Rudnik > Flag Furor Down in Dixie

| July 1, 2015

The continuing debate on the Confederate flag—and its social meaning—is as old as the Civil War itself.

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Nick Rudnik, Valdosta Today Opinion Contributor

Celebrated twentieth century political scientist V. O. Key famously wrote, “The politics of the South revolves around the position of the Negro.” Any political scientist who studies the politics of the American South knows this adage from Key’s seminal 1949 tome on the subject. Key is simply telling us that to understand the South and its politics, one must first understand the politics of race, for the two are so intimately intertwined.

Presently, the South is again embroiled over the display of the Confederate flag on state government property—first in South Carolina, in response to the recent tragedy at a historic black church in Charleston, and later in several states throughout the Deep South.

Proponents of the Confederate battle flag, the “stars and bars” as it is often referred to, purport that it is a symbol of their southern heritage, a manifestation of the pride they have in their shared ancestry. Others argue it is a symbol of oppression, a heuristic for slavery, segregation, and racism; in other words, a manifestation of the more poignant elements of the old south we’d like to soon forget.
Truly, I wondered, upon watching the unremitting debates on the television: can the flag represent both heritage and oppression? Perhaps it is simply a matter of one’s perspective. And perhaps this heated struggle over a discarded symbol from our distant past is not only a simple debate over a flag, but a greater proxy war on the deeper meaning of our shared, sometimes sordid, history.

Key’s enduring words echo from the surety of a bygone time: all things political in the South are also, on some level, racial. The dissonance between proponents and detractors of the Confederate flag are trying to rectify the seemingly disparate philosophies of ancestral heritage and racism. Proponents of the flag see it as a way to honor the courage of their ancestors in the Civil War, a war that detractors remind them was fought to maintain among the most despicable of human social institutions—chattel slavery.

The proponents typically retort that the Confederate flag is nevertheless a symbol of their regional identity—a unique sense of independence. Here, detractors again note that Confederate battle flags only began to crop up en masse in the South around the middle of the twentieth century, as a rallying symbol for segregationists resisting incremental federal integration policies. From this, the debate continues in circles, with unending finger pointing.

Undeniably, the South has always been a unique place in the American experience; this will likely never change. Dixie has been poetically called the “present past.” In many corners of this almost ancient place, the people have an exceptional, engrained sense of their past. The specter of the past is perfectly melded with the certainty of the present.

The flag is a symbol and the single strongest heuristic of this past, simultaneously representing all that is good and all that is bad in our shared history. This is why tensions rise when it becomes the center of controversy. This is why, in Georgia, it cost a governor his career and seriously cost another to change Georgia’s 1956 flag to the current 2003 banner.

The central problem surrounding this debate is what should we do with Confederate battle flags? Should they be relocated onto private property, off government property, as was the case in Florida? Should we keep them where they are and continue to fan the flames of disdain and discontent? As most will clearly see, there is no easy answer. As I noted, the flag is a much deeper social touchstone than it first appears.

It is a deep-seated cultural symbol because of the South’s sense of history. The flag debate reminded me of an excerpt from Ken Burns’s renowned PBS documentary series “The Civil War.” Fittingly, Burns’s “The Civil War” has been remastered and is scheduled to re-air in September, to commemorate the twenty-fifth anniversary of its initial television release.

In “The Civil War,” historian Barbara Fields speaks to the South’s sense of the past with an unmatched, simple eloquence. She notes, paraphrasing Faulkner, “The Civil War is in the present as well as in the past.” The war is not over. Fields ends her remarks with the conclusion that because the American Civil War is still being waged, “Regrettably, it can still be lost.”

The flag is perhaps the most prominent, outward symbol of this incessant and continuing conflict. If a compromise cannot be reached, if the affected and aggrieved parties cannot come to some sense of comity with one another and find a solution, once and for all, to the Confederate flag dilemma in South Carolina and throughout the Deep South, then indeed, the conflict can and will regrettably be lost.


rudnik-thumbnailNicholas A. Rudnik is currently pursuing a degree in political science with a concentration in American politics at Valdosta State University. Previously, he’s served as a congressional page in the U.S. House of Representatives during the 111th Congress and in the Office of U.S. Congressman Sanford Bishop. Further, Nick has served on staff at an institutional interest group, the Association of American Law Schools, in Washington and has worked in the private sector. He has presented his research, focused primarily on congressional parties and elections, at regional academic conferences and hopes to pursue a graduate degree in political science. Nick is currently completing two manuscripts relating to southern congressional elections and judicial decision-making in the area of campaign finance; he can be contacted via e-mail at narudnik@valdosta.edu. Follow Nick on Twitter: @NickRudnik.

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4 Comments on "Rudnik > Flag Furor Down in Dixie"

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  1. Jimmy Nettlebess says:

    The Confederate Battle Flag is not the “Stars and Bars”, the “Star and Bars” is the nickname for the first Confederate National Flag. Most people refer to the Battle flag erroneously as the “Saint Andrews Cross” however it is not and never been the “SAC” and is actually a modified South Carolina Secession flag.

    As for the rest of the post… I just don’t care anymore. All these new armchair historians and “Flaggers” are up in arms about the flag and Southern pride but where were they when the flag was being usurped by the many hate groups? Or when “rednecks” flew it from their whip antennas and pick ups? Or was being used as blinds in a ratty single wide? Where were these “heritagists” when the battlefields were plowed under? When the real flags needed conservation? Now all of a sudden it’s important.

    All that said though, remember that the U.S. Flag flew over slavery, genocide, and a whole other host of crimes as well and for for much longer.

  2. Jaddy Baddy says:

    Oh look, the FBI just emailed me a picture
    of a naked kid so they can arrest me for
    having a picture of a naked kid.

    Oh look, the FBi has dressed up their agents
    as Klansmen, so they can arrest people for
    joining the Klan.

    Oh look, the FBI or NAACP or JDL put up
    a Klan website and talked Dylan Roof into
    acting like he was shooting up the AME
    Church so they can take down the Rebel
    flag. Only, some idiot FBI, or NAACP, or
    JDL agent flubbed up and gave Roof real
    bullets, and Roof Really did shoot up the
    AME Church, oops.

    It’s gettin’ so you can’t tell the actors
    from the players in the surveillant society
    of Yankee Uhmerica. That’s all right, we’ll
    just leave the FBI and NAACP and JDL,
    out of the report.

    • Jimmy Nettlebess says:

      Tin Foil Hats! Get your Your tin foil hats here folks! Act now and we will throw in a copy of “Jet Fuel Can’t melt Steel Beams” and “The Grass Knoll: 101 reason Oswald didn’t do it.”

  3. Frank says:

    Jimmy jimmy jimmy…You’re so ignorant. Why, you may ask? Because I said so and so you are. You have no right to complain about my post. Why? Because I said so. Now be gone little sheep boy.