What Does the Confederate Flag Mean?

I just had a Twitter conversation with a presumably white, southern man who had argued that the real definition of the Confederate flag is pride in the confederacy and states rights and only these two things.  I told him that he needs to be careful with such bold definitions because this was his subjective interpretation.  He proceeded to argue that it was a ‘fact’ that the Confederate flag was about the confederacy and states right, and simultaneously implied that its meaning had nothing to do with slavery.  I begged to differ.  For example, if we asked, say, a southern black man from Georgia what the Confederate flag means to him, he might have a totally different opinion; he might say it means ‘the end of slavery’ or ‘racism’.  The fact that there are always going to be these different narratives in assessing the meaning of the Confederate flag suggests that there is no ‘true’ or ‘real’ meaning to it. This, in fact, is the only fact which arose out of my discussion with this presumably white, southern man on Twitter.  My goal in this Internet encounter was to shed light on the idea that no one group has sole custody of the Confederate flag’s meaning, and that it was not right for one man or woman to take away another’s right to interpret it freely.  Sadly, the man I was arguing with did not buy into any of what I was saying.  And so the debate rages.  Though certainly not without closed-mindedness.

12 thoughts on “What Does the Confederate Flag Mean?

  1. As you say, Interpretation is one thing, facts are another.

    It is a fact that in 1991, the NAACP adopted a national resolution declaring as fact that the Confederate Flag is “an odious blight on the universe”. This was a statement by the group implying agreement by all individuals in that group – the “party line”. When has an NAACP spokesman ever denied this?
    By your standards, therefore, the NAACP is dealing not in an “interpretation” but a statement of “fact”, which is by all objective standards, as a absolute, and non-negotiable, is therefore, ab initio, a falsehood- and based on hate to boot.
    The NAACP therefore should lose all ability to re-interpret the meaning of the flag, much less demand that it be removed from public view, and lose all credibility on this subject altogether — until the NAACP as a whole repudiates and rescinds its resolution based upon hate, and agrees to allow for individual interpretation, and concommitant public display.
    Isn’t that what our 1st Amendment is for – not to allow the NAACP to have the Heckler’s Veto against the Confederate Flag, just because it is a very loud, agressive group, when well meaning persons, and groups who interpret it differently, such as the SCV and UDC, are trying to rehabilitate it and restore it to its familiar and respected place in the mainstream of the civic landscape?
    Only then will it cease to be a convenient bogeyman the NAACP uses to further its own selfish agenda.
    Only Confederophobes refuse to learn the truth, in all its forms, and adopt only unquestioning acceptance of the NAACP’s “Big Lie”. Southern black men included. If such a man’s opinion is based solely on the NAACP’s “Big Lie”- because he refused to hear any other interpretation, ie, out of closed-mindedness, then he is guilty of intellectual dishonesty. But, if he is never given a chance to hear another voice, because the rest of us fear NAACP bullying, then the rest of us are guilty of intellectual dishonesty, too.
    If, as you say, no one group has “custody”; so, too, does no one group have a Heckler’s Veto. …Fact?


    1. I will say that the NAACP is allowed to interpret the flag in whichever way it wants. An interpretation, however, doesn’t mean it’s a fact. There are no ‘facts’ as it concerns the meaning of the Confederate flag. That’s pretty much the point of my original piece. Other than this, I don’t know what else to say because I didn’t follow a lot of what you wrote.


  2. I sought out this topic because my son decided to hang a confederate flag in his dorm room. I told him that, I believed, the connotation was negative, and I discouraged it. However, he insisted that that the flag was just about “southern pride.” He is certainly NOT racist. Some of his very best friends are African American, so I know he isn’t considering the flag a representation of anything negative at all. Nonetheless, I’m of the opinion that it if the confederate flag remotely connects a person with being a bigot, racist, or whatever, than it shouldn’t be flown, just my opinion.


    1. Thank you for the comment CJ. I’d be interested to talk to your son about what ‘southern pride’ means to him. Maybe you should ask. I wonder how his African American friends would feel if they saw his flag up.


  3. I don’t think he’s given it much thought. In fact, I don’t think most southernerns believe there is any insidious meaning behind the confederate flag. I had lunch with my mother, who is 80 years old, and I expressed concern over my son’s decor, and she said the flag was about states rights and had nothing to do with racism. I truly think this is what many southernerns think. While some individuals perceive the confederate flag as an innocent “proud southern symbol,” I can absolutely see the offensiveness of it to African Americans. I plan to continue these discussions with my son…


  4. CJ – How “remote” does remote connection have to be for you to condemn a flag? As remote as the fact that every African transported on an American ship to be a slave in the New World (financed, owned, and outfitted by Yankees) was under the US flag. Is that remote enough for you to denounce the US flag? Do you look for underlying truth – or just fall for lies by those with the biggest propaganda machine?

    How about the US annexation and domination, without informed consent and with a big dose of racism, of Hawaii – or the Phillipines, or Puerto Rico or Native Americans – under the US Flag? The Stars and Stripes has as much to be condemned for as the “Confederate” Flag. Are you really that much of a hypocrite?

    And remember, the Confederate flag known as The Battle Flag, or Southern Cross, was the Soldier’s Flag- flown to lead brave, patriotic men who were defending their homes and families against an aggressive invader. I’ll bet that’s the flag he wants to display, and the sentiment he wants to express.

    Get over how the Confederophobes – NAACP bigots or KKK bigots, may use the flag. Let him join those of us who are rehabilitating the flag to its former frequent, familiar, and respected place in the civic landscape. – let him decide for himself – let him be proud of the Confederate Flag.

    You should also really decide for yourself what you want the flag to mean- and not let others do it for you, influencing you by “remote” control. Your son and your mother seem to have some backbone – where’s yours?

    When you use the flag, and don’t mean offense, then you will join us in the true mainstream. Be brave. By knuckling under, you just allow the agenda-driven loudmouth haters to prevail in the marketplace of ideas.


  5. I have relatives that fought in the war for the South. I fly the Confederate flag because of heritage and that I’m proud of where I’m from. To think that the flag stands for racism is just way off. Most who do think this is not educated on the war. I could go forever about this topic. For now though, coming from someone from the south with African American friends, I fly the flag proudly!


    1. Roy – you’re missing the point. Subjectivity is a powerful thing. You have your own biography and background and interpret things differently from other groups. One cannot deny someone the freedom of thought. To you, the flag doesn’t stand for racism. And that’s perfectly fine. But for others it does. Hence why we are going back to the point that the meaning on the Confederate flag depends on who you ask.


  6. When I was growing up I connected the confederate flag with racism. The reason I did was because of what I was taught in school and how the confederate flag was depicted in movies. I was actually afraid of anyone that flew a confederate flag and I steered clear of them. And I don’t mean that I was taught racism in school, I just mean that I was taught in school that the War Between the States was because of slavery, but there was actually way more to it and I learned this on my own, many years later. My school did not give a complete and accurate view of this war and now that I have been researching my family history and I have learned more about what the flag meant to my ancestors that fought in the War Between the States, my opinion of the flag has changed. I feel like Roy, proud of my heritage and where I am from, but I am not always proud of the way the flag has been used by some people to promote racism. My point is, I still struggle with my feelings on the confederate flag because I’m still trying to reconcile my two different views of the flag because of the way it’s been depicted and I don’t think I can. I actually think it’s been used for both. Good and Bad. You are right Craig, it depends on who you ask. For me, it has two meanings.


    1. Susie – Thanks very much for your message. I don’t think I could have asked for a better response. You really hit the nail on the head. For you, it has two meanings. For others, it may have ten meanings or no meanings. You understand the point I was trying to make – it depends on who you ask. There really is an endless amount of meanings. No group has sole custody of its definition. Thank you once again for the message. Brilliantly stated!


  7. Auctully,The confederate flag is auctully heritage not hate.Southerners weren’t the only ones with slaves most yankees had slaves.Slaves were for rich the south was very poor unlike the north.


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