Con­fed­er­ate bat­tle flag has di­vi­sive his­tory, ex­pert says

Daily Press (Sunday) - - Nation & World - By Frances Stead Sell­ers The Washington Post

WASHINGTON — The dis­tinc­tive con­fig­u­ra­tion of white stars mounted on a blue “X” and set against a field of red is now widely known as the Con­fed­er­ate flag. But it was orig­i­nally the bat­tle flag of Con­fed­er­ate Gen. Robert E. Lee's Army of North­ern Vir­ginia.

The ban­ner has be­come more pop­u­lar than the Con­fed­er­acy's first of­fi­cial flag, the Stars and Bars, which re­sem­bled the Union's Stars and Stripes with three red and white stripes bor­der­ing a blue square with seven white stars.

In 1863, the bat­tle flag was of­fi­cially rec­og­nized by the Con­fed­er­ate Congress, turn­ing it into a po­lit­i­cal sym­bol, as it has been ever since.

But John Coski, a his­to­rian at the Amer­i­can Civil War Mu­seum, who doc­u­mented the ban­ner's di­vi­sive his­tory in his 2005 book, “The Con­fed­er­ate Bat­tle Flag: Amer­ica's Most Em­bat­tled Em­blem,” warns against sim­pli­fy­ing what it stands for.

Over the past cen­tury and a half, he writes, the bat­tle stan­dard has evolved into “a widely and care­lessly used sym­bol of many things, in­clud­ing the South as a dis­tinc­tive re­gion, in­di­vid­ual re­bel­lious­ness, a self con­scious ‘red­neck' cul­ture, and seg­re­ga­tion and racism.”

Th­ese are sev­eral key pe­ri­ods in the flag's di­vi­sive his­tory:

Post-Civil war: For decades af­ter the war, the flag was used largely by vet­er­ans' groups at pa­rades and as a sym­bol of South­ern her­itage.

1940s: The flag ap­pears at South­ern col­lege and uni­ver­sity foot­ball games and some other cul­tural events that were not di­rectly re­lated to the war.

Early '50s: The flag en­ters Amer­i­can pop­u­lar cul­ture out­side the South, at­tract­ing the at­ten­tion of the na­tional me­dia, as a sym­bol of re­jec­tion, re­bel­lion and youth­ful hi­jinks. “Ev­ery­where along the At­lantic seaboard from New York to Mi­ami and west­ward to the Mis­sis­sippi wa­ter­shed pert lit­tle ban­ners wave in the breeze from car an­ten­nae, sou­venir stands, bi­cy­cles or in the hands of young­sters, teenagers and grownups,” wrote The New York Times.

1956: Af­ter the Supreme Court's Brown v. Board of Ed­u­ca­tion ruled that seg­re­ga­tion in schools was un­con­sti­tu­tional, Ge­or­gia changed its state flag to in­cor­po­rate the bat­tle flag.

1961: On the cen­ten­nial of the Civil War's be­gin­ning, South Carolina hoisted the flag above its Capi­tol.

1963: The flag was raised over the Alabama Capi­tol when Robert Kennedy vis­ited to speak over is­sues such as de­seg­re­ga­tion with then-Gov. Ge­orge Wal­lace, fur­ther ce­ment­ing its link with op­po­si­tion to civil rights.

1965: Civil rights op­po­nents heck­led the men and women who marched from Selma to Mont­gomery, some taunt­ing them with Con­fed­er­ate flags.

Late '70s and early '80s: The flag res­onated with de­fend­ers of South­ern “hill­billy” or “red­neck” cul­ture. In the CBS se­ries, “Dukes of Haz­zard,” it ap­peared on the roof of a Dodge Charger named “The Gen­eral Lee.” South­ern Rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd dis­played in on al­bum cov­ers. It was stamped on shot glasses and T-shirts, and it adorned biki­nis on Cal­i­for­nia beaches.

2000: The state leg­is­la­ture of South Carolina took the flag down from the Capi­tol and raised it in­stead on the state­house grounds at the ex­ist­ing Con­fed­er­ate mon­u­ment. The NAACP be­gan a 15year boy­cott of the state.

2015: Af­ter white su­prem­a­cist Dy­lann Roof slaugh­tered nine mem­bers of a Charleston church, on­line im­ages of him emerged tout­ing a Con­fed­er­ate flag. Ama­zon, Wal­mart and other ma­jor re­tail­ers re­move Con­fed­er­ate goods from stores and web­sites. Then-Gov. Nikki Ha­ley calls for its re­moval from the state­house grounds.

2017: White na­tion­al­ists pa­rade the Con­fed­er­ate flag through Char­lottesville in ri­ots that lead to the death of coun­ter­protester Heather Heyer.

SER­GIO FLORES/BLOOMBERG NEWS

A sup­porter of Pres­i­dent Trump dis­plays a bat­tle flag while wait­ing to see Trump at a rally last week in Hous­ton.

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