The flag that we know as the Confederate Battle Flag was used by many (but by no means all) Confederate military units during the War for Southern Independence (1861-1865). It was their flag, and they alone had the right to interpret its meaning and explain the cause for which they fought.
When the War was over, the Confederate soldiers became Confederate veterans. They formed an organization known as the United Confederate Veterans. The Confederate Battle Flag was still their Flag, and they alone had the right to interpret its meaning and explain the cause for which they fought.
In 1896, since many of the Confederate veterans were aged, infirm, and dying off, the Sons of Confederate Veterans was formed as the successor organization to the United Confederate Veterans. The legacy and authority of the United Confederate Veterans was transferred to them over the next ten years. This transfer of power culminated in a speech given 25 April 1906 at New Orleans, Louisiana by Stephen Dill Lee, Confederate lieutenant-general, and commander-in-chief of the United Confederate Veterans:
To you, Sons of Confederate Veterans, we will commit the vindication of the cause for which we fought. To your strength will be given the defense of the Confederate soldier’s good name, the guardianship of his history, the emulation of his virtues, the perpetuation of those principles which he loved and which you love also, and those ideals which made him glorious and which you also cherish. Are you also ready to die for your country? Is your life worthy to be remembered along with theirs? Do you choose for yourself this greatness of soul? Not in the clamor of the crowded street, Not in the shouts and plaudits of the throng, But in ourselves are triumph and defeat.
Since 25 April 1906, therefore, the Confederate Battle Flag has been the flag of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. They alone have the right to interpret its meaning and explain the cause for which their ancestors fought. They have interpreted (repeatedly!) its meaning, and explained (repeatedly!) the cause – and neither meaning nor cause involve the perpetuation of slavery.
I have the honor to be a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. Indeed, I know the particulars of the service that two of my direct ancestors (and fourteen collateral ancestors, to say nothing of those who married in) rendered to the Confederate cause. I, therefore, have the right – at least sixteen times over — to interpret the meaning of the Confederate Battle Flag and explain the cause for which my ancestors fought. You do not have any such right. Your commentary, therefore, is out of order.
Clifton Palmer McLENDON