The Confederate Battle Flag: America's Most Embattled Emblem

The Confederate Battle Flag: America's Most Embattled Emblem

The Confederate Battle Flag: America's Most Embattled Emblem

The Confederate Battle Flag: America's Most Embattled Emblem

Synopsis

In recent years, the Confederate flag has become as much a news item as a Civil War relic. Intense public debates have erupted over Confederate flags flying atop state capitols, being incorporated into state flags, waving from dormitory windows, or adorning the T-shirts and jeans of public school children. To some, this piece of cloth is a symbol of white supremacy and enduring racial injustice; to others, it represents a rich Southern heritage and an essential link to a glorious past. Polarizing Americans, these "flag wars" reveal the profound--and still unhealed--schisms that have plagued the country since the Civil War.

The Confederate Battle Flag is the first comprehensive history of this contested symbol. Transcending conventional partisanship, John Coski reveals the flag's origins as one of many banners unfurled on the battlefields of the Civil War. He shows how it emerged as the preeminent representation of the Confederacy and was transformed into a cultural icon from Reconstruction on, becoming an aggressively racist symbol only after World War II and during the Civil Rights movement. We gain unique insight into the fine line between the flag's use as a historical emblem and as an invocation of the Confederate nation and all it stood for. Pursuing the flag's conflicting meanings, Coski suggests how this provocative artifact, which has been viewed with pride, fear, anger, nostalgia, and disgust, might ultimately provide Americans with the common ground of a shared and complex history.

Excerpt

On July 12, 1993, the public debate over the Confederate flag found its way onto the floor of the United States Senate. “The fact of the matter is the emblems of the Confederacy have meaning to Americans even 100 years after the end of the Civil War,” observed Illinois Senator Carol Moseley-Braun, the Senate’s only African-American member. “Everybody knows what the Confederacy stands for… Now, in this time, in ‘995. when we see the Confederate symbols hauled out, everybody knows what that means.” Senator Moseley-Braun certainly knew what Confederate symbols meant to her—virulent racism—and her speech was powerful enough to persuade her colleagues not to renew a special congressional patent for the insignia of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. Others, outraged by her speech and its impact, were equally certain what Confederate symbols meant to them: a proud heritage and the honor of their ancestors. Moseley-Braun’s widely publicized speech and the reaction to it highlighted the essential point at issue in the debates over the Confederate flag. Certainly, in 1993, or in 2005, a lot of people who see Confederate symbols “hauled out” have very strong opinions about what those symbols mean to them. But they hardly agree on the meaning of Confederate symbols—on what the Confederacy stood for or what it means when its symbols are hauled out today.

Ten years after Moseley-Braun’s Senate speech, Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean raised a firestorm when he told a reporter, “I still want to be the candidate for guys with Confederate flags in their . . .

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