24 September 2013 by Published in: Neo-Confederate hooey 13 comments

092413_conf_600This article appeared in today’s edition of The Philadelphia Daily News. It raises lots of interesting questions about why the Confederate battle flag seems to be more prominently displayed all of a sudden:

Rebels’ proliferate up north, but what’s their cause?

WILLIAM BENDER, Daily News Staff Writer benderw@phillynews.com, 215-854-5255
Posted: Tuesday, September 24, 2013, 12:16 AM

IT’S BEEN SPOTTED on license plates in Atlantic City and Collingdale, draped across a truck in a Kohl’s parking lot and flying on poles outside homes in Montgomery and Chester counties.

You can see it on the side of a building off Aramingo Avenue in Port Richmond, hanging inside an apartment near Capitolo Playground in South Philly and painted on the “Dukes of Hazzard” replica Dodge Charger cruising around Delaware County.

In Camden, it’s practically the official emblem for country-rock tailgate parties outside the Susquehanna Bank Center, where a concertgoer was charged this summer with bias intimidation for allegedly waving it at city residents and spewing racial slurs.

Even a Philly cop was photographed last year wearing it under his bike helmet while on duty.

Nearly 150 years after the Civil War ended, the Confederate battle flag – a complicated and incendiary symbol of rebellion, slavery, Southern pride and white supremacy – is seemingly becoming a more frequent sight north of the Mason-Dixon Line.

“I remember taking a second look and going, ‘Really?’ It was shocking,” said Bryl Villanueva, 35, of Lafayette Hill, who recently saw a rebel flag flying in Conshohocken while on the way to a friend’s house. “Maybe they’re from Alabama.”

What’s behind the popularity of the flag in the North? Is it the dark underbelly of the rapidly growing country-music scene? Disapproval of the president? An innocent revival of the rebel spirit among Yankees who don’t know – or care – what it means to the rest of society? Or something more sinister?

“Me, I fly the stars and stripes,” said Dereck Banks, a self-described history buff from Clifton Heights, Delaware County.

But Banks, 55, who is black, can’t miss the Dixie flag plastered across the back window of his neighbor’s pickup truck parked at the curb. It’s also on the front license plate, with the word “Daddy.”

“It offends a lot of people. White folks, too,” Banks said. “Slavery is over. This is the new millennium. The South lost. The states are united.”

Public schools have long been desegregated, too, but some Philadelphia-area residents are flying the same flag that the Ku Klux Klan and others adopted during the civil-rights movement to oppose desegregation.

In June, when country-rock star Toby Keith played the Susquehanna Bank Center, police said Darren Walp, 33, of Ridley Park, climbed a fence into a housing complex, waving the flag and shouting racial slurs. The flags were out again the next weekend at a concert headlined by Brad Paisley, and tailgaters were outraged because security was forcing them to be taken down.

Last month, Walp was arrested a second time in Camden while on his way to a Blake Shelton concert. Cops say he hopped out of his pickup truck to get a beer from the back, ranting at a black driver and challenging him to a fight.

“We never want to see this individual in the city of Camden again,” Camden County Police Chief J. Scott Thomson said at the time, in a news release.

Some defenders of the Confederate flag say it is not inherently racist and should be flown to honor Confederate soldiers. Others, like Doug Copeland, a medical tech who said he was born in Chattanooga, Tenn., use it to show their fondness for the South.

“I’m not prejudiced at all. My granddaughter is half-black,” said Copeland, who flies a flag from his home on busy Route 724 near Phoenixville. “I just love the South. If I could live there, I would.”

But Copeland also knows that some people find it offensive. He thinks they are the ones who removed his prior flags.

“That’s why I think they stole it. They came to the bus stop and stole the flag. It’s my third one,” he said. “It’s bolted in now, but the one time they snapped it right out of the bolt.”

Copeland, however, doesn’t seem overly concerned with political correctness, as evidenced by the sign on his door that reads, in part: “Unless you are blind or cannot read this sign, you can bet your ass I am going to stomp the s— out of you if you bother me!”

Some groups, including the Virginia Flaggers – which has leased land along Interstate 95 south of Richmond and plans to erect a 12-by-15-foot Confederate flag on a 50-foot pole Saturday – have denounced the KKK and others that have used the flag for their own purposes.

“If somebody broke into your house and robbed you, and they were wearing New York Giants attire, you wouldn’t assume that there was something evil in the Giants association,” said Gene Hogan, chief of heritage operations for the Sons of Confederate Veterans. “You would say, ‘No, that was an evil person that co-opted those garments.’ Same way with the battle flag.”

Hogan said the SCV, an organization for male descendants of Confederate soldiers, encourages people to display the flag in remembrance of those who fought in the Civil War – or the Second American Revolution, as the group refers to the war on its website.

“It stands for brave men who defended their homeland against an unconstitutional invasion and represents all the good things in America,” Hogan said.

That’s not how Drexel University sociologist Mary Ebeling sees it. The Falls Church, Va., native questioned whether it’s possible to express regional pride, oppose the expansion of the federal government or just yearn for simpler times, while ignoring the flag’s role as a hate symbol in America’s history.

“The re-emergence of it is concerning,” Ebeling said. “It’s a brand, a symbol of oppression, violence, and, I would argue, white supremacy.”

Even though she is white, Ebeling said, she “took it as a threat” when someone taped a small flag to a lamppost in her predominantly black neighborhood in West Philly a couple of years ago.

“Once these kinds of meanings are attached to those symbols, the meanings endure,” she said.

Mark Potok, senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Ala., agreed. People may have conflicting interpretations of what the flag means now, he said, but that doesn’t change how it was used in the past, including during the civil-rights movement.

“The flags were raised in a patently racist show of standing by white supremacy and full-out resistance to desegregation,” Potok said.

Fifty years later, Potok said, “I think it’s a little like the O.J. Simpson trial. People have very different reactions to it based on their life experience.”

A flag shop in Broomall

Charlie Hauber, owner of the Flag & Sign Place in Broomall, Delaware County, said he keeps Confederate flags in stock because of their historical relevance. Other flag stores refuse to sell them.

“I’ve had truckers come to me and say, ‘I can’t buy these things anywhere,’ ” Hauber said. “Places just stopped selling them.”

Hauber said that he doesn’t support slavery, but that the Civil War was also about states’ rights.

“I’m inclined to agree with the states. They have certain rights that should be separate from the federal government,” he said. “But I’m not going to fly a Confederate flag.”

People might feel intimidated or threatened by the flag – whether that’s the intention or not – but flying it is protected by the First Amendment.

“In some circumstances, it clearly is insensitive and offensive, but not all the time,” said Mary Catherine Roper, senior staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania. “It doesn’t matter whether it’s offensive. It doesn’t matter whether it is racial. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a white-power statement. You could not outlaw flying the Confederate flag.”

Last year, the ACLU of Delaware assisted a state Department of Transportation worker who was disciplined for displaying a Confederate-flag license plate on his car parked at work. The department later agreed with the ACLU that he was entitled to display the plate.

Banks, the Clifton Heights man whose neighbor has Confederate flags on his truck, said the neighbor is a friend, so he doesn’t take offense in that instance.

“I think it’s stupid, but being in America, you’re free to do whatever you like,” he said. “People are people. If you turned us inside out, you couldn’t tell what color we are.”

The owner of the truck wouldn’t talk with the Daily News, but his next-door neighbor, Michael Blythe, said the flags are not intended as a hate symbol.

“It’s not racist at all,” said Blythe, 35, a carpenter. “Everybody loves each other on this block.”

Jim Matusko, 66, an accountant who flies an American flag year-round at his home around the corner, said self-styled rebels need to grow up and find a new symbol.

“They got their asses whooped 148 years ago,” he said. “Let it go, already, for God’s sake.”

Matusko said the apparent popularity of the flag today could be a symptom of a highly polarized country under a black, liberal president. But he doesn’t think its connection to slavery can be severed, either.

“With the issue of slavery, waving a flag in someone’s face is almost like trying to pick a fight. I don’t think this country needs that kind of s—,” he said. “I don’t like the guy in the White House, either, but the South isn’t going to rise again.”

– Staff writers Jason Nark and Stephanie Farr contributed to this report.

There are clearly times when displaying it are entirely appropriate, such as on Confederate memorials, or the graves of Confederate veterans. There are many other times, though, when it is completely tone deaf, completely inappropriate, and downright offensive, and when it’s involuntarily rammed into people’s faces such as what the so-called Virginia Flaggers want to do along I-95 near Richmond, it’s akin to flipping the rest of the world that infamous obscene gesture that involves raising one’s middle finger. For many blacks, the Confederate battle flag is every bit as offensive a symbol as a swastika flag would be to a Jewish person. Brooks Simpson has done a superb job of documenting this particular travesty on his blog, Crossroads, and if the whole travesty of the Virginia Flaggers interests you, I commend Brooks’ blog to you. He deconstructs each and every argument of theirs and demonstrates the hypocrisy of their positions.

I completely understand wanting to honor one’s forebears. What I don’t understand is why it has to be done with such a controversial symbol. Why not use the Confederate first national flag–the Stars and Bars–which does not have the same very negative connotation? You will honor your ancestors, but you do so without offending everyone else. It seems a reasonable compromise. Too bad it’s not, since only a real in-your-face “*^%# you!” seems to be acceptable to them. Like I said, too bad.

Scridb filter

Comments

  1. Chuck Brown
    Tue 24th Sep 2013 at 10:20 am

    Anyone who denies a connection between the Confederate battle flag to slavery and white supremacy is in some form of denial and historically ignorant. To also see no connection between the flag and the vituperative disrespect for President Obama is an egregious affront to me.

  2. Tue 24th Sep 2013 at 1:40 pm

    The Virginia Flaggers never publicly expressed an interest or intent to do a big flag project until six or seven weeks ago, and this effort should be seen within the larger context of their activities. Simply put, they need a “W” right now. This month is their second anniversary, and they’ve had zero success in their two high-profile battles — to overturn the Lexington flag ordinance, and to replace the flags on the outside of the Confederate Memorial Chapel on the grounds of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond. They’ve burned through thousands of volunteer/protesting hours, with almost nothing to show for. This has been a bad year for them as it is, with one of their number getting arrested for trespassing at the VMFA in January, and then in May having put out a ridiculous tale about someone heroically giving a taser-wielding beat-down to some punks set on defacing a Confederate monument in Richmond. The Virginia Flaggers had to formally retract that one just days after asserting that God himself had intervened to protect the monument and Confederate heritage.

    In this context, the I-95 flag can be seen for what it is — an easy and high-profile “success” for the Virginia Flaggers to point to, and congratulate themselves over. It’s low-hanging fruit — unlike the Lexington ordinance or the VMFA, putting up a Confederate flag on private property faces no real legal or administrative obstacles. It requires a modest amount of money and a property owner willing to lease a little patch of land by the freeway. It’s an easy win for them, but it will distract enough from the things they haven’t delivered to their supporters.

  3. Tue 24th Sep 2013 at 3:30 pm

    Eric, I agree 100% – since the Confederate Battle Flag was appropriated by the KKK and other white supremacists, it makes little sense to fly it, especially when there are other equally recognizable Confederate flags that don’t have the negative connotation.

    Flying the Bonnie Blue or the Stars and Bars is a much less provocative way of demonstrating ones’ heritage.

  4. Chris
    Tue 24th Sep 2013 at 4:34 pm

    Flying the Stars and Bars may be less provocative, but only because of the historical ignorance of the population. After all, it was the official flag of the Confederate government.

  5. Chris Evans
    Tue 24th Sep 2013 at 4:48 pm

    I actually think Father Ryan said it best in ‘ The Conquered Banner’ right after the war:

    “Furl that Banner, for ’tis weary;
    Round its staff ’tis drooping dreary;
    Furl it, fold it, it is best;
    For there’s not a man to wave it,
    And there’s not a sword to save it,
    And there’s not one left to lave it
    In the blood which heroes gave it;
    And its foes now scorn and brave it;
    Furl it, hide it –let it rest!”

    If more people had listened to that advice we wouldn’t have these insipid controversies every couple of years that go absolutely nowhere.

    Chris

  6. Chris Evans
    Tue 24th Sep 2013 at 5:18 pm

    I would also like to recommend to everyone the wonderful book ‘The Confederate Battle Flag: America’s Most Embattled Emblem’ by John M. Coski.

    That book has the most sensible discussion of the history and use of this flag. Which despite everything is a strangely very American story in the end. The book makes for excellent reading and understanding of this controversial subject.

    Chris

  7. Greg Eatroff
    Tue 24th Sep 2013 at 7:09 pm

    Anyone who wants to know what the Confederate flags (battle flags, naval jacks, the three national flags, etc) stood for need only read the official documents the secession conventions issued to justify their efforts to dissolve the Union. I won’t try to sway you with my own opinion, just provide you with a link to what they said in 1860 and ’61 and let you judge for yourself:
    http://sunsite.utk.edu/civil-war/reasons.html

  8. Parker
    Sat 28th Sep 2013 at 12:10 am

    Many people have burned the U.S. Flag in protest because they see it as a symbol of imperialism, oppression, hate, injustice, and militarism. They see the U.S. Flag and see the Trans-Atlntic slave-traders, and they see Manifest Destiny and the genocide of Native Americans. They see Japanese-Americans in concentration camps, and they see Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and the firebombing of hundreds of thousands of civilians in Japan; they see the My Lai Massacre, Ruby Ridge, Waco, and Guantanamo. They also see hundreds and hundreds of KKK in parade under the Flag. They see in short, a great many cruel and heinous injustices perpetrated by Americans under the auspices of the American Flag. I guess it just all depends on how you look at it.

  9. Robert Gode
    Mon 30th Sep 2013 at 1:05 am

    The Confederate flag not only represents racism… it represents a group of states who committed treason in taking up arms against their country to protect slavery. These people are lucky they live in the US where such a symbol is still tolerated.

  10. Jonas
    Tue 01st Oct 2013 at 12:51 am

    Taking up arms against their country to protect slavery? You are talking about the Founding Fathers and the slave-owners treasonous rebellion of 1776, right?

  11. Sir
    Fri 04th Oct 2013 at 10:46 pm

    “Treason” is post hoc reasoning. The American Revolution was treason to the crown and the best arguments support the idea that states were sovereiegn and capable of secession under the constitution. If a state secedes, it’s subsebquent actions are NOT treaon.

  12. Dan Graff
    Sat 30th Nov 2013 at 5:04 pm

    The Battle Flag represents for the Southern States the cause of freedom from an overweening Federal Government. It was not treason to leave the Union especially for the Commonwealth of Virginia which expressly reserved that right (as did a number of other states) when they ratified the Constitution and joined the union. With regard to Slavery and it’s role in motivating men to wage war in 1861 the issue was settled rather comprehensively by James McPherson. His analysis of the private communications of nearly one thousand Confederate and Union soldiers strongly suggests that slavery played a minor to statistically insignificant role in the motivation of men to go to war in 1861. Neither side went to war with the issue of slavery as a primary or secondary motivator. It did become a factor for some Union solders late in the war. With regard to Barack Obama it is insidious to suggest that opposition to him must be based on racism. I am staunchly opposed to him but color has nothing to do with the formulation of my point of view, rather I see him as little more than a Chicago thug and a virtually out of the closet Communist and, as such, poison to the American Dream and American Exceptionalism .

  13. Sam Hood
    Sat 14th Dec 2013 at 6:27 pm

    I lament that the fringe wing-nuts have hijacked such a historical symbol as the CS battle flag, and I agree that it is now as Eric describes. The wing-nuts have tarnished a symbol that meant much to many good men. One of my favorite quotes is from Pvt Berry Benson’s “Civil War Book”, one of my favorite soldiers’ memoirs. Upon his return to duty after illness he wrote (page 24)–
    “Oh how it thrilled the heart of a soldier, when he had been long away from the army, to catch sight again of his red battle flag, upheld on its white staff of pine, its tatters snapping in the wind! A red rag–there will be those who will say–a red rag tied to a stick, and that is all! And yet, that red rag, crossed with blue, with white stars sprinkled the cross within, tied to a slim, barked pine sapling with leather thongs cut from a soldier’s shoe, this rough red rag my soul loved with a lover’s love.”

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