The Confederate flag remains a symbol of hate

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Recently, I was heading home from a local coffeehouse. Along the way, at one specific intersection, there were a few men in a pickup truck with a Confederate flag. Two men were sitting in the back of the truck, and one of them proceeded to yell at me, “Do you see this flag?!”

I rolled down my window and delivered a blunt commentary to the guy, letting my emotions get the best of me. He responded with “White power” at the same moment the truck took off and headed down the highway. I was angry and irritated, and let out a loud yell to release my anger.

The Confederate flag is viewed as a symbol of oppression that has been deeply embraced and embedded by the darker forces of our nation. It’s searing and oppressive representation has had a profoundly negative impact on people of color.

Initially, the flag represented 19th century Southern culture to preserve slavery and White supremacy. Later on, the Ku Klux Klan embraced the flag. The same was true of the White Citizens’ Councils and other white supremacist groups made up of upscale, prominent people who steadfastly opposed integration.

The flag experienced a fierce amount of promotion as the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s advanced throughout much of the nation. After the Supreme Court’s 1954 landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education, white Southerners employed the Confederate flag to physically and psychologically intimidate civil rights activists and demonstrate states’ willingness to protect segregation by any means necessary.

As Black Americans continued to amass political power, such gains challenged and upended the social order. Debates concerning the history of the flag over the past 60-plus years have resulted in ongoing controversies at the local, state and national level. In response to such upheaval, there have been a number of notable attempts to obscure the flag’s profile in any arena that could be identified as public property. In 2020, NASCAR banned the Confederate flag from being displayed at all of its events and properties.

Despite such efforts, over the past several years, the flag has been brazenly touted and displayed at Trump rallies and other conservative right-wing events.

No matter how often its supporters attempt to modify, codify, defend or protect its meaning or legacy, the truth is there is nothing redemptive about the Confederate flag. It is a searing symbol of hate, violence, pain, and oppression. There is nothing admirable about its sinister and rapacious history and  nothing ambiguous about its scurrilous message.

No amount of perverse denial or disingenuous revisionist history desperately promoted by some on the right can or will alter this unalterable fact.

Copyright 2023 Elwood Watson, distributed by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate

Elwood Watson is a professor of history, Black studies, and gender and sexuality studies at East Tennessee State University. He is also an author and public speaker.