Raising the Flag
By Ralph Epifanio
When modern media villain Dylann Roof chose a Confederate battle flag as a "prop" for his on-line portraits, the intention of this outsider was no doubt to align himself with a group he felt closest to. Although just a footnote to one of the most ill-timed, ill-conceived, and downright evil acts imaginable to his narrow, twisted view of history, that Confederate battle flag could spell doom to our interests. The June 17th massacre at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME) in downtown Charleston, South Carolina, not only shocked mainstream America, but its aftershocks may be felt in our little corner, the reenacting community.
As flag-waving, gun-toting southerners ourselves--albeit as historically correct re-enactors--it is important that we put this event in perspective. Roof claimed he wanted to start a civil war, and early indications are that it might well be on the way. It didn't take long for the KKK to respond to South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley's June 22nd announcement that "It is time to remove the Confederate flag from the Capitol grounds." They quickly showed their colors in a rally at the State Capitol. Despite this--and other--protests, the SC legislature concurred, and the flag came down in an austere official ceremony on July 10th.
That gubernatorial political response was mirrored in Virginia, when, a day later (June 23) its governor, Terry McAuliffe, announced that his state would begin the process of removing the image of the former Confederacy from its license plates. (Note: In a Supreme Court decision on June 18, 2015--one day after Roof's rampage--a 5-4 decision was handed down in Walker, Chairman, Texas Department of Motor Vehicles Board, et al. v. Texas Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans, Inc, et al, stating that "Because Texas specialty license plates constitute state government speech, it is entitled to reject a (SCV) proposal for plates featuring a Confederate battle flag." Look for more of the same removal in other states.)
On June 24th, the state of Alabama, by order of Gov. Robert Bentley, removed the Confederate flag that had been flying on state grounds and at the foot of a Civil War memorial near the Capitol in Montgomery.
That mania is not limited to the politically ambitious. The flag makers themselves have announced a shutdown in their production. Also by June 24th, Valley Forge, Annin Flag Co., Eder Flag, and Dixie Flag all announced that they were planning to end the manufacturing of Confederate flags. (We have yet to hear from the Chinese, who will no doubt be eager to fill the void.)
Other businesses, too, are distancing themselves from the controversy. By June 24th,Walmart, Target, Sears, and Amazon were all removing merchandise that might put them in a negative light. eBay spokeswoman
Johanna Hoff is quoted as saying that the Confederate flag has "become a contemporary symbol of divisiveness and racism," and it is banning its sale from their site.
This censorship continues, even in the South, where Brian France, son of NASCAR founder Bill France, and Chairman/CEO of that august racing body, made this announcement on June 30th: "We want to go as far as we can to eliminate the presence of that flag," France said. "I personally find it an offensive symbol, so there is no daylight how we feel about it and our sensitivity to others who feel the same way."
Incidentally, indications are that France's "elimination" of the flags did not take, as one fan explained at this year's Daytona 400; "It's just a Southern pride thing. It's nothing racist or anything. I've been doing this for 30 years. My family is from Alabama and we've been going to Talladega forever. It isn't a Confederate thing so much as it is a NASCAR thing. That's why I fly it."
Et tu (Warner) Brothers. On June 24th, the franchise holders of the Dukes of Hazard products announced: “Warner Bros. Consumer Products has one licensee producing die-cast replicas and vehicle model kits featuring the General Lee with the Confederate flag on its roof — as it was seen in the TV series. We have elected to cease the licensing of these product categories.”
Speaking of the General Lee, what more iconic symbol of both the flag, and its roots in speedy car cases, is there than the Duke boys and their '69 Dodge Charger? Originally aired from 1979 to 1985, their syndicated reruns were pulled off the air by Viacom on July 1st. On July 2nd, Bubba Watson, professional golfer and owner of the original (#1) "General Lee," which he purchased for $110,000 in 2012, promised on Facebook that: "All men ARE created equal, I believe that so I will be painting the American flag over the roof of the General Lee." (And no doubt its Kelly Book value will reflect that "minor" alteration.)
Apple, on the other hand, was more rational in their approach to the anti-confederate firestorm: "We have removed apps from the App Store that use the Confederate flag in offensive or mean-spirited ways, which is in violation of our guidelines," but "we are not removing apps that display the Confederate flag for educational or historical uses." And in that, we should all take our lead.
Although spoken about another issue, Chief Justice John Roberts' quote seems to be appropriately timed to the aforementioned recent events: "There will be consequences to shutting down the political process on an issue of such profound public significance," and predictably, there has been backlash to this perceived intrusion on our "southern heritage." There was a run on Confederate flags (the suppliers that I contacted are sold out); the disturbing trend of suspicious fires at historically black churches (six in the ten days following the Roof incident); and although not making much in the way of news headlines, protests have been popping up. One that came to my attention, although I was over 1500 miles away at the time, was in Brooksville.
As it was reported to me by a friend, "A dozen people publicized the fact that they were going to the Brooksville Town Hall, haul down and burn the Confederate flag that flew there, then saw down an infamous 'lynching tree.'" In response, an estimated 300 flag supporters, many waving Rebel flags (emphasis mine), overwhelmed them with their solidarity and compromised the plan. At least one of the flag supporters was dressed in an historically correct Confederate officer's uniform.
In Florida, especially, protests spread and grew. In the north-central part of the state, reportedly 4500 flag-waving people in an eight mile, 1500 vehicle convoy of cars, trucks, and motorcycles snaked through Ocala. Participants of this "Florida Southern Pride Ride" were upbeat and peaceful in their demonstration, and wise in avoiding a neighborhood that included a large number of Blacks who might not have been thrilled to host the parade.
If done with discretion, this kind of demonstration could, and most certainly should, become a politically correct counterpoint to the debate. Taken at face value, any form of violence (or threat thereof), inappropriate dress, or epithets (racial or otherwise) will do more harm than good.
Meanwhile, even in the heart of the Granite State--New Hampshire--a Canaan town employee was ordered to remove a Confederate battle flag from his car while parked at the town's transfer station. He complied. (Another employee, three years prior, did not, and was summarily fired.)
As the South Carolina Legislature debated their capitol's flag, this appeared, nationwide, on July 7th: "...the rebel flag no longer represents the valor of Southern soldiers but the racism that led them to separate from the United States more than 150 years ago." The source of this inaccurate history lesson was syndicated Associated Press columnist Jeffrey Collins, who is based in Atlanta.
But worse was yet to come from the nationally syndicated Associated Press, as heralded by this headline posted on July 15th: "Institutions Reconsider Honors for Racists." The author, Susan Haigh, linked that lead-in to such great men as President (and author of the Declaration of Independence) Thomas Jefferson, Vice President and Senator--the Great Compromiser himself--John C. Calhoun, and Generals Robert E. Lee and Wade Hampton. While the article itself reportedly centered around "campaigns" that were being organized to rename geographic and structural dedications to the aforementioned, the inappropriate headline did the most damage.
What we are now witnessing is an insane reaction to an act of insanity. What next?
We, as well-vested--and invested, as we inventory our substantial reenacting equipment--living history enthusiasts need to take stock in ourselves. It is more important than ever that we act as a rational, authoritative source of the actual history, not only of the War Between the States, but the United States of America.
As living historians, we can--and must--do our part in teaching history from an accurate, well-researched, and first person perspective. You can begin by asking yourself these three questions:
1 - Why are we reenactors?
2 - How important is our role, as living historians, to keep the true history of America's 19th century Rebellion accurate?
3 - Is our hobby more important than our own self-interests?
Whether we realize it or not, we may be poised on the precipice of doom for Civil War reenacting. It won't take long for our irreplaceable supporters--the parks, private land owners, governmental agencies, police departments, fire and medical services, and insurance companies--to look at their role in all this, and whether it is "good for business" to continue their association with us. The spectators, too, who pay (and thus underwrite) events will be making their choice of whether or not to attend future events, and how to interact with each of us.
The biggest problem I see is that some of us are just what the conservative press is accusing all flag-waving, confederate-oriented southerners of being. I have seen, on enough occasions--and in full public view at events--that venomous hatred and racism that Roof, White Supremacists, and KKK members are not ashamed to promote.
We, on the other hand, should be above reproach.
Without going into specifics--those of whom I speak know who they are--I am suggesting that, if you can't change your outdated racial and political views, for the sake of the rest of us, at least leave those attitudes at home. If you choose to attend a rally or demonstration, don't wear your reenacting uniform. And if you raise a flag in support of our southern heritage, at least make it an historically accurate one, and not the so-called horizontal "Rebel Flag." (For a clarification, see the addendum.)*
We need to raise our own flags, no matter what side they represent, and do so with pride and dignity. We must be on our best behavior from this point forward, not only for ourselves, but for our friends and comrades who depend upon us for the sanctity of public opinion. Without it, we will be men and women all dressed out with no place to go.
On a positive note, it is fortunate that this all happened during the summer, which gives us time to take a collective breath, control our emotions, and create a solid plan for presenting our case to the public come the fall and winter season. For starters, I would suggest making a history lesson of it, which, of course, is our strength. Create a collection of flags--the St. Andrew's Cross, the Confederate battle flag, and the three official Flags of the Confederacy--for display. Do not bring the Rebel flag--a rectangular version of the square battle flag--on the site of a reenactment, since it will only muddy the already turbulent waters. (And yes, that one has been hijacked by some individuals and groups with the wrong intentions.) Teach the real history of these flags, and let the public draw their own conclusions.
*This flag, originally designed by William Porcher Mills, is alternately referred to as the "Stars and Bars," or "The Rebel Flag." It is a modification of the Scottish--among others--"St. Andrew's Cross." (St. Andrew, one of the apostles, was crucified on one such crux decussata, X-shaped cross, or saltire, on November 30, 60 AD.) Although it was rejected as the Confederate national flag in 1861, it was, however, adopted as both the Battle Flag of Tennessee, and the second Confederate Navy Jack (1863-1865). More often than not, it is this flag that will be carried by less informed supporters of questionable activities. It is my opinion that it should be retired, if for no other reason than those who carry it do so out of ignorance.