is about time that most Americans seem to have finally moved past showing undeserved respect and deference toward Confederate culture and symbology. The Confederate flag needs take its rightful place of infamy beside the Nazi Swastika and the Burning Cross. The only legitimate home for it is in museums and in the Hate Symbols Database (found here).
This may sound overly harsh and many in the South would like us to take a more nuanced and balanced perspective. They argue that the flag holds a very benign significance for them. They insist that it is merely a fond memento of their history and an innocent remembrance of all the fine and good people who came before them.
But their protestations are sadly misguided. People who are so invested in this symbol almost invariably demonstrate other clear signs of racism, even if they refuse to acknowledge them as such. But regardless of any racist underpinnings, their attitude displays a stunning incapacity to empathize. They might just as well put on a comedic performance of lazy slaves painted in blackface and insist that they are merely honoring their cultural theatre traditions. No insult intended at all. Sorry if you took offense.
The reality is that Confederate flag-wavers are usually racist and are always incredibly insensitive individuals. But they are also stupidly, willfully uninformed. Their romance of the South conjures up images sun-dappled plantations where gallant Confederate soldiers sip juleps with demurely charming belles. But any figment of reality this may have had is completely overshadowed by the horrendously dark atrocities committed by these same Southerners and their ancestors.
The real legacy of the South is documented in “Without Sanctuary” by James Allen (found here), In this stark and graphic photo-collection Allen reveals just one part the depraved and evil history of the South. Between 1882 and 1950, some 3,436 Blacks were “officially” lynched in towns all across the Confederacy. And this reported number is certainly only a fraction of the actual number of lynchings which will remain forever undocumented. Let’s be clear. These murders were not committed by a few extremists in hoods during the dark of night. They were perpetrated by entire towns of “regular” Southern White folk in the bright light of day for fun and amusement.
What would happen is that a town would hold a “lynching festival” in which the big draw was the torture and hanging of a Black person. They would round one up, often on some trumped up charge, and lynch them to great fanfare for the amusement of the crowds drawn from far and wide. And since this was not enough to entertain these good Southern folk, the festival organizers might pull the body apart with horses and sell tickets to people to take a gun and “fill the body full of lead.” Atrocities that we can hardly imagine let alone believe were not only imagined but put on show by these everyday Southerners. People paid to have their picture taken with the Black corpse as they munched on popcorn and cotton candy. They would send these postcards to friends and families with pride. These postcards, saved away in the memory albums of White folk throughout the South were compiled for the picture book. It is difficult to imagine or cite a more horrific example, a sicker example, of institutionalized, popularized hatred than the lynchings this Southern culture committed for fun and amusement and fund-raising.
And realize that this was not that long ago. This is not far, distant history. This practice continued into mid-century. That means that some of the Southerners who organized or participated in these inhuman atrocities are still alive. Many more alive today were raised by people who participated in these events and shaped their worldview. It is no wonder these same people hold no shame over their sick nostalgia for the Confederate Flag.
So it is not unreasonable for any civilized American, not only Black Americans, to find this symbol extremely hateful and shameful. Abhorrence and revulsion are the only reasonable reactions that the flag deserves. The people who proudly display it deserve neither respect nor deference.