The first official national flag of the Confederacy, often called the “Stars and Bars," was flown from March 4, 1861 to May 1, 1863. German-Prussian artist Nicola Marschall in Marion, Alabama, designed it. The “Artist of the Deep South” is also credited as the designer of the official grey uniform of the Confederate army. The "Stars and Bars" flag was adopted March 4, 1861, in the first temporary national capital of Montgomery, Alabama, and raised over the dome of that first Confederate capitol. There would be two successive national flag designs that would later serve as the official national flags of the Confederate States of America (the "Confederate States" or the "Confederacy") during its existence.
The Confederate flag was deliberately flown in opposition of U.S. ideology, which symbolized abolitionism and emancipation in the North. The Confederate flag quickly became the symbol of white privilege and segregation, the oppression of Black people, and the fight by Southern states to preserve slavery, which included an American brand of "terrorism" known as lynching. Bryan Stevenson, 55, a professor at NYU Law School and the head of the nonprofit organization called, Equal Justice Initiative estimates, “Three thousand, nine hundred and fifty-nine people were lynched in the U.S. between 1877 and 1950—seven hundred more than was previously known. Georgia, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas and Texas claimed the highest number of lynching, while Florida, Mississippi, Arkansas and Louisiana had the highest rates of lynching” (atlantablackstar.com/2015/07/06/). Lynching profoundly impacted race relations in America and shaped the geographic, political, social, and economic conditions of African Americans in ways that are still evident today.
Terror lynching fueled the mass migration of millions of black people from the South into urban ghettos in the North and West during the first half of the twentieth century. Lynching created a fearful environment where racial subordination and segregation was maintained with limited resistance for decades. Most critically, lynching reinforced a legacy of racial inequality that has not been adequately addressed in America.
With whites fast becoming the minority in U.S. population, is the Confederate flag now being waved back into consciousness as an attempt to glorify and reclaim a heritage of white supremacy and domestic terrorism against Blacks and people of color? Is it fear of retaliation and retribution?
Within the American Indian symbol system, the Navajo’s “good luck” or “swirling log” symbol some say resembles the swastika, representative of the Jewish Holocaust, of Nazi Germany. Learning of the swastika, caused the Navajo to quit using the swirling log symbol for public items, such as rugs and jewelry. The swirling log symbol,which faces a different direction, tells the Navajo legend of a man canoeing down the San Juan River. Within the whirlpool caused by the confluence of the San Juan River and the Colorado River, he saw crossed logs with Yei sitting on them. The Yei, similar to Navajo Gods, gave the man much knowledge to take back to his people. Those who still live at the confluence of the San Juan still use the symbol privately in ceremonies, because of its strong cultural heritage, but are aware of the sensitivity to certain some groups.
The historical legacy of lynching’s were acts of violence designed to maintain white dominance over Black people. “They were white Christian ritualistic killings, symbolic acts of violence not unlike the acts of terror that Americans would associate with groups such as ISIS or Al Qaeda. As the ‘other,’ Black people served as scapegoats whose deaths helped preserve the purity and hegemony of the white race.” Moreover, “The practice of lynching reflects the power of the slave patrol and the lynch mob, the white judge and the all-white jury— the authority of white men to inflict collective punishment against Black people at will, sanctioned by the law” (atlantablackstar.com/2015/07/06/).
The psychological toll inflicted upon the Black community has been great in terms of trauma caused by lynching, done under the covenant of the Confederate flag. “Lynching’s provided a form of public entertainment. Railroads ran excursions and sold tickets, and families had picnics to watch these spectacles. As Ida B. Wells said, the nineteenth century lynching mob cuts off ears, toes, and fingers, strips off flesh, and distributes portions of the body as souvenirs among the crowd. If the leaders of the mob are so minded, coal-oil is poured over the body and the victim is then roasted to death” (atlantablackstar.com/2015/07/06/).
Since the end of the American Civil War, private and official use of the Confederacy's flags, and of flags with derivative designs, has continued under philosophical, political, cultural, and racial controversy in the United States. We are a nation united by one flag. We may not be perfect, however, “Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity” (Martin Luther King, Jr.). Take the flag down and put it in a museum!
Julianne Jennings (Nottoway) is an anthropologist.