Driving Dixie Down

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At
high noon on Saturday July 1, 2000, the three flags over the capitol
dome at the state house in Columbia, South Carolina, were lowered.
The top two flags, representing the federal government of the United
States and the state of South Carolina, went back up. The third
flag dropped inside the dome and was presented to Governor Jim Hodges
by two cadets from the Citadel — one black, one white. The crowd
gathered on the capitol grounds grew silent as Confederate reenactors,
dressed in gray and butternut, marched toward a Confederate soldiers'
monument to the steady beat of two snare drums. They carried with
them a small square flag like the ones actually borne by Confederate
soldiers across the battlefields of a war that had not yet been
forgotten. Protected by 300 law enforcement officers, including
sharpshooters positioned on the state house roof and thirty state
troopers standing shoulder to shoulder in a grassy area near the
soldiers' monument, the reenactors attached the square flag to a
lanyard and raised it on a 30-foot bronze pole. The assembled crowd
erupted in “a cacophony of Rebel whoops” (Greenville News,
July 2, 2000).

This
brief ceremony marked the formal end of a controversy that had divided
the state of South Carolina for more than a decade. It had prompted
an economic boycott of the state by the National Association for
the Advancement of Colored People and had been the focus of intense
media coverage — most of it negative. Also, because of the importance
of South Carolina's early Republican Primary, the controversy has
been an issue in the last two presidential campaigns. The question
that tore South Carolina apart like nothing since the War Between
the States itself was the presence of a Confederate battleflag on
the capitol dome. This was the offending symbol that Governor Hodges
had received from the two Citadel cadets. Its removal from the dome
to the state house grounds enabled politicians to turn their attention
to other matters, even as Southern traditionalists felt betrayed
and the NAACP remained unsatisfied. Like most political compromises,
this one was based more on expediency than principle.

The
Confederate battle flag was originally raised over capitol the dome
in Columbia as part of the centennial celebration of the War Between
the States in 1961. The following year the state legislature passed
a joint resolution that the flag should fly in perpetuity. Although
not everyone was happy with the situation, no formal effort was
made to remove the flag for the next ten years. Between 1972 and
1992, various legislators unsuccessfully introduced resolutions
that would have brought the flag down. By the early nineties, both
the flag and the opposition to it seemed to be a permanent part
of the political landscape of South Carolina. Despite their persistent
efforts, the organized pressure groups on the left were unable to
eliminate this defiant reminder of the state's Confederate past.
That would be a job for the Republican Right.

As
every student of American political history knows, the South was
a wholly owned subsidiary of the Democratic Party from the end of
Reconstruction until the late 1940s. The break in this particular
union began in 1948, when the young mayor of Minneapolis, Hubert
Humphrey, successfully urged the Democratic National Convention
to favor strong federal intervention in race relations in the South.
In the presidential election in November, several Southern states
bolted from the national party to vote for the third party candidacy
of South Carolina's governor, Strom Thurmond. A generation later,
in 1964, Thurmond gave up a decade of seniority in the U. S. Senate
and membership in the majority party to become a Republican. By
the end of the decade, Thurmond's aide Harry Dent was helping Richard
Nixon devise a strategy to capture the entire South for the Republicans.

In
many respects, David Beasley was the prototype of the new Southern
Republican. He had started his adult life as a beer-drinking playboy.
(Rumor has it that young David's father actually paid him a salary
to stay away from the family business.) Scarcely out of college,
Beasley was elected to the state legislature as a Democrat and eventually
became majority leader. Along the way, he found Jesus — the first
of many conversions. Sensing the changing political tide, Beasley
discovered both the Republican Party and the Religious Right. Three
years later, he ran for governor. It was 1994, the year of the “Gingrich
Revolution.” Everyone was looking for change, and no politician
in South Carolina had changed oftener than David Beasley.

Having
failed to win a majority of the total vote in the initial primary,
Beasley was forced into a run-off with a veteran Republican congressman
named Arthur Ravenel. Because of his thick Charleston accent and
his eclectic voting record (although conservative on most issues,
he was a strong environmentalist and moderately pro-choice on abortion),
Ravenel was suspect in the minds of upstate Republicans, who prefer
their politicians to be both bland and predictable. Nevertheless,
Ravenel had the advantage of appearing staunchly neo-Confederate,
and 74% of Republican voters had favored keeping the flag on the
dome in a non-binding referendum taken during the first primary.
If Beasley had any personal reservations about the Confederate flag,
he was not about to bring his career to a premature end by voicing
them in the run-off. Pledging fidelity to the status quo, he kept
the flag from being an issue and went on to beat Ravenel in the
run-off.

After
narrowly defeating his Democratic opponent, Nick Theodore, in the
general election, David Beasley was a rising star in the political
firmament. If he followed the pattern set by his two immediate predecessors
(one Democrat, one Republican), he could expect to be reelected
against token opposition in 1998. By 2000, Bill Clinton would be
out of the White House, and the Republicans might well be looking
for their own young Southern governor to put on the national ticket.
It wasn't long before Ralph Reed, executive director of the Christian
Coalition, began hinting that the Religious Right would look favorably
on a Beasley candidacy. To assure reelection in 1998, all Beasley
had to do was avoid a major political misstep. To earn a place in
the national spotlight, however, he needed some dramatic accomplishment
— preferably one that played against anti-Southern stereotypes.
(Remember how much mileage Jimmy Carter got out of hanging Martin
Luther King's portrait in the capitol in Atlanta twenty-five years
earlier.) Shortly after Bill Clinton trounced Bob Dole in the 1996
presidential election, it occurred to Beasley that getting rid of
that pesky banner on the capitol dome might be his ticket to national
office, maybe even the cultural equivalent of Nixon going to China.
All that he had to do was find a plausible way of reneging on his
campaign promise.

Eventually
all successful politicians have to develop the ability to go back
on what they pledged to do when running for office. Most simply
argue that circumstances have changed. (Few have the candor of Earl
Long, who once explained the difference between his word and deed
by saying, “I lied.”) Obviously, the “changed circumstances” line
wouldn't work with the Confederate flag. The only thing that had
changed since 1994 was that a nearly bankrupt NAACP had latched
onto the flag issue as a way of replenishing its coffers. So, Parson
Beasley took the only avenue open to him. He declared that God had
told him to take the flag down. This revelation was announced in
a statewide television speech, in which he invoked the names of
all his Confederate ancestors. (One is reminded of the Borscht Belt
comedian who tells a string of anti-Semitic jokes and then declares:
“It's all right — I'm Jewish.”) The only people who could possibly
fail to be stirred were a few benighted rednecks, and there was
no way they would vote for the party of Jesse Jackson in a presidential
election.

Officeholders
in South Carolina were a bit more parochial in their assessment
of the situation. Unfortunately for them, a disproportionate number
of the flag-loving rednecks were registered to vote in South Carolina.
Immediately after Beasley spoke, two other public officials (Attorney
General Charlie Condon and State Senator Glenn McConnell) appeared
to rebut his position. So united was the media in their opposition
to the flag that South Carolina's public television network initially
refused to air any rebuttal. (Exemplifying what Tom Wolfe once called
“mau-mauing the flak catchers,” the nominally Republican state Superintendent
of Education, Barbara Nielson, claimed that providing equal time
would be a “threat to public safety.”) Even after the network was
forced to air the rebuttals, most affiliate stations simply refused
to carry them. In Greenville, where all three speeches were heard,
a station conducted a call-in poll to gauge public sentiment. The
pro-flag position “won hands down.”

Because
the anti-flag Democrats could not easily capitalize on Beasley's
dilemma, no major Democrat challenged him for reelection. There
was only the perennial collection of crank candidates and state
representative Jim Hodges, an unprepossessing backbencher, whose
speaking voice made him sound like Gomer Pyle. Although Hodges might
not have been the sharpest knife in the drawer, he knew enough to
blame the condition of South Carolina's public schools on Beasley.
Because the people of the state wanted to improve their children's
SAT scores (to, say, forty-ninth in the nation) while continuing
to roll back the property taxes that paid for the schools, Hodges
proposed a state lottery to fund education. In terms of public policy,
this “voluntary tax” offered something for nothing even to those
who didn't play the numbers. Besides, neighboring Georgia had a
lottery, and South Carolinians within driving distance of the border
were already helping to fund schools in the Peachtree State. If
David Beasley had seemed on the verge of national prominence in
1996, his own reelection as governor was questionable a mere two
years later.

On
election night, Jim Hodges coasted to a comfortable upset victory,
and David Beasley was retired to that purgatory of ex-politicians
— a teaching position at the Kennedy School of Government. Exit
polls showed that the solidly Republican Party wasn't so solid after
all. Twenty-two percent of those who voted for Hodges were Republicans
primarily interested in expressing their dissatisfaction with Beasley.
Although estimates differ, flag supporters constituted a significant
percentage of the defectors. Even though Beasley had backtracked
on his proposal to move the flag (he did not reveal whether he had
made a second pilgrimage to Mount Sinai), voters who felt betrayed
were out to punish him. Hodges might not be entirely trustworthy,
but he would surely get the message that messing with the flag after
promising not to was political suicide. What flag supporters had
not reckoned with was the power of the cultural elites.

I

During
Reconstruction, some native born Southerners betrayed their homeland
for Yankee money. Scalawags have been more often motivated by the
equally valuable coin of cultural respectability. Anti-Southern
prejudice (even more than anti-Catholicism) is the last acceptable
bigotry in America. To reveal even a tepid or qualified fondness
for the antebellum South is to risk seeming like ignorant white
trash. From the end of Reconstruction until the post-World War II
civil rights movement, the white South had been depicted with an
evenhanded deference in American popular culture. If Hollywood dealt
in stereotypes about the South, they were apt to be positive ones.
The abiding popularity of Gone
With the Wind
as both novel and movie has meant that, in
the popular imagination, the cause of the South is indeed the cause
of us all. As University of South Carolina history professor Clyde
Wilson has observed, this was part of a cultural bargain the South
had struck with the North at the end of Reconstruction. If the South
would rejoin the Union and support it in its future wars, the history
and symbols of the region would be respected.

The
civil rights revolution, which some have called the Second Reconstruction,
changed all of this. One can applaud the end of Jim Crow, even as
one applauds the end of slavery, and still recognize that some of
the tactics involved had negative consequences. In addition to expanding
the power of the federal government, the crusade for civil rights
depicted the South as a uniquely violent and racist region of the
country. Although there were plenty of individual Southerners who
confirmed this stereotype, we have since been reminded that injustice
exists everywhere in this nation. (Rodney King and Abner Louima
were not brutalized by Alabama state troopers, after all.) Unfortunately
(with a few honorable exceptions), our popular culture is still
fixated on a cartoon image of the South straight out of the 1960s.
What is even more regrettable is the fact that a lot of people who
should know better (academics, preachers, and businessmen among
them) have bought into this simplistic morality play.

Of
course, movie-made reality does not hold that all white southerners
are atavistic bigots. There are a few heroic liberals who are willing
to stand against the majority of their own people to plead for simple
justice and decency. The Platonic ideal of such a figure can be
found in Gregory Peck's portrayal of Atticus Finch in the film version
of To
Kill a Mockingbird
. In the 1990s, Hollywood was still reprising
this theme when director Rob Reiner found a real life Atticus Finch
in Bobby DeLaughter, the Mississippi prosecutor who convicted Byron
de la Beckwith in the thirty-year-old murder of Medger Evers. Judging
from Reiner's movie Ghosts
of Mississippi
, one would conclude that nothing in the Deep
South had changed since the 1960s. The more general message was
that, if you are a white Southerner, the surest way to gain approval
from the rest of the nation is to try to be a defiant liberal. If
you can't find and innocent black man to defend or a lynch mob to
face down or even a lunch counter to desegregate, you can at least
trash the Confederate flag.

In
a war of attrition, it is possible to lose almost every battle and
yet emerge victorious. Like the Viet Cong, hardened opponents of
the flag realized that, if they stayed around long enough and made
enough noise, the softer members of the enemy camp would eventually
get tired and sue for peace. Hardly a day went by when South Carolina's
two most influential newspapers (the Columbia State and the Greenville
News, both owned by out-of-state interests) didn't carry a news
story or an editorial bashing the flag. Pretty soon, city councils
and other representative bodies started calling for the removal
of the flag, usually without consulting the constituencies they
purported to represent. David Beasley had even gotten a host of
elected officials, including all living South Carolina governors,
to hop on the anti-flag bandwagon.

As
usual, the business community led the way in caving in to the forces
of political correctness. Corporate leaders are always susceptible
to organized pressure. Because it is cheaper to pay the mau-maus
off than it is to stand on principle, business tycoons are easy
prey to shake-down artists such as Jesse Jackson. For those interested
only in the bottom line, it is easier to promote racial preferences
and run “diversity” workshops than it is to litigate cases on the
basis of individual merit.

For
South Carolina's rope salesmen, the flag issue was nothing more
than a matter of public relations. Charles Hamel, publisher of Southern
Partisan put it best when he wrote: “Like America's greatest
entrepreneur, Henry Ford, most of the Palmetto State's CEOs believe
that u2018history is bunk.' Their chief goal in life is to entice Yankees
and foreigners to come to South Carolina — either as builders of
plants and factories or as tourists.” Perhaps the most ludicrous
argument of all was that the state must furl the flag if it wanted
to attract German car manufacturers. Bavarian Motor Works had already
located near Greenville despite the presence of the Confederate
flag in Columbia. Besides, given that little unpleasantness known
as the Holocaust, it seemed a bit presumptuous for Germans to be
lecturing other people about race relations.

With
the business community in the vanguard, other elements in society
soon added their voices to the campaign against the flag. Even though
this banner (along with that of Quebec) is one of only two flags
in the Western Hemisphere to bear a Christian symbol, the mainline
churches closed ranks against this alleged symbol of racial oppression.
Also, Charleston Mayor Joe Riley led an anti-flag march from his
city to Columbia. (As Hamel and others have pointed out, this was
the height of hypocrisy, given the degree to which Charleston's
tourist trade benefits from remnants of Confederate history.) Riley's
pilgrimage was one of those jaunts that people joined for a mile
or two in order to get their pictures in the paper. Among such marchers
were two relative newcomers to the state — Lou Holtz and Tommy Bowden,
the head football coaches at the University of South Carolina and
Clemson. It was bad enough if Germans didn't want to build cars
in South Carolina, but it would have been an even greater tragedy
if either of the state's top two colleges lost a brilliant history
major who also happened to play football.

In
spite of these accumulated pressures, the flag would probably still
be flying today had the controversy been confined to South Carolina.
As it turns out, the efforts of the NAACP to nationalize the issue
got an unlikely boost form the Party of Lincoln. Even more than
in previous years, it appeared that in 2000 the South Carolina primary
would decide the Republican presidential nomination. Among other
things, that meant that parochial issues began to get intense coverage
from the national press. (For a time, one would have thought that
a small fundamentalist college in Greenville represented a threat
to the 2000-year-old Roman Catholic Church.) It came as no surprise
that candidates were grilled about their views on the Confederate
flag. John McCain said contradictory things, depending on which
audience he was addressing, while George W. Bush, who had done much
to suppress Confederate heritage in his home state of Texas, consistently
maintained that placement of the Confederate flag was a matter for
South Carolinians to decide. National politicians who were not seeking
votes in the Palmetto state proved far less reticent to state a
position.

If
the Republicans had pursued a Southern strategy in the late sixties
and early seventies, they now seem to have hit upon an anti-Southern
strategy. Part of the reason for this was noting more than a desire
to “reach out” to blacks and white moderates who bought into the
demonology purveyed by the NAACP. Virginia's governor, Jim Gilmore
(who proudly calls himself the state's CEO) has aggressively attacked
Confederate symbols in his state. Not surprisingly, he is now national
Republican Party Chairman. The liberal Republican Governor of New
York, George Pataki, removed the Georgia State flag from a display
in the state capitol in Albany because it contained the Confederate
battle flag as part of its design. (Georgians have since bowed to
the zeitgeist and changed the pattern of their flag to something
more politically correct.) Finally, after the voters relieved him
of the burden of his presidential candidacy, John McCain pulled
and Earl Long — he admitted that he had lied for political advantage
when he failed to chastise South Carolinians for flying the Cross
of St. Andrew. Although no one in the South had told George Pataki
what flag to fly in New York or expressed an opinion about the appearance
of the capitol dome in McCain's home state of Arizona, politicians
from there (and seemingly everywhere else) knew exactly what ought
to be done in South Carolina.

In
terms of unsolicited advice, the most helpful outsiders were pundits
and intellectuals representing the national conservative establishment.
These folks used to be called neoconservatives before they became
so powerful that the prefix seemed kind of pointless. They started
out as liberals in the fifties or (if they were real old) as Trotskyites
in the thirties and forties. They turned to the right only after
they got a good look at the counterculture and the New Left in the
late sixties. Because many neoconservatives had been active in the
early civil rights movement, they instinctively identified Southern
traditionalists as the enemy. As long as they defined their opposition
to racial preferences in terns of the colorblind equality advocated
by Martin Luther King, they could reject the latter-day Left without
having to embrace the Old South. Even if one leaves the thorny issue
of race aside, neoconservatives didn't really believe in the principle
of state's rights and limited government. A strong federal establishment
was fine with them as long as they were running it.

The
neoconservative best know to the general public was William Bennett,
and so it is no surprise that he started going on talk shows accusing
George W. Bush of moral cowardice for not denouncing the Confederate
flag. (For neoconservatives, “moral cowardice” is a code word for
being reluctant to stick your nose into other people's business.)
Bennett's words carried a certain authority because he had gotten
rich affixing his name to books about virtue that were actually
written by an anonymous staffer. (Bennett, of course, is a great
admirer of that other highly moral plagiarist “Dr.” King.) If Bill
Bennett did not invent the anti-Southern strategy, it had first
been used on his behalf.

In
early 1981, word spread around Washington that President Reagan
was likely to name the Southern traditionalist M. E. Bradford to
be director of the National Endowment for the Humanities. At that
point, a cabal of neoconservatives mounted a smear campaign that
would have embarrassed Joe McCarthy. Not only had Bradford criticized
Abraham Lincoln (an offense equivalent to spraypainting Mount Rushmore),
he had also supported George Wallace in 1968 and '72. If these offenses
weren't damning enough, the neocons circulated statements made by
Bradford, which were ripped out of context, and misattributed to
him the inflammatory words of others. When the smoke had cleared,
the decent and kindly Bradford had been made to look like an academic
David Duke, and the neoconservatives' candidate, William Bennett,
became head of NEH. That Bennett was a registered Democrat with
few if any scholarly publications meant less than the fact that
he was politically well connected. In terms of cultural influence,
Southern traditionalists had been read out of the national conservative
movement.

It
should have come as no surprise that Bill Bennett's position on
the Confederate flag would be less an anomaly than a trendsetter
among designer conservatives. Bill Buckley's National Review,
which had been the house organ of the conservative establishment
since 1955, treated the flag as a joke. Early in its history, NR
had published Southern traditionalists such as Donald Davidson and
Richard Weaver, and that unreconstructed copperhead Russell Kirk
was one of the magazine's founding editors. Moreover, for twenty-five
years, Mel Bradford had been a frequent and valued contributor.
This openness to Southern views changed dramatically in the 1990s,
when the end of the Cold War accentuated the differences between
neoconservatives and paleoconservatives. From that point on, any
reference to the Confederacy in NR read as if it could have
been scripted by Kweisi Mfume. The magazine's new editor, Rich Lowry
(who wasn't even born until seven years after the flag had been
raised in Columbia) dismissed Southern traditionalists as “rednecks.”
In the only article in the magazine devoted to the flag issue, David
Shifflett concluded that “there is no grace and decorum in South
Carolina's use of the flag, and there is no substitute for those.”
Shifflett neglected to mention whether he found grace and decorum
in the linkage that flag bashers frequently made between the Confederacy
and Nazi Germany.

Back
in the halcyon days of Pat Buchanan and Michael Kinsley, one could
always tune in “Crossfire” on CNN for a lively intellectual debate.
Unfortunately, Buchanan and Kinsley had moved on to other endeavors,
and their replacements were little more than partisan spinmeisters.
When “Crossfire” tackled the issue of the flag, the “conservative”
voice (Bush family toady Mary Matalin) simply dredged up all of
the pro-Confederate proclamations Bill Clinton had singed as Governor
of Arkansas. Republicans in the South might be bad, she seemed to
say, but the Democrats were even worse.

The
Fox News Channel, often seen as a conservative alternative to CNN,
proved no better. Sean Hannity, the conservative half of the team
of “Hannity and Colmes,” pointed out that, bad as the flag might
be, it had first been raised during the gubernatorial administration
of Democrat Fritz Hollings. It seemed that the only national commentator
who took even a neutral stance on the flag was ABC's Cokie Roberts.
The daughter of veteran Louisiana Democrats Hale and Lindy Boggs,
Roberts pointed out to the dimwitted Sam Donaldson and the ever-pompous
George Will that not all flag supporters were reactionary troglodytes
and that any resolution of the issue must take their sensibilities
into account. As rational as Ms. Cokie's remarks might have been,
the overwhelming message that South Carolinians were getting from
opinionmakers around the state and across the nation was that waving
the Confederate flag in the New South was about as uncouth as practicing
polygamy in the New Utah.

The
war of attrition finally took its toll. The people of South Carolina
did not turn away from the flag so much as they did from the controversy
that was drowning out all other issues. Like the harried CEO who
asks his lawyer “what will it take to make this go away?,” many
South Carolinians were hopeful that some Solomonic compromise would
enable them to go on with their lives. When the legislature voted
to remove the Confederate battle flag from the capitol dome and
hoist a similar, more historically accurate, flag at the Confederate
soldier's monument on the state house grounds, legislators who had
vowed “never to take it down” were forced to eat their words.

In
the end, only seven members of the state senate voted against the
compromise. (Neither Glenn McConnell nor Arthur Ravenal, who had
returned to the legislature after his failed run for governor, were
among the “magnificent seven.”) Although they had not gotten the
unconditional surrender they sought and vowed to continue their
economic boycott of the state, the leaders of the NAACP were clear
winners in this confrontation. Throughout the nation (South Carolina
included), students were being expelled from school if they displayed
the flag on their clothing or belongings. Workers were losing their
jobs for similar offenses. With the striking of the battle flag
from the capitol dome in Columbia, the thought police everywhere
were greatly emboldened.

II

From
the very beginning the controversy over the Confederate flag in
South Carolina transcended the practical question of whether or
not it should fly over the state house. Had the flag never been
there in the first place, it is doubtful that a Southern heritage
group could have succeeded in having it put there in say, the early
1990s. However, to remove the banner after it had been flying for
nearly forty years inevitably suggested that there was something
disgraceful about it and what it represented. The NAACP and its
most vocal allies made it clear from the outset that they would
accept nothing less than the humiliation of anyone who thought well
of the antebellum South. In 1991, the national NAACP approved the
following semi-literate resolution:

WHEREAS
the tyrannical evil symbolized in the Confederate Battle Flag
is an abhorrence to all Americans and decent people of this country,
and indeed, the world and is an odious blight upon the universe;
and,

WHEREAS,
African-Americans, had no voice, no consultation, no concurrence,
no commonality, not in fact or in philosophy, in the vile conception
of the Confederate Battle Flag or State Flags containing the ugly
symbol of idiotic white supremacy racism and denigration; and,

WHEREAS,
we adamantly reject the notion that African-Americans should accept
this flag for any stretch of imagination or approve its presence
on the State Flags;

NOW
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that the National Office of the NAACP
and all units commit their legal resources to the removal of the
Confederate Flag from all public properties.

What
was at stake here was nothing less than the question of who gets
to write history. If the NAACP and the Sons of Confederate Veterans
agreed on anything it was on the importance of this issue. Since
well before the War Between the States, the North had drawn on what
Robert Penn Warren calls the “Treasury of Virtue.” This was the
notion that the North was engaged in a righteous struggle to liberate
the slaves and that the wicked South was motivated by nothing other
than a desire to hold onto its human chattel. Anyone who questioned
the basic outlines of this morality play was judged the intellectual
equivalent of a Holocaust denier.

An
analogy frequently made by those opposed to the flag was between
the Confederacy and Nazi Germany. One would be tempted to dismiss
this as mere rhetorical bombast were it not for the fact that so
many people seem to believe it. Charles Hamel writes of a demonstration
in front of the South Carolina state capitol in which “a group of
black demonstrators, wearing African costumes and led by Effie Nwangaza,
stitched a Confederate flag to a Nazi flag and attempted to burn
them both. . . . In a moment of symbolic beauty, the Nazi half quickly
went up in flames while the Confederate half refused to cooperate
and would not ignite.”

Some
would argue that it really makes no difference what factors brought
us to the historic confrontation of 1861. If the North was fighting
to end slavery and the South was fighting to preserve it, no one
can honor the Confederate flag without also defending slavery. This
was essentially the position taken by 101 academics from South Carolina,
who released a statement condemning the flag at a press conference
on March 31, 2000. In addition to the political, economic, and moral
arguments made against the flag, there were now scholarly arguments
for taking it down. Because the whole fight was over the interpretation
of history, the anti-flag media treated this development as definitive.
The story led the evening news and was featured on the front pages
of every daily newspaper in the state.

Whether
or not the scholarly argument was valid, it was at least an argument.
Earlier in the battle, the authority of the academy had been invoked
in more questionable ways. It used to be that academic freedom meant
that an open marketplace of ideas existed in the university. Professors
and students were free to defend any position they believed in,
but the institution itself would remain neutral on controversial
issues. It was assumed that, once the university enunciated an official
party line, it could no longer function as an honest broker among
competing viewpoints. Even if this ideal was often violated in practice,
it seemed to make sense in theory. On the issue of the flag, however,
this was no longer the case. Across the state, college faculty groups
went on record as being opposed to the Confederate flag and all
it represented.

When
the faculty senate at the University of South Carolina voted in
favor of striking the flag, the debate was open and spirited. Although
few faculty came out in favor of the flag, a significant minority
of professors believed that the venerable doctrine of institutional
neutrality should remain intact. (This was the position taken by
the university's president John Palms.) In the end, however, the
anti-flag juggernaut prevailed. At South Carolina's other comprehensive
institution of higher learning, Clemson University, the victory
was even more complete and considerably less principled.

During
the debate at USC, representatives of the Clemson faculty senate
told both the press and the faculty at large that their body had
no intention of taking an official position on the issue. Then,
the Clemson senate turned around and voted unanimously to denounce
the flag. This prevented anyone from presenting an opposing view
or even raising the issue of institutional neutrality. Not to be
outdone by the faculty, the Clemson Board of Trustees voted by telephone
on December 20, 1999, to move the flag to some “location commensurate
with its value as a symbol of the history of this state.” Clemson
president Jim Barker had already added his voice to the swelling
chorus by writing and op-ed piece for the virulently anti-flag State
newspaper.

Taking
a stroll down Memory Lane, Barker recalled the bad old days when
he was an undergraduate at Clemson and the school had a Country
Gentleman mascot, along with the Tiger, and allowed the marching
band to play “Dixie” in addition to the “Tiger Rag.” What was even
worse, one could see Confederate flags in the stands along with
the Clemson tiger paw. After listening to the University's “new,
more diverse student body,” the administration decided to toss “Dixie,”
the Country Gentleman, and the battle flag into the trash bin of
history. “Today,” Barker writes, “it would be hard to imagine a
Clemson football game with any mascot other than the Tiger, any
song other than u2018Tiger Rag,' and any flag other than the Tiger Paw.”
In the Newspeak of political correctness, “diversity” means censorship,
not tolerance, and multiculturalism means suppressing cultures that
do not meet with the approval of the ruling elite.

To
determine the meaning of the Confederate Battle Flag, one must ultimately
determine what the War Between the States was all about. The NAACP
and its allies would have us believe that the North waged a war
to free the slaves, while the South fought only to keep them. The
actual truth is considerably more complex. Although there were some
Northerners who would have fought a war to end slavery in the 1860s,
Abraham Lincoln was not one of them. He made it clear in his first
inaugural address and numerous other public statements that he would
do nothing to end slavery in the states where it already existed.
He was even willing to accept a constitutional amendment that would
have provided a permanent guarantee for slavery in this country.
The Emancipation Proclamation was issued well into the war as a
matter of military strategy rather than moral principle. It purported
to free only those slaves held in rebel territory, without altering
the status of those held in states still loyal to the Union.

The
North fought for one reason and one reason only — to preserve the
Union. Living in a time when secession seems at most a remote threat,
it is difficult to realize how fragile the Union seemed in 1861.
America was a vast, largely unsettled, continent, which had yet
to fulfill its “manifest destiny.” After fighting the British and
the Mexicans and committing virtual genocide against the Indians
in order to assure our claim to the continent, most Americans —
including many in the South — were reluctant to see the Union torn
asunder. This was a cause for which people were willing to fight
regardless of what they thought about slavery or the plight of displaced
Africans living on our soil. Even those who wished to abolish slavery
envisioned an outcome far different from the diverse integrated
society of left-wing myth. (In antebellum America, the largest population
of free blacks lived not in the North but in Charleston, South Carolina.)
Most abolitionists — Lincoln and Harriet Beecher Stowe included
— were white supremacists, who believed that the freed slaves could
prosper only if repatriated to Africa. (Should that not prove feasible,
Lincoln was willing to let them “root hog or die.”) If this was
the cause of the North, perhaps the NAACP should also protest the
presence of the American flag in public places.

If
the North was fighting for an imperial vision of American hegemony
rather than for the abolition of slavery, what motivated the South?
The statement of South Carolina's anti-flag scholars quotes several
Confederate officials, who declared that they were committed to
preserving slavery. It would perhaps be more accurate to say that
the Confederacy was formed to assure the economic survival of the
white South. (America's declaration of independence from England
was motivated by similar economic considerations.) In 1861, slavery
seemed essential to that survival. Of even greater concern, however,
was the agricultural tariff passed by the U.S. Congress on behalf
of Northern industrial interests. This tariff made it difficult
for Southerners to sell cotton and other crops in European Markets.
An independent South, free of the tariff, would have prospered among
the community of nations. If Lincoln was willing to assure the perpetuation
of slavery, this former corporation lawyer was not willing to ease
the tariff.

We
cannot know what would have happened had the Confederacy been allowed
to secede. In light of the available evidence, however, it is absurd
to suppose that slavery would have persisted indefinitely in the
South. Late in the war, the Confederate government offered to emancipate
the slaves in exchange for European support in the struggle for
independence. One can easily envision a tariff-free South developing
a program for the eventual freeing of the slaves. Without the reflexive
need to defend the peculiar institution against self-righteous Yankee
moralists, the South might well have listened to the considerable
amount of abolitionist sentiment within its borders. As Clyde Wilson
has pointed out: “At the time of secession, James H. Thornwell,
probably the most influential clergyman in South Carolina and a
strong believer in Southern independence, outlined a program for
evolutionary emancipation.” At one time, slavery existed throughout
the Western world, only to be eliminated peacefully in country after
country. The anti-Confederate scholars would have us believe the
situation so utterly hopeless in the South that only a war, which
cost 700,000 lives, could have freed the slaves there.

If
secession would have dealt a death blow to the imperial dream of
manifest destiny, it would also have reasserted the republican principles
upon which this nation was founded. Had the Constitution explicitly
asserted the indissolubility of the Union, it would never have been
ratified. At least until the mid-nineteenth century, the strongest
sentiment for secession came from the North, where abolitionists
denounced their unholy union with the slaveholding South. (William
Lloyd Garrison even burned the Constitution because it permitted
slavery.) The union that was “preserved” by the War Between the
States was not the constitutional bond that had previously united
the sovereign states. Through force of arms, the suspension of such
basic civil liberties as habeas corpus, and a total war against
civilians, Lincoln preserved the dream of empire and laid the foundations
for an authoritarian, omnicompetent federal government. Freeing
the slaves was decidedly an afterthought.

If
some people see the Confederate flag as a symbol of slavery and
nothing more, many others regard it as an emblem of heroism. Throughout
the world, particularly in the Eastern bloc, populations seeking
their independence fly the battle flag along with their own national
flags. A member of the Quebec separatist movement has told Southern
sympathizers that, if his people ever break free of Canada, they
will unfurl the Confederate flag and play “Dixie” at their victory
party. In the nineteenth century, which was the great era of nationalism,
secession might have been premature. In the twentieth century, which
was dominated by totalitarianism, it was virtually unthinkable.
Perhaps the twenty-first century will be the age of devolution.
If so, the symbols of the Confederacy could get a new lease on life.

In
the meantime, those native Southerners and loyal copperheads who
have not been intimidated by the forces of political correctness
still dare to speak out. After the anti-flag scholars claimed to
have determined, once and for all, the causes of the War Between
the States, a group of equally eminent pro-flag scholars issued
a statement asserting that the war had been fought over many issues
that had little to do with slavery. Ironically, this conservative
statement, sponsored by Clyde Wilson, was more liberal in tone than
the anti-flag manifesto, which represented its conclusions as nothing
less than revealed truth. While offering a different interpretation
of the War Between the States, the pro-flag scholars declared: “There
are no immutable truths in secular history. History is human experience
and may be viewed always from many different perspectives….The primary
social value of the study of history is developing the ability to
see different sides of a question.”

Any
understanding of the great conflict that divided this nation in
the 1860s requires an appreciation of the ambiguities and ironies
of history. Unfortunately, the politically correct version of our
past offers only melodrama, not tragedy. Not only has it become
morally unacceptable to wave the Confederate flag and sing “Dixie,”
but no public official can now say anything good about the Confederate
South without arousing the thought police. (John Ashcroft and Gale
Norton discovered as much during their confirmation hearings for
positions in George W. Bush's cabinet.) How different are the words
of one great American when contemplating the transition from the
Old South to the New: “[W]ith all the Bad that fell on one black
day, something was vanquished that deserved to live, something killed
that in justice did not dare to die;…with the Right that triumphed,
triumphed something of Wrong, something sordid and mean, something
less than the broadest and best.” These are the words of no white
supremacist or neo-Confederate but of W.E.B. Dubois, founder of
the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

October
24, 2001

Mark
Royden Winchell [send him mail]
teaches English at Clemson University.”

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