Amid all the unrest and confusion, NASCAR just banned displays of the Confederate flag and there have been renewed calls to change Mississippi’s flag. I noticed my old friend Dr. Brian Hohlt (a Catholic school history teacher at Cor Jesu in St. Louis, MO) posted a thread on Facebook and I found it informational and rooted in history. So I asked him if I could post on my blog and send it out. Here is the compilation:
If you are convinced that you’re standing for what’s right regarding support of Mississippi’s flag—the only state’s still containing Confederate imagery—a bit of review is in order. The notion some have that the flag doesn’t relate closely to slavery would have struck Southerners at the time as ridiculous. They had battled about it in Congress for thirty years, and when they seceded, they were explicit. Here, for example, is the Secession Ordinance for the state in question. Mississippi didn’t wait long to get to the point: “Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery– the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun. These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization. That blow has been long aimed at the institution and was at the point of reaching its consummation. There was no choice left us but submission to the mandates of abolition, or a dissolution of the Union, whose principles had been subverted to work out our ruin.”
Incidentally, the secession ordinances also show the hollowness of the “states’ rights” Lost Cause narrative. Mississippi cited hostility to slavery later in the ordinance, suggesting it had “nullified the Fugitive Slave Law in almost every free State in the Union, and has utterly broken the compact which our fathers pledged their faith to maintain.” In other words, Northern states were exercising their “states’ rights” to nullify the Fugitive Slave Law. Only one right mattered enough to prompt secession.
This certainty of purpose wasn’t just Mississippi’s. On March 21, 1861, the Vice President of the Confederate States, Alexander Stephens, delivered a speech known as the “Cornerstone Speech,” because of this passage: “Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner-stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.”
After the war, the properly-known Battle Flag of Northern Virginia (it was never the CSA’s national flag) fell from fashion; no less than Robert E. Lee told his devotees to “stow it away … put it in your attics.” And not until the 1890s did two groups, the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the United Daughters of the Confederacy, begin to re-popularize it, in an effort to build white unity during trying times. That’s when those groups also began to push for Confederate monuments and to push the “states’ rights” Lost Cause.
The flag then disappeared from popular use again for decades, until states like South Carolina began to fly it in defiance of 1960s Civil Rights Movement.
So it’s no coincidence that there are those like the 2015 Charleston church murderer who turn to the flag’s iconography. Nor that it shows up alongside Nazi flags in places like 2017 Charlottesville.
It might not mean these things to you. But there’s no denying this history, and that any state—particularly the one with the largest percentage of African-American residents in America—should remove it from taxpayer-funded public spaces.