Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Red Flag

So this happened:

Yesterday the news hit that a Confederate heritage group called "Virginia Flaggers" has leased a plot of land south of Richmond on Interstate 95 where they will be flying this flag:

Virginia Flaggers maintains that this is part of the group's goal: to honor their ancestors and the area's heritage.

In response to the announcement, there has been very vocal opposition to the hoisting of the flag. Many people are offended and upset, angrily decrying the flag as a symbol of hate, oppression, racism, white supremacy, and outdated dogma. Some feel the flag will negatively reflect on the area, deterring tourists, and serving as an embarrassment to residents. According to King Salim Khalfani, Richmond NAACP Executive Director, “It’s going to continue to make Richmond look like a backwater, trailer park, hick town.” 1

Of course you *know* I have an opinion.

I'll be brief on this point: I take umbrage with Mr. Khalfani's statement. "Continue"? Are you implying that we already look like a backwater, trailer park, hick town?

We do not; we are not. Please don't insult my hometown like that, sir.

And that'll be my most succinct opinion for the rest of the entry.

There are going to be many who look at that flag, as they drive past it on 95, and shake their head. I'll probably be one of them. Whenever I see this flag flying outside a home, on someone's t-shirt, or displayed in the rear window of someone's truck, I roll my eyes, shake my head, and sigh.

The VF has taken the positions of regional pride and historical preservation.

Truth be told, I'm proud to be from the South, to be a Virginian. The simple truth is that I'm proud of my home and what it's taught and given me. It's a part of my heritage, just as Ireland and Italy are a part of it too. And in that same vein, I am very proud of the fact that Virginia has played a historically significant role in some of the biggest moments of this country's history. The Historic Triangle with Jamestown, Williamsburg, and Yorktown that served as the cradle to American liberty, Richard Henry Lee securing the endorsement from the Virginia legislature to move that the colonies declare their independence, the Virginia Act for Establishing Religious Freedom, countless battles for multiple wars, including more Civil War battles being fought here than in any other state; they're all parts our history. It's all part of why I love Virginia.

So on a very basic level I get where the Virginia Flaggers are coming from.

Still, and this where things get sticky, their argument isn't exactly airtight. The same argument for heritage and historical significance could be made about the Nazi flag. Many who fought under its colors died. They had families, they had a homeland, and they had convictions about what they were doing. Maybe your average Nazi soldier was concerned about the balance of power and the state of the economy. Maybe some wanted to have domination over groups of people, dehumanizing their very existence. Or maybe some of them were good guys that fought a bad war. We could talk shades of grey all day. But given the emotions the Nazi flag inspires and what it symbolizes to the world over, do we go to sites of related historical significance and fly that flag? Probably not. (Granted, there are groups who would be fine with the flag. Neo-Nazi political parties are still vocal in several countries.) Do we have the flag displayed in museums though? Absolutely.

Oh yeah, I just compared Nazis to Confederates. Believe me, I know I'm going to get nastygrams for that one.

And yet, while I give a look askance when I see it displayed, I'm okay with the VF flying the flag on the property they've leased.

The First Amendment states, in part, that the government shall not abridge one's freedom of speech. The Museum of the Confederacy at Appomattox and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts have both previously declined to fly the flag, and as a result, the VF has organized protests in response. Neither of these museums is under any obligation to provide a means for the VF to exercise its members' right to freedom of speech. However, on their newly leased property, the VF is perfectly at liberty (har har) to say whatever they like. Obviously they have to meet local zoning standards and local laws, but assuming they do, the group is free to display their flag under the First Amendment.
Though it is not something I would choose to display, I take this attitude:

(Side note: The person who originally said this wasn't Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson, or Voltaire, though it's certainly Voltarian. It was a woman named Evelyn B. Hall who wrote under the pseudonym S.G. Tallentyre.)

Basically what I'm saying is I don't have to like it, but the truth is we have a Bill of Rights, and sometimes we don't always like what it covers.

You might have noticed my usage of "the flag" throughout this entry, and that's absolutely deliberate on my part. The VF and many of the publications writing/commenting on this story have failed to make an important distinction, and it is a huge pet peeve of mine.

This is not the Confederate flag:

That would be the Battle Flag of the Army of Northern Virginia, or the Second Confederate Navy Jack Tennessee Battle Standard, depending on the shape (Northern Virginia is square vs. Tennessee is rectangle.) That is not the flag of the Confederate States of America.


"Stars and Bars" is derived from this flag, the original flag of the CSA:

Stars were added throughout the time it flew as more states joined the Confederacy. This flag was ultimately changed because some felt it looked a little too much like the flag of the United States of America. It flew from March 1861-May 1863. 2

The 2nd flag of the CSA:

This flag was changed as there was concern that the abundance of white might give the impression that an army was surrendering, if the flag was not entirely unfurled or the wind was blowing in the wrong way. This flag flew from May 1863-March 1865. 2

The 3rd flag of the CSA:

Called "The Bloodstained Banner," this was the final flag of the CSA, but very few saw service, as the war was concluded only weeks after the flag was designed and produced. 2, 3

Why does any of this matter? It matters, because if you're going to use the argument that you're honoring the flag of your ancestors, you better sure as shit be flying the right flag.

So while I'm a proponent of the idea that society defines the symbol, I take some amount of pleasure (mixed with a dash of irritation) that there are a lot of people running around using the incorrect flag. Maybe it's not much consolation to those who are offended by the flag, but it's something.

In conclusion, people are going to do what they do. History, heritage, freedom of speech, honoring sacrifices of those who served under the flag, as well those enslaved under it, being mindful of the zeitgeist, personal values, etc., all go into the debate. There's no clear right or wrong answer except that the flag they're hoisting is historically inaccurate.

Related: For those of you with a sense of humor and/or who've already secured their hand basket to Hell, please enjoy this episode of South Park:

Edit: Special thanks to my friend Byron, who helped make this a more accurate post! "...The Second Confederate Navy Jack is exactly the same as Tennessee's Battle Standard but is a brighter colored blue and not navy blue. The Confederates definitely weren't known for their originality lol." Thanks Byron!!

Works Cited:
1. Strong, Ted. "Flag Flap: Confederate Flag Will Fly Along I-95." Richmond Times-Dispatch. N.p., 7 Aug. 2013. Web. 07 Aug. 2013
2. "Flags of the Confederate States of America" Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 07 Aug. 2013.
3. "Flags of the Confederacy." Museum of the Confederacy. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 Aug. 2013.

Hell yes, I did a 'works cited' section. BA in English is being put to work!


  1. I am so proud of my daughter. This is an eloquent and intelligent response to this issue!

    1. You are in the wrong profession. you should be writing fa column for the newspapers for both the printed and online additions, not just the blogasphere.This is well written, intelligent,and unbiased. Use those talents for the multitudes.Don't hide your light under a bushel basket!