Friday, November 06, 2015

Good analyis of the Confederate Flag Flap

Excellent sociological and historical analysis by Richard M. McMurry.
"RICHARD M. MCMURRY, a native of Atlanta, Georgia, is a historian, author, and lecturer of Civil War history. He graduated from the Virginia Military Academy, earned a PhD in history from Emory University, and taught at Valdosta State University and North Carolina State University. He has written four major books on the western theater, one of which was awarded the Laney Prize, and many articles and essays for history journals and magazines. Dr. McMurry compiled a biographical encyclopedia of the alumni of the Virginia Military Institute who served in the Civil War."

Some quotes follow:

"First, we must understand that symbols like the Confederate Flag have no intrinsic meaning. The meanings symbols carry is that which humans attach from their own learning. Thus, any viewer of a symbol is free to assign it any range of meanings. The symbol itself, then is constant, but the value symbolized is not. Assuming that the Confederate Flag is an element of our culture, it becomes neccesary to define culture. Stephen M. Fjellman, in his book Vinyl Leaves, defines cultre as: "a public, more-or-less shared set of symbols, meanings, understandings, and beliefs people use to make sense of and reproduce their normal lives." Culture and symbols, like the Confederate Flag, can be shared on an international, local, regional, economic, racial, ethnic, or family level, all of which can overlap forming an infinite array of possibilities. Herein lies the source of controversy over the Confederate flag.
Semiotics is the term for this "study of signs." Semiotics involves a sort of unpacking of signs by looking at them not as having any natural meaning, but as constructs reproducing society's beliefs. As Valetin Volosinov put it: "Whenever a sign is present, ideology is present" (cited in Chandler). For a more detailed explanation of Semiotics, see Daniel Chandler's Semiotics for Beginners."

 "The flag was a symbol of the Confederate States of America, the losing party in the Civil War. Volumes upon volumes have been written about the causes of the Civil War, but most historians agree slavery was the one single issue without which the war could have been avoided. The war was not fought over slavery in the South, but slavery in the territories, especially those acquired from Mexico in 1848. Southerner's feared any kind of government regulation of their "peculiar institution," and saw the outlawing of slavery in the territories as a sure sign that slavery in the South would soon end as well. "

The current flap is an update of civil rights movement and the issue of white supremacy.
"With the coming of the Civil Rights movement came the beginnings of the controversy surrounding the flag which we know today. White Southerners believed that their exclusive culture was being threatened, and the flag became a symbol against civil rights. The segregationist Dixiecrat party of 1948, who ran Strom Thurmond for president, took on the Confederate flag as its symbol."


  1. I've never seen any commentary as to why the multitudes of whites who did not own slaves were willing to "fight for slavery". Slavery was important to the wealthy, sure. But the poor?

    As far as the flag as symbolism in today's world, those who have flown it are not would-be slavers. It's far more a symbol of resentment against the nanny state. It's use has grown with the ongoing debacle of the unGreat Society.


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    2. Art: Thanks for the comment. Some commentary is in my older post below "Book Review and Essay, the Cause Lost."
      Also bear in mind that people back then were much more religious than they are now. Supporters of slavery and white supremacy, including clergy, found religious justification for slavery and white supremacy. Thus, there was an element of religious faith in fighting. Slavery and white supremacy were both dominant concepts. One could support white supremacy without being a fan of slavery or owning a slave.
      Please check out the book reviewed in the post.
      In today's world there are lots of other symbols for opposing the nanny state (e.g. "don't tread on me" flag). White supremacy is not dead. Was the recently church mass-murderer, angry at the nanny state? Much of this anger at the feds comes from resentment over forced integration of public schools.
      S.C. was the cradle of the Confederacy, yet they (gov. & legislature) removed the flag. They wouldn't cave on this big an issue just to be politically correct. Is there some conspiracy behing that. Ole Miss figured it out. Finally, there are still many who believe that white supremacy is God's will. I hope to get a post out on this later. Start by checking out the "Christian Identity Movement"
      "Kingdom Identity Ministry/movement,."
      As the article says, symbols have different meanings for different people. There are better anti-nanny symbols available which don't have white supremacy baggage. See also comment on 44's post. However, I respect your right to interpret and use symbols as you see fit.

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  3. [Correction made]. "My take on the old South's battle flag is its historical significance regarding our country's struggle to finally end the abominable institution of human slavery. Rich or poor, southern culture was built upon racism. I've witnessed these attitudes first hand when in Alabama to visit extended family back in the 1960s through 80s. Not so much today. As far as Confederate soldiers and sailors were concerned, preserving the antebellum south's peculiar institution was not their purpose, nor was it the Yankees' [concern] after the first shot was fired. Southern forces mobilized to defend their homeland from invasion by an overreaching centralized government. 'Bory's battle flag, with the St. Andrew's cross, will forever represent the hardships and sacrifices made by Confederate citizens to defend their homes and their honor. It was a different time and place."

  4. As the article suggests, symbols have different meanings for different people. However, it appears that the Gov. & legislature of the state of S.C. don't agree with you. However I respect your right to interpret symbols as you seem them.

  5. I suspect reconstruction was certainly as important to Mr. Lincoln as emancipation. For this reason, there's more profound significance to his past example than was demonstrated by Governor Haley. I will agree the flag belongs to history.