A Question About Southern Culture and the Confederate Flag

Today, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a confirmation hearing for Michael Boggs, a conservative Georgia state judge whom President Obama nominated for a federal judgeship as part of a deal to get Republicans to allow votes on some of his other nominees. (Lesson: Obstructionism works, so keep doing it!) Boggs got grilled by Democrats over some of the votes he took as a state legislator, including one to keep the Confederate stars and bars as part of the Georgia state flag. Which gives me the opportunity to get something off my chest.

Before I do though, it should be noted that there are plenty of white Southerners who wish that their states had long ago put the Confederate flag issue behind them, and agree with us Yankees that it's a symbol of treason and white supremacy, and not the kind of thing you want to fly over your state house or put on a license plate, as you can in Georgia.

Boggs claimed in his hearing that he was offended by the Confederate flag, but voted for it because that's what his constituents wanted. In other words, he's not a racist, just a coward. Fair enough. But to Southerners who say, as some inevitably do, that the Confederate flag in particular, and Confederate fetishism more generally, reflect not support for slavery or white supremacy but merely an honoring of southern "culture," my question is this: Why this part of your culture?

Because there are a lot of great things about Southern culture. There's music, and food, and literature, and a hundred other things you can honor and uphold and celebrate. Why spend so much time and effort upholding the one part of your cultural heritage that is about slavery?

Couldn't you just let that one thing go? To say, we love our culture, and we're going to continue it and share it with you. But the slavery thing, and the treason against the United States thing? Let's just put that where it belongs and get on with building a future. We can talk about the Civil War, and seek to understand it in all its complexity. We can teach our kids about it. But we're not going to put the Confederate flag on our license plates anymore. Would that be so hard?


First, I agree with you totally on the flag issue; I find it not only a silly way to define "southern culture" (I tell my students that there are four hundred years of southern history and the Confederacy accounts for four of them--not to mention that the whole Confederate project was a catastrophe for the white South, and its failure a boon for the black South) but that it limits "southern culture" to whites, which anyone who knows anything about southern culture knows is stupid.

However, may I point out that for someone to vote the way his constituents desire him to vote can just as easily be a vote on principle--that the job of a legislator is to faithfully represent those who elected him, and not to substitute his own judgment? Compared to a lot of issues confronting southern states--issues with real consequences for the welfare of both white and black southerners--this issue is minor and diversionary, however irritating it is to outsiders like yourself. Perhaps Mr. Boggs had some other priorities to pursue, and would just as soon not gratuitiously offend someone whose support he needed. Politicians have to manage these sorts of balancing acts all the time--unlike bloggers.

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As a historian, I do wish people would stop confusing the "Confederate Battle Flag" (which was never an official confederate flag) with "the Stars and Bars" (the first official flag of the Confederacy).

The flag most people think of was not "The Stars and Bars." Actually, Georgia's current state flag is remarkably similar to "The Stars and Bars" but has 13 stars rather than 7 and contains the state seal.

From 1956 to 2001 Georgia incorporated a portion of the unofficial Confederate "battle flag" into its state flag. It is the unofficial "battle flag" which is generally co-opted by racist groups.

Perhaps it just goes to prove that racists are really bad at history?


I live and work in semi-rural Virginia and each day on my way to work, I drive by a house that flies a large Confederate battle flag. Our town was the sight of major Civil War battles. Many cars have decals or bumper stickers with said flag and cap, t-shirts and jackets with that same emblem are a normative part of folks' wardrobe. Civil War re-enactments are an important part of local culture, etc. etc. etc. There is still a large, active reservoir of seething resentment against the North for destroying the antebellum Southern way of life. Continuing to fight this war is also a clear metaphor for fighting against the kind of Northern liberalism that transplants such as myself and the despised Obama and his administration have brought to the South and are trying (as many here see it) once again, to destroy the Southern way of life. Many folks have explained to me that the Confederate cause was all about states' rights and that, as a docent at a local plantation/museum explained, "the slaves around here were treated humanely." You are kidding yourself, Mr. Waldman, if you think that a simple appeal to just give up that four years of Southern history and all that it continues to represent, will be successful in this generation or even the next two or three. It will take a lot more than this to separate "Southern Culture" from the War of Northern Aggression.

I honestly don't even know why I took the time to register at a such a site, moreover why I finished the entire article other than to try and stand up for my Southern rights once again from a blatant attack from Mightier Than Thou Northerners..
I believe I speak for not only myself but also my several Confederate Veteran ancestors when I ask you this question, Traitors? Are you serious?.Traitors, here we go again, were traitors not the reason you are free to write such filth now? Oh, sorry you call them Revolutionists, right? The South was invaded for seceding from a treacherous Union, the slavery issue was hindsight on Lincolns part, he said himself that he would rather send the Africans back to their homelands, Rascists? who was the rascist? the North along with Lincoln declared in the 13th amendment that all slaves in the 13 seceding states were free to do as they wish, but if you wanted to hold legal slaves you were to remain in the Union, Rascist?, ask Kentucky, Delaware and a few others I cant remember at the moment why they did not secede, it was to remain A SLAVE STATE...My Honorable Southern ancestors owned no slaves, yet sent more than a dozen soldiers to defend their homeland against an oppressive regime, the sad end to this story is, that a flag really offends you so badly, and the complete downfall of Americas morals plays no tune in your heart,....thanks for reading....and May God Always Bless Dixie....

OK, just a couple of clarifications you need to give.

Why was the North traitorous?

What exactly are the Rights that the Southern States wanted to preserve that were so important that they wanted ot preserve?

"he (Lincoln) said himself that he would rather send the Africans back to their homelands" for their own safety, of course. At the time, it looked like the best solution.

Waging war against the United States is the standard definition of treason, and the Civil War was always about slavery: northern Republicans did not want free labor to have to compete against slave labor. You "Confederate Heritage" clowns make me sick.

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