In the wake of the terror attack on a Black Charleston church, a lot of people are calling for the Confederate battle flag to be taken down from the South Carolina State House. This is an extremely moderate gesture, considering what jarring violence has catalyzed it, but one that some nonetheless see as an attack on a heralded symbol of the South. While it is an incredibly loaded symbol for very valid reasons, it's worth understanding the fascinating story behind the flag, if only to appreciate just how messed up its ubiquity is.
1. It wasn't the actual flag of the Confederacy.
The flag most people are familiar with is actually the Confederate battle flag. Effectively, this means the flag isn't representing the South as a country or a people; it's representing it as a belligerent.
2. It didn't fly over buildings, and wasn't treated as a Confederate emblem during the war.
Immediately after the war, it was used by some confederate veterans' group, but even they didn't officially adopt it until later.
3. Its popularity exploded in response to anti-lynching and desegregation laws.
During the 1948 presidential elections, many southern Dixiecrats rallied around Strom Thurmond as he ran against Harry Truman. Truman was particularly reviled by Whites in the South for his support of anti-lynching bills, and his continued desegregation of the armed forces. Ironically, Truman had been a Ku Klux Klan member two decades before when he was a judge in Missouri.
4. The Ku Klux Klan played a big part in popularizing the flag.
In response to civil rights milestones like Brown vs. Board of Education in 1954, groups like the KKK and White Citizens' Council embraced the flag as a reactionary emblem. It was not waved as a celebration of collective heritage, but rather as a banner of intimidation against integrationist policy.
5. Georgia added the battle flag to their state flag in response to the Civil Rights Movement.
While their state flag no longer includes the traditional "Southern cross," it's actually just the Confederate flag with the George seal in the corner.
6. It didn't fly over South Carolina's State House until 1961.
The flag was raised in 1961 in honor of the centennial of the Civil War's start.
7. In 2001, Mississippi voted 2-1 to keep it in their state flag.
The flag was adopted in 1894 and still features the Confederate flag.
8. Its display and sale are banned in California government buildings.
In 2014, the state passed a law banning its display on state buildings and prohibiting the sale of merchandise displaying it. People are still allowed to fly it on their own property, however.
9. The NAACP has an official boycott against South Carolina because of the flag.
The flag was removed from the State House in 2000, only to be raised on a ground-level pole in front of the building. The NAACP has been calling for tourists and businesses to boycott the state until the flag is removed.
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