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July 01, 2014


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Alfred, I have a real problem with this kind of thing. I am reminded of Holmes in The Path of the Law: "It is revolting to have no better reason for a rule of law than that so it was laid down in the time of Henry IV. It is still more revolting if the grounds upon which it was laid down have vanished long since, and the rule simply persists from blind imitation of the past." Why should one generation be able to bind later generations to a particular world view, particularly a view that harmed, and continues to harm, large swaths of the population? White supremacy and support for slavery are encoded in these monuments. The proof is that, during the Civil Rights Movement, opponents of equal rights for blacks brought the symbols of the Confederacy back to aid in their resistance to attacks on white supremacy. The symbols harkened back to old values that supported slavery and, after that, kept blacks in near abject oppression. The monuments do the work of saying that "the South" really belongs to white people, blacks are akin to the flora and fauna--or just lost property.

And what about the Union soldiers? Could we have, in this country, any-- let alone multiple-- monuments to the pilots who bombed Pearl Harbor?

Alfred Brophy

AGR, thanks, as always, for joining the conversation.

More monuments are, of course, appropriate. One of my favorite new monuments to the era of slavery is on the grounds of the Tennessee state house. It was placed there recently:

I agree with you that the revival of the Confederate flag in the 1950s/1960s (and today) is largely, if not exclusively, a response to the Civil Rights Movement. That's a lot of why as I said in the post that I'd 100% against displays of it by the government. I'd say 110% against it, but I don't think that's mathematically possible.

I guess the place we part company is on removal of a statute (or renaming of a building). And here I suppose my general disposition against removal relates to my desire to keep a historical record. Of course, if the current members of the community don't want a monument they have the right and opportunity to remove it. We've seen that in a lot of places in the south; Confederate monuments have been moved from a place of prominence to a more remote part of the county seat. (The latter happened in Southampton County, where Nat Turner's rebellion took place, for instance. The former took place in Sampson County, North Carolina, which was the scene of some extraordinary violence against slaves in the wake of the Turner rebellion.) This is a decision that's obviously within the power of the local community to make and they are making it. There's nothing that compels a community to maintain a monument.

In the calculus of whether we should remove a monument we should consider who had a say in the placement of it in the first place and its meaning at the time of placement, as well as its current meaning. But my default position would be to maintain the historical record -- though as I say if the people who live with these monuments want some other resolution, that's up to them.

Ralph Clifford

To venture a guess, I suspect that a government-sponsored Confederate flag on public property bothers you for some of the same reasons that the Town of Greece case bothers me. By flying the Confederate flag, the government is endorsing the messages it conveys. Even if the sole intent is to remember the Confederate war veterans, it also conveys a message of racism. If you are a member of that community, you seem to be endorsing that message. The only remedy left -- one that is normally impossible considering the minority's status and voting power -- is to vote in a new government.


"hey were fighting for a cause we now all recognize was wrong (or pretty much everyone recognizes this)."

"Pretty much everyone recognizes" is not good enough for the First Amendment, certainly. Rightly or wrongly, the meaning of the Confederate flag is in dispute. Does it mean support for ancestors? Does it mean support for slavery? Does it mean support for the Constitution? Does it mean support for states' rights?

The meaning of the flag is in dispute, and if a locale decides the meaning is X (presumably, BECAUSE everyone agrees slavery is wrong as you say, they can't POSSIBLY mean to put up the flag for racial reasons), then the meaning is X.

To determine what the flag means is for a court to, under the guise of upholding the First Amendment, seek to endorse a particular and controversial political position. Ordering a takedown of the flag in these contexts seems itself to be a First Amendment violation of sorts.

In this sense, I guess I line up with Thomas in his Hosanna-Tabor concurrence and see classic Free Exercise jurisprudence as being helpful here. Now, if we just don't like the Confederate flag and think that it is a compelling state interest to propagandize about the war, fine. Let's say so and let's order the flags down, and prohibit swastikas while we're at it. But let's be honest about what we're doing.


The flag isn't just a historical banner anymore. It's as much a symbol of an aspect of Southern culture. Its become a heraldic symbol for many Confederate descendants, and seem worldwide to a vast majority of people as a symbol of Southern identity and culture. Also it is seen as a living memorial to the honored dead of the Southland.

The flag is as much a modern symbol as a historical one. The question though is how it is and shall be recognized as a modern symbol in America. The answer there is not so easy.

The easy way is to say that since its been misused by racists it is a symbol of hate and banish it. After all a good number of black Americans have a very negative view of it and the sight of it is abhorrent and harmful. As a Confederate descendent who honors it and its military history, the idea of that pain fills me with sorrow, and (I admit) a genuine hatred for those who continue to use that flag in an way meant to be antagonistic towards people based on race. All my efforts past and present go towards ending that view, or making it irrelevant - the same can be said for a vast majority of the Southern heritage community at large too.

To Confederate heritage defenders and proponents the idea of surrendering that flag to that point of view, even if it means showing "tolerance" for the pain of those who feel dread over the sight of that flag, is seen as simply the same thing as folding it up, handing it over to the KKK and the Neo-Nazi movement and telling them: "Here, its yours, bloodstains and all, its not worth fighting for anymore."
The idea of doing that is so obscene I could not possibly begin to express in words just how much disgust that suggestion evokes, especially when one considers that for the last two decades the opponents of that flag have been labeling people "racist" for no better reason that the display of that flag, regardless if the charge is justified or not.

The flag has been misused and the history of that misuse cannot be ignored, that much I agree with. But neither should it be the final judgment of that symbol either. That is something that the Opposition must accept too if any meaningful outcome is to be achieved on this. Those who honor that flag and display it for all the proper reasons related to identity and heredity are not going anywhere anytime soon, or probably anytime later for that matter, and the tactics of labeling ones opponents for disagreeing with you won't end in any meaningful way.

The flags will be displayed one way or another. Would it not be better to reject the modern misuse of that flag as a symbol of hatred? One cannot forget the misuse, or the history of said misuse, but certainly there is a way to find balance that does not require tearing apart communities needlessly to advance illicit political agendas - Right or Left.

Bill Turnier

Perhaps it is time to consider what the reader response theory may tell us of the meaning of the "stars and bars." I know what it means to me.


I appreciate your view, Alfred and always enjoy your thoughtful posts. You are right that these things will be decided by communities. But we know what "community" has meant for blacks in the south from slavery days until now-- not always a pretty story. Communities in the south did all kinds of terrible things in the name of white supremacy.

Alfred Brophy


Thank you for the kind words and agreed. Yes they did and in the days after slavery, too. And there wasn't a lot of distinction between the government and mob action, either, in all too many instances.

And one other thing that I remembered while looking at the illustration of the monument in Sussex County; if you look just to the right of the monument in that picture you see a small white house. Those look like slave quarters to the house you can see on the right of the monument. If that's true, that's a great illustration of the connections of the past to that monument. Final thought on this, as I said in my initial post, I think I'm most bothered by the speech on the monument and the endorsement of slavery that it makes.

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