Heritage, hate, or history

Posted: Thursday, September 13, 2012

Recently Giant grocery store in Gettysburg had a display with an American flag and a Confederate battle flag. Some hoopla ensued as a few local residents criticized Giant for displaying the Confederate flag, and others criticized Giant for taking it down. Giant, understandably, isn’t interested in making political or cultural statements; it is a business. It is not too surprising, though, that the display sparked a reaction. Today, one hundred and fifty years after the Civil War, the flag of the Army of Northern Virginia, which we now simply call the Confederate flag, continues to stoke hot passions.

Heritage or hate: what does the Confederate battle flag represent? Perhaps instead of entering that debate, the question should be what is the history – not the heritage, but the history – of the flag. In 1862, William T. Thompson, editor of the Savannah Daily Morning News, noted that the Confederate Congress had repeatedly discussed what flag should represent the new nation. Thompson noted that General Beauregard "adopted the Southern Cross or battle-flag, which has so grown in favor with the army .This battle flag has been consecrated by the best blood of the nation, it is hallowed by the memories of glorious victories, it is sanctified by the symbol of our religious faith, and illuminated by the constellated emblems of our Confederate States." This is the kind of proud heritage often claimed today by those who support public displays of the flag. And it is understandable why that heritage is desirable, especially in age when a pervasive corporate culture seems to overwhelm any sense of what makes us unique. You can walk into a Wal Mart in Birmingham or Boston, and everything looks virtually the same. For many southerners, the flag represents a unique connection to a past and culture that valued some admirable ideals.

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