Statues are not history.
Statues are a symbol.
Statues are not history.
Statues honor and glorify a historical figure.
Statues are not history.
When you take down a statue, you do not erase history.
When you take down a statue, you reject what the statue represents in the present day.
In the 1980s, statues of Marx, Lenin, and Stalin came down throughout Eastern Europe with the end of the Cold War. In 2003, statues of Saddam Hussein came down in Iraq. Are you mad about that? Do you think history was erased and that those statues should have been preserved? “Oh no! They were bad guys, they deserved it.” You understand what those statues symbolized and you feel that taking them down was right, due to your worldview.
In this context, think about why your gut reaction is to defend statues of people who wanted to preserve the institution of enslaving and murdering black people at all costs. Why do you say, “you can’t erase history! You can’t erase southern culture!”? What do you really mean?
I saw this posted on Facebook by a young person named Christian Flores. It resonated with me because of the truth behind the words and the picture.
Juneteenth flag designer L.J. Graf packed lots of meaning into her design. The colors red, white, and blue echo the American flag to symbolize that the enslaved people and their descendants were Americans. The star in the middle pays homage to Texas, while the bursting "new star" on the "horizon" of the red and blue fields represents a new freedom and a new people.
On January 1st, 1863, 16th President of the United States of America, Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, announcing that slavery was abolished in the United States and that all slaves were freed.
Thought this announcement was made, it still took a long time for word to travel around the United States. On June 19th, 1865, General Gordon Granger rode into Galveston, Texas and announced that slaves were free.
The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.
Since June 19th, 1865, June 19th has been celebrated as the day that slaves won their freedom and were universally free. Juneteenth, not declared a federal holiday, should still be celebrated by the major milestone that this date plays in the civil rights movement in our country.
In my career, I have facilitated this activity several times and it always turns out very similar. It is a powerful representation of privilege, often times, an invisible force that makes such a huge difference in our lives and success.
History of the Confederate Flags
The flags represented above were the official flags adopted by the Confederate States of America. This flag was known as the "Stars and Bars" as a play on the "Stars and Stripes" of the original flag of the United States of America. The first flag was adopted March 4th, 1861 and was designed by Nicola Marschall, a Prussian-American artist, who designed the flag from a picture of the Flag of Austria pictured below.
The first flag represented the original 7 Confederate States that supported secession from the United States. These states were Alabama, South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas. These states seceded from the Union and elected Jefferson Davis as President and Alexander H. Stephens as Vice-President. Later Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee and North Carolina would secede and other stars were added to represent the growing confederacy. This flag flew over the Capital of the Confederate States in Mobile, Alabama from March 4th, 1861 - May 1st, 1963.
Many confederate soldiers and representatives despised the flag because they felt that it was too close to and too similar to the United States Flag, which went against the views they were espousing. The flag, also proved very difficult because when you were on the battlefield fighting, the flag would oftentimes be mistaken for the United States Flag and soldiers did not know which side they were fighting on or which regiment to follow because the Flag, especially when it was folded over a flagpole marching into battle with no wind looked just like the United States flag. Because of this, the Confederate States chose to adopt a new flag, which became known as the second national flag of the Confederate States.
After the first battle of Manassas (First Battle of Bull Run), fought near Manassas, Virginia, it was decided that a new flag was needed that would distinguish the Confederate Soldiers from the United States Army. Pierre Gustave Toutant-Beauregard or P.G.T. Beauregard, the first major general of the confederate army suggested the creation of a 2nd National Flag that would be more distinguishable. Beauregard was vetoed and thus decided to create a "Battle Flag" that could be used to separate both armies. The National Confederate Flag would be used in parades and peacetime and the "battle flag" would be used specifically in times of war and on the battlefield.
P.G.T. Beauregard worked with his assistant William Porter Miles to create and develop the new battle flag. Miles served on the committee that looked at and chose the first National Flag of the Confederate States. There was one flag in particular that Miles liked, which featured a blue St. George's cross on a red field featuring white stars for each of the Confederate States. After talking to many people and receiving criticism it was decided not to use any specific symbol for a national flag that represented a religion. The St. George's Cross was very Christian-Like, so the cross was turned at an angle to use the Saltire or St. Andrew's Cross. It was also suggested that the flag be made square so as to conserve material needed to create the flag. The new battle flag became the most popular flag symbolizing confederate power and the Confederate Army.
Because many people complained about the confusion of the 1st National Confederate Flag and its likeness to the United States Flag, especially in battle, it was decided to create a 2nd National Confederate Flag. The flag was comprised of the iconic St. Andrew's Cross on the Confederate Battle Flag on a white field representing purity. This 2nd National Flag, proposed by William Tappan Thompson and William Ross Postell stated that this flag would be noted as "the white man's flag" because the white background would symbolize the purpose of the battle, "As a people we are fighting to maintain the Heaven-ordained supremacy of the white man over the inferior or colored race; a white flag would thus be emblematical of our cause." Thus on May 1st, 1863 the 2nd National Flag of the Confederate States was adopted and would be known as the "Stainless Banner." The first official use of the 2nd National Flag was to drape over the coffin of General Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson as it lay in state in the Virginia Capital on May 12, 1863.
The 2nd National Flag of the Confederate States also had many issues. The flag, since it was predominantly white was really hard to keep clean, especially in battle. Also, much like the first Confederate States flag, there was a problem with the flag in battle. When the flag was being flown in battle on the flagpole, the flag would wrap around itself and look only like a white flag of Truce or Surrender. This caused a lot of people from both sides to think that the army was retreating or declaring a truce in battle. It was decided that a 3rd National Flag of the Confederate States would be needed to rectify this problem so it would not be confused as a "Surrender Flag."
Major Arthur L. Rogers argued that in order to ensure that the flag was not viewed as a "truce" or "surrender" flag, that a red bar should be added to the outside edge of the flag so that if it was folded up in battle, it would still show some color and not appear all white. On March 4th, 1865 the 3rd National Flag of the Confederate States of America was adopted and would eventually be known as the "blood stained banner."
Many states supported the use of the battle flag of the Confederate Army and adopted the iconic St. Andrews Cross, including the state of Tennessee. The Tennessee Battle Flag, which is most commonly used today as a representation of the "confederate flag" was made fully rectangular instead of the original square shaped flag that was originally proposed as the Confederate Battle Flag.
The Civil War
Now that we have covered the history of the Confederate Battle Flag, let's talk the Civil War. The Civil War, regardless of how you slice it, was fought in order to protect the notion of SLAVERY. You can try to sugar coat it and say that the Civil War was fought because of State's rights, the Civil War was fought because of a disagreement between the power and control of the Federal Government, high taxes and tariffs etc, but at the end of the day, the battle was fought because southern states wanted to be able to veto Federal Laws that would hinder the continuance of slavery and their ability to own/sell/trade slaves.
The Federal Laws that were being imposed limited the rights of slave owners. Southern States wanted to continue to own, trade, buy and sell slaves and they wanted to expand that right into the Western territories. The economy, at the time, depended heavily on slavery (cheap labor, bartering, etc) and southern state owners felt that that had every right to own and use slaves however they wanted and to take them wherever they wanted. The Confederate States constitution even states,
In all such territory the institution of negro slavery, as it now exists in the Confederate States, shall be recognized and protected by Congress and by the Territorial government; and the inhabitants of the several Confederate States and Territories shall have the right to take to such Territory any slaves lawfully held by them in any of the States or Territories of the Confederate States.
In declaring the need for secession from the United States of America, Mississippi stated,
Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery—the greatest material interest of the world...Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth.”
And of course Texas made pretty certain that their need to secede focused on slavery as well,
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.
It is quite clear that the motivation for southern states to secede from the United States of America was because of slavery and the United States move to abolish slavery. Southern States economy depended on the institution of slavery because the south's economy was largely agricultural and slaves were needed to provide cheap labor to harvest and produce the various agricultural riches of the south.
The election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States sparked fear into the hearts of the south because of his desire to free slaves. Ultimately the Southern States felt the only thing they could do to protect their privileges was to secede from the union. This led to the Civil War, which saw 650,000 men die on American Soil.
The Flag is literally a Symbol for Slavery
The "battle flag" was used as a symbol, literally a representation of the war as the confederate soldiers marched into battle. It was flown on the field and brought into the war to protect the values of the confederacy...mainly the institution of slavery. In fact, the flag was directly created as a "battle flag" because the original confederate flag was too commonly confused with the United States of America Flag.
Because of all of this, using the battle flag today as a symbol brings up the dark and racist history of the United States, and support of the institution of slavery that existed during the the antebellum south. Many people who support the use of the confederate flag say they are supporting it because of various other connections that the symbol represents such as Southern Pride, Family, Loyalty, Honor, Sacrifice, State's Rights, Heroism, etc.
But let's face it...If you are not Racist and you do not support slavery, why continue to support a symbol that largely represented and was created specifically as a battle cry for upholding the institution of slavery. TO remove slavery from the confederate flag (which you cannot due because it is basically dripping with the blood of 650,000 people who fought for or against the institution of slavery), basically leaves a broken symbol that is not worth flying.
When a system is built to consistently hold a people down, it is not built equally, fairly, or right. America was founded during a time when civil unrest led to one of the bloodiest battles in history, the American Civil War, where over 650,000 people shed their blood in defense for or against the institution of slavery. Today, it is 155 years since the Civil War, and we still have a system that is built to keep a people down. Lives have been lost on both sides, protests have been staged, riots have been had, and people have marched and stood up for their rights and the movement still has not been won.
Progress can only be made when we all stand up, United, to speak about the unethical behavior of people.