Our Opinion: Don’t exercise right to fly Confederate flag; Symbol’s ties to racism run too deep

Published 9:36 am Wednesday, July 8, 2015

A Confederate flag was flown on the back of the Hartland Fire Department's truck during the Third of July Parade. Photo provided

A Confederate flag was flown on the back of the Hartland Fire Department’s truck during the Third of July Parade. Photo provided

It was easy to predict what happened after Albert Lea residents saw a Hartland Fire Department truck burnishing a Confederate flag during a July 3 Independence Day parade.

It was going to cause controversy. Just as any display of what’s commonly known as the Confederate flag causes controversy whenever it is openly displayed.

Though it’s everyone’s right to use their freedom of speech as they see fit, just because you can fly a Confederate flag doesn’t mean you should.

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We are disappointed to see so many people attempt to justify the merits of what is largely considered a racist, treasonous symbol of a civil war that took place more than 150 years ago.

Here’s a brief history lesson: The Confederate States of America created several flags during its short-lived government in the 1860s. What we know now as the Confederate flag was actually a modified battle flag that was rejected as the national flag in 1861. It instead became a battle flag for the Northern Virginia army under Robert E. Lee.

Yet the cross design was popularly used in several naval flags at the time and gained recognition as a Confederate symbol after the war.

What people regard as the Confederate flag didn’t become a symbol of Southern heritage until the 20th century, however. The Ku Klux Klan had already adopted Confederate symbols for its white supremacist activities, but it wasn’t until the 1948 presidential election that the Confederate flag became popular.

That was when the Dixiecrat party, an off-shoot of the conservative Democrat party of the times, tried to sway voters against racial integration and keep white supremacy policies in place. The Dixiecrat’s presidential ticket was headed by Strom Thurmond, a notoriously racist politican.

That campaign popularized what we now know as the Confederate flag throughout the South through Dixiecrat supporters and their campaign message: to keep federal policies out of Southern states and, in essence to protect what they called the South’s way of life.

The history is clear: The Confederate flag is a symbol of racism disguised as a call for Southerners to “protect their heritage.”

Like it or not, the Confederate flag was appropriated as a symbol of hate, similar to the way a Buddhist and Hindu symbol, the swastika, was appropriated by Nazi Germany as a symbol of hate. Before the Nazis, the swastika was generally understood to be a sacred religious symbol or a symbol of good fortune throughout Asia.

That’s why so many people see the Confederate flag as a racist depiction of a bygone age. That’s why various white supremacy groups around the U.S. use Confederacy-related symbols. And that’s why a young white man who murdered nine black people in a South Carolina church wore the Confederate flag on his jacket.

Just a few years ago, people in Austin were shocked to see what many thought was a Confederate flag during a Boy Scout flag history march during a Fourth of July parade. That flag, which featured the common cross design, was actually a former Georgia state flag — created in 1956, several years after the Dixiecrat campaign. It caused so much controversy in Georgia that lawmakers eventually redesigned the flag in 2001 and again in 2003, as the first redesign still contained flags associated with the Confederacy.

Area veterans have since taken Georgia’s flag out of parade demonstrations in Austin.

Yet both the Georgia state flag and the Confederate flag carry important historical significance. They belong in museums, not on government property, and certainly not on a fire truck during a celebration of the United States. To suggest otherwise is to ignore the flag’s history and meaning.

Just because you can fly the Confederate flag, doesn’t mean you should.