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Neo-Confederacy: A Critical Introduction

By Euan Hague; Edward H. Sebesta et al. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 6
Fighting for the Lost Cause:
The Confederate Battle Flag and
Neo-Confederacy

GERALD R. WEBSTER AND JONATHAN I. LEIB

During the past decade the American South has witnessed dozens of controversies over the appropriate display of symbols, the celebration of historical events, and the memorialization of individuals associated with the shortlived Confederate States of America (1861–1865). These controversies have surrounded school dress codes that ban clothing with Confederate symbols in Alabama,1 the naming of public schools after Confederate military figures in Virginia,2 the display of the Confederate battle flag on specialty license plates in Tennessee3 and on a city logo in Florida,4 litigation over a barbecue sauce boycott stemming from the producer's support for Confederate symbols in South Carolina,5 and the chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court leading a sing-along including the song "Dixie" at a gathering of lawyers from Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina.6 While the most widely publicized of such controversies have occurred in the Deep South states of Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina,7 at times these debates have spilled beyond the region's boundaries to states such as Maryland,8 Texas,9 Kansas,10 and Massachusetts,11 and even to the chambers of the U.S. Senate in Washington.12

These debates are almost universally over the meaning of Confederate symbols, past and present. Many of the region's white residents view the Confederate battle flag, for example, as symbolic of the bravery and sacrifice of their ancestors during the Civil War. To these citizens the battle flag is emblematic of the honor and integrity of the struggle for Southern independence as embodied in the myth of the "Lost Cause." In contrast, other residents of the region interpret the battle flag as symbolic of the South's political and military efforts to preserve slavery within its boundaries. These residents, including most of the region's African American population, also associate the battle flag with the violent activities of racist hate groups during the Massive

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