Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Scholars say Confederate flag display was reaction to civil-rights movement; Iowan sees it differently

Photo by Sarah McCammon, NPR
An article in The Washington Post brings an interesting perspective to the continuing conflicts over Confederate symbols in public spaces, between those who argue they serve as both painful reminders and modern totems of white supremacy, and those who claim they merely represent America’s past.

In the Post, political scientists Logan Strother, Spencer Piston and Thomas Ogorzalek say displays of the Confederate flag were rare until the civil-rights movement began. “It wasn’t until 1948 that the Confederate flag re-emerged as a potent political symbol,” they write. “The reason was the Dixiecrat revolt — when Strom Thurmond led a walkout of white Southerners from the Democratic National Convention to protest President Harry S. Truman’s push for civil rights. The Dixiecrats began to use the Confederate flag, which sparked further public interest in it.”

A few years later, protests against the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision ordering desegregation of public schools prominently featured the battle flag.  In Georgia, a new state flag was adopted that included it. The man who guided the bill through the state House, admitted that “The Confederate symbol was added mostly out of defiance to federal integration orders,” the authors write. “These symbols were not widely used after the Civil War, but were reintroduced in the middle of the 20th century by white Southerners to fight against civil rights for African Americans. These basic historical facts provide more reasons to dispense with narratives of a racially innocuous Confederate past.”

But in Pleasantville, Iowa, today, Owen Golay flies the battle flag and the "stars and bars" of the Confederate government. "Aside from some people way back in his family tree who fought on both sides in the Civil War, he has no real ties to the South," Sarah McCammon reports for NPR. "Golay says his interest in Civil War history and symbols deepened during the Obama administration, when he felt President Obama was overstepping his executive authority. He says he feels a resonance today with 19th century Southerners' resistance to what they saw as federal overreach.

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