I’ve been a fan of Clay Travis and Outkick the Coverage for the last couple of years. His weekly columns, along with Drew Magary’s mailbag, have been filling the Sports Guy-sized hole in my daily sports media heart as of late. However, I feel the need to address Clay’s recent comments on the Confederate battle flag.
In Clay’s piece, he mentions the Dukes of Hazzard as an example of context for the confederate flag that isn’t racist. This hit particularly close to home for me. As a small child that was one of my favorite shows. So much so that I wanted a replica of the General Lee, but my mother refused to buy it for me. Eventually I understood why.
My mother was born 5 days after the start of the bus boycott in West Montgomery, AL. The marchers from Selma camped literally at the end of her block at the City of St. Jude. During the first wave of school integration, she witnessed a frustrated white teacher pull a firearm on a student. This was the climate in which the confederate battle flag started appearing on government buildings. My mother understood exactly what that flag represented.
The Civil War was not a war fought by the North to abolish slavery. It was fought to quell a rebellion enacted by the Southern states over the question of whether the “peculiar Southern institution” of slavery would continue into the border states and territories. It was about power and money. The South provided cotton harvested by captive Africans to be processed by waged European immigrants and peasants in the textile mills of the Northeast and industrial England. They bought, sold, traded and used slaves as collateral for loans. Cotton was king, and although most whites in the south did not own slaves, many rented them and aspired to own. Fifty acres of good farmland and a few slaves was the Southern equivalent of the modern American Dream.
I frequently see the comment, “Anyone who thinks that flag is about hate needs to learn their history.” I consider myself an amateur historian. I know many of the battles by both their Union and Rebel names. During Reconstruction, suffrage was attained by black males, and the election of blacks to Congress shook the core of Southern society. The subjugated South desired something to hold on to, which led to Edward Pollard and Jubal Early masterminding the Lost Cause narrative. This account of the war painted the North as David and the South as Goliath, elevating Generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson to godlike status. The noble Lost Cause rhetoric led to the establishment of many Confederate heritage organizations that still exist today. It also framed states’ rights for chattel slavery as the primary reason for action by the Southern states, with slavery being presented as a benevolent practice. Preserving the history and the legacy of the Civil War is possible without echoing the racist narrative of Pollard and Early’s Lost Cause mythology.
Growing up in Montgomery, I daily passed the battlegrounds of both the Civil War and Civil Rights movement. I was a 6th grader when the flag was removed from atop the Capitol rotunda. In junior high school, Confederate Cotton t-shirts became wildly popular among the young white kids. Remember those? They usually consisted of a bucolic landscape, littered with yellow labs with a rebel flag draped at the bottom. At first glance, the shirt was harmless, but further examination revealed its true meaning: a longing for a simpler time when white women and men in their finest garb sipped tea on the veranda of palatial antebellum mansions while their chattel harvested the crop. Ultimately these t-shirts were a passive protest against what was deemed an out of control politically correct culture. Now Clay is waving that same bloody shirt of PC culture-encroachment. Ironically, the South depicted on those shirts only existed for the elite; the same elite who conscripted poor and illiterate white sharecroppers to die by the hundreds of thousands in their war of aggression.
I commend Amazon and Walmart’s move to ban the sale of Confederate battle flag regalia. Continuing to sell these items would only alienate a significant portion of their customer base, and I think this is a perfect example of the soft power of protest. Conversely, a rebel flag to represent the South on the cover of a Civil War-themed video game is an appropriate use of the image. As a liberal, black, Auburn alumnus who counts white Christian conservatives among my many friends, I feel that I uniquely understand this nuance. Very few things in this world are black and white. What is clear, however, is that the flag of a treasonous rebellion that is deeply offensive to 13% of Americans (more than 30% of them residing in the South) has no place on any government building.