Confederate Flag: Racist or Symbol of Freedom?

America is obsessed with the Confederate flag, the racist South’s battle flag during the American Civil War, which nowadays serves as a symbol of white supremacy. Is the flag racist? Or is it, rather, symbolic of the heroism of soldiers?

The issue concerning the Confederate flag not being consistent with the usually sharp political Republican-Democratic divide is something John McCain and Mitt Romney have known for a little while. In their attempts to become president of the United States in 2000 and 2008, they distanced themselves from the “racist flag.” This led to hate campaigns against them by the [2008 PAC committee] Americans for the Preservation of American Culture. “The South does not want John McCain” subsequently became a slogan regularly found on signs on occasions when McCain’s campaign team visited the South.

Republicans McCain and Romney did not become president of the United States. George W. Bush, however, did. He prevented problems from occurring in 2000 by stating that it was up to each state to decide for itself which flag to fly, according to The Washington Post. Jeb Bush also remained vague on Saturday, saying he felt confident that South Carolina “will do the right thing.”

This is in line with the picture Scott Buchanan, a professor of political science, painted last year in The State, a South Carolina newspaper: “If you touch it, you usually die politically.” Romney — being a businessman and, as such, not dependent on politics — stood by his position, and tweeted the following on Saturday: “Take down the Confederate flag at the S.C. capitol. To many, it is a symbol of racial hatred. Remove it now to honor Charleston victims.”

In 1962, the Confederate flag was flown in Columbia, the capital of South Carolina, as a protest against the civil rights movement. Last week, during the commemoration of the Charleston shootings, the flag was not flown at half-mast and it divided America, as it had before, into two camps. The flag of the Confederate States of America originated in the American Civil War of 1861-1865. To many, it is symbolic of the racist South, where slavery reigned at that time. Supporters of the flag argue their case by claiming the Confederate flag is being misused by racists, and that it is, above all, a symbol of an ideal for which their ancestors died.

Actor and former politician Ben Jones belongs to this group. “[In the South, our ancestors] fought for what they thought was right in their time and whose valor became legendary in military history. This is not nostalgia. It is our legacy. The current attacks on that legacy, 150 years after the event, are to us an insult that mends no fences nor builds any bridges.”]

As a Democrat, Jones sat in the House of Representatives for the state of Georgia, but he mainly gained prominence as an actor, playing the role of Cooter, the car mechanic in the American 1980s TV series “The Dukes of Hazard.” The series takes place in the Southern state of Georgia. This is also clear from the Duke boys’ orange car, which plays a central role in the series. The roof has a huge Confederate flag painted on it.

The flag is yet to disappear from the American street view. It can still regularly be found on bumper stickers, coat sleeves, T-shirts and belt buckles — and the flag is popular among white supremacists. On his show “Last Week Tonight,” comedian John Oliver made the suggestion to allow the flag’s existence “to help the rest of us identify the worst people in the world.”

On the Internet, Dylann Roof, the Charleston shooter, can not only be seen holding a Confederate flag in one hand and a gun in the other, but he is also wearing a coat with the racist flag of Rhodesia and the South African apartheid flag stitched onto it. For this reason, The New Yorker’s Editor-in-Chief David Remnick wonders how it is possible that there are people who think that the shooting in Charleston was not an old-fashioned lynch mob against black Americans.

According to Remnick, Roof’s language brings to mind that of Benjamin Tillman, who was governor of South Carolina at the end of the 19th century. Prior to shooting nine black Americans, Roof shouted, “You rape our women and you’re taking over our country!” Remnick quotes Tillman, who more than a hundred years ago said the following to the Senate: “We have never believed him to be the equal of the white man, and we will not submit to his gratifying his lust on our wives and daughters without lynching him.”

Roof reminds America that the “age of Obama” means everything but the end of racism, Remnick writes. In a cynical way, he again points to the grounds next to the South Carolina capitol, where the Confederate flag is not only flying high, but [ a statue of] Tillman still stands on its pedestal.*

*Editor’s Note: On July 10, South Carolina permanently removed the Confederate flag from the South Carolina State House in Columbia.

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