Ron Franklin’s Civil War

Ron Franklin

Ron Franklin

This blog is Civil War BSC: Perspectives of a Black, Southern, Christian. That background gives me a perspective that is, I believe, underrepresented in the Civil War community. I hope you’ll enjoy seeing the Civil War through my eyes.

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A Union Girl In The South 05: Dora Miller’s Civil War Diary, Jan 28, 1861

This is the second part of Dora Miller’s Civil War diary entry for January 28, 1861. Here’s the first entry for this date.

How Southern Churches Adapted to Secession

On this Monday Dora took note in her diary of a significant event that had taken place in church the day before. The state of Louisianan had passed an ordinance of secession from the Union on the preceding Saturday, and that change was immediately reflected in the services of the churches of New Orleans.

The church that Dora and her family attended was Trinity Episcopal. Dora noted that many people who were not Episcopalians had begun attending because the preaching there, constrained by a fixed liturgy, was less political than at some of the other churches in the city. But this Sunday was different.

Normally the service included a prayer for the President and Congress of the United States. But not on this Sunday when secession had just been enacted. As Dora put it,

“The usual prayer for the President and Congress was changed to the ‘governor and people of this commonwealth and their representatives in convention assembled.’”

This was a huge change from the previous custom of the church. The Bible commands that Christians pray for those in authority in the land. As Dora notes, until this point the prayer for those in authority had specifically named the leaders of the United States government. But now, pastors in New Orleans, and soon throughout the South, were overtly communicating to their congregations that they should no longer consider themselves under the authority of the United States. The prayer that was used on that Secession Sunday in New Orleans was a direct endorsement of the state of Louisiana declaring itself out of the Union. The “convention” for which the pastor prayed was the one that had just passed the ordinance of secession.

What Dora observed in church on that significant Sunday was the culmination of a trend that had been ongoing in the South for decades. During the early years of the 19th century, many Christians in the South, as well as in the North, spoke out against slavery. But as the “peculiar institution” became more and more intertwined into the economic and social fabric of Southern life, those voices were silenced.

Now, on the eve of a Civil War that would be fought to protect the institution of slavery, there was hardly a pulpit in the South where slavery was not preached as a positive good and the will of God. As Dora experienced, pro-slavery political and social pressure had begun to shape the message of the church, rather than the other way around.

Ron Franklin

Photo credit: Stock Photos for Free via flickr (CC BY 2.0)
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A Union Girl In The South 04: Dora Miller’s Civil War Diary, Jan 28, 1861

When Dora Miller published her Civil War diary in the 1880s, she changed or obscured the names of the people she talked about, since many of them were still alive at the time.

One of those people was a young man she calls “Rob” in the diary. Rob was an enthusiastic secessionist, and was almost violently impatient with Dora’s allegiance to the Union.

Louisiana had just seceded from the Union, and many in the state were eagerly anticipating that European nations would quickly recognize and lend assistance to the new Southern Confederacy. But when Rob read in a French newspaper that France would follow a policy of non-intervention, he turned his anger on Dora.

“I believe these are your sentiments,” he said to her as he read from the newspaper.

When Dora replied, “Well, what do you expect? This is not their quarrel,” Rob was incensed.

“He raved at me,” Dora recorded in her diary, “ending by a declaration that he would willingly pay my passage to foreign parts if I would like to go.”

Cotton Is King!

Rob’s father tried to calm him down. “Keep cool; don’t let that threat excite you,” he told Rob. “Cotton is king. Just wait till they feel the pinch a little; their tone will change.”

The belief that “cotton is king” and that the South’s control of that necessary commodity would force nations like England and France to back the Confederacy in order to assure a continuing supply was considered gospel among secessionists. But as events would prove, that faith was disastrously misplaced.

The cotton crop of the years immediately prior to secession had been ample, and England in particular had a surplus. Even when supplies ran low, cotton would never become the economic weapon Southerners thought it was.

In a sense Rob’s apprehensions and anger were justified. No European nation would ever recognize the Confederacy or lend it any material support.

Photo credit: David Ohmer via Wikimedia (CC BY 2.0)
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A Union Girl In The South 03: Dora Miller’s Civil War Diary, Jan 26, 1861

At the beginning of 1861, Dora Miller was a young girl living in New Orleans among her family and friends. But Dora felt very much alone. Everyone in New Orleans seemed wild with enthusiasm for having Louisiana secede from the Union and join the new Southern Confederacy. But Dora Miller was committed to maintaining the Union.

Unable to share her anti-secession feelings with her friends and family, Dora confided them to her diary. Her entry for January 26, 1861 records the coming of the long-dreaded day – Louisiana’s secession from the Union had become an established fact.

Dora wrote, “The solemn boom of cannon to-day announced that the convention have passed the ordinance of secession.”

Then, showing that she had a better grasp than many of the state’s politicians on what the precedent of a minority deciding they could secede from the majority at will really meant, she noted:

“It will be bad if New Orleans should secede from Louisiana and set up for herself.”

She was right. If Louisiana could legitimately secede from the United States, why couldn’t New Orleans secede from Louisiana? Or the Fifth Ward from New Orleans?

Dora understood that once the principle of secession was accepted, any time a minority didn’t like what the majority voted to do, they could either secede, or at least hold the threat of secession over the head of the majority to demand to get their way.

But Dora appeared to be the only person in New Orleans that day who foresaw the dangers of secession.

“The faces in the house are jubilant to-day,” she recorded.

As the Civil War that resulted from secession took hold, that jubilation quickly faded.

Jan. 26, 1861.
The solemn boom of cannon to-day announced that the convention have passed the ordinance of secession. We must take a reef in our patriotism and narrow it down to State limits. Mine still sticks out all around the borders of the State. It will be bad if New Orleans should secede from Louisiana and set up for herself. Then indeed I would be “cabined, cribbed, confined.” The faces in the house are jubilant to-day. Why is it so easy for them and not for me to “ring out the old, ring in the new”? I am out of place.

Dora Miller’s Diary

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A Union Girl In The South 02: Dora Miller’s Civil War Diary, Dec, 1860

In December of 1860 young anti-secessionist Dora Miller was almost alone among her New Orleans friends and family in her support for the Union. She had already decided to confide her patriotic thoughts to her diary because, as she said, “I can not, or dare not, speak out.”

As Louisiana reeled toward secession and the civil war it would bring on, Dora Miller felt herself to be under intense pressure to conform to the rabidly pro-secessionist enthusiasm almost every white person in the South seemed to be in the grip of.

Perhaps she thought that the one place she could find peace in the midst of this political storm was in church. But even that wasn’t to be. In this diary entry, Dora tells of being invited to attend the Sunday service at a friend’s church. Even there she couldn’t escape the secessionist pressure.

In a scene that was at that time being repeated over and over throughout the slave-holding South, the preacher converted his sermon into a propaganda piece on why the North was evil, and the South should leave the Union. Dora wrote that the text the preacher spoke on was “Shall we have fellowship with the stool of iniquity which frameth mischief as a law?” That the “stool of iniquity” with which his hearers should have no fellowship was the North was made very clear.

[By the way, Dora seems to have misquoted the preacher’s text – “stool of iniquity” does not appear in the Bible. The closest verse to what Dora remembered is Psalm 94:20, which says, “Shall the throne of iniquity have fellowship with thee, which frameth mischief by a law?”]

For Dora’s friend, as for the vast majority of white Southerners who were hearing exactly that kind of sermon from their pulpits during that time, the message “prove[d] from the Bible that slavery is right and that therefore secession is [also right].”

That’s the message most Southern states pastors were delivering to their congregations. Their preaching was instrumental in plunging the nation into civil war.

Sunday, Dec. —, 1860
In this season for peace I had hoped for a lull in the excitement, yet this day has been full of bitterness. “Come, G.,” said Mrs. — at breakfast, “leave your church for to-day and come with us to hear Dr. — on the situation. He will convince you.” “It is good to be convinced,” I said; “I will go.” The church was crowded to suffocation with the elite of New Orleans. The preacher’s text was, “Shall we have fellowship with the stool of iniquity which frameth mischief as a law?”. . . .  The sermon was over at last and then followed a prayer. . . . Forever blessed be the fathers of the Episcopal Church for giving us a fixed liturgy! When we met at dinner Mrs. F. exclaimed, “Now G., you heard him prove from the Bible that slavery is right and that therefore secession is. Were you not convinced?” I said, “I was so busy thinking how completely it proved too that Brigham Young is right about polygamy that it quite weakened the force of the argument for me.” This raised a laugh, and covered my retreat.

Dora Miller’s Diary

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A Union Girl In The South 01: Dora Miller’s Civil War Diary, Dec 1, 1860

I’ve been reading the diary of a young woman who lived in the South during the Civil War. One of the things that makes this diary so interesting is that its author was a staunchly pro-Union young lady living among rabidly pro-Confederate friends and neighbors.

Pen on paperThe diary was first published under the title War Diary of a Union Woman in the South. It was serialized in The Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine from May to October of 1889. The author insisted that it be published anonymously because at that time, many of the people mentioned in it were still alive. But now historians have identified the diarist.

She was Dorothy Richards Miller, an American of English descent. Born in St. Croix in the West Indies, she had moved with her family to pre-Civil War New Orleans, and soon was planning to be married there.

Louisiana hadn’t yet seceded from the Union, but secession was in the air and on everyone’s lips. For a young lady who loved the Union, New Orleans was a very difficult placed to be. Although she was surrounded by family and friends, Dora felt very much isolated and alone.

At that time enthusiasm in the South, and especially in Louisiana, for the slave states to secede from the Union and form their own nation was at a fever pitch. And everyone in Dora’s circle seemed to have been swept up in that passion.

But not Dora. She considered herself a thorough-going American patriot who was totally loyal to the Union. “Surely no native-born woman loves her country better than I love America,” she wrote.

Young and isolated though she was, Dora saw with clearer sight than all the enthusiastic secessionists who surrounded her. As almost all modern historians acknowledge, the South wanted to secede from the Union in order to preserve slavery. But Dora understood that just the opposite would happen.

“If the South goes to war for slavery, slavery is doomed in this country,” she confided to her diary. “To say so is like opposing one drop to a roaring torrent.”

Whenever she expressed those views among family and friends, she was subjected to severe criticism, even ostracism. That’s why she started her diary.

“I understand it now,” she wrote. “Keeping journals is for those who cannot, or dare not, speak out. So I shall set up a journal, being only a rather lonely young girl in a very small and hated minority.”

Starting in December of 1860 with her life in New Orleans as a single young woman, and ending with her experiences living with her husband in Vicksburg, Mississippi during Union General Ulysses S. Grant’s 1863 siege of that Confederate stronghold, Dora Miller’s diary is filled with scenes of drama and danger.

In this series of posts, we’ll follow Dora’s life as a Union-sympathizer living among people at war with the Union. I think it’s a fascinating story. Stay tuned.

New Orleans, Dec. 1, 1860.
I understand it now. keeping journals is for those who can not, or dare not, speak out. So I shall set up a journal, being only a rather lonely young girl in a very small and hated minority. On my return here in November, after a foreign voyage and absence of many months, I found myself behind in knowledge of the political conflict, but heard the dread sounds of disunion and war muttered in threatening tones. Surely no native-born woman loves her country better than I love America. The blood of one of its revolutionary patriots flows in my veins, and it is the Union for which he pledged his “life, fortune, and sacred honor” that I love, not any divided or special section of it. So I have been reading attentively and seeking light from foreigners and natives on all questions at issue. Living from birth in slave countries, both foreign and American, and passing through one slave insurrection in early childhood, the saddest and also the pleasantest features of slavery have been familiar. If the South goes to war for slavery, slavery is doomed in this country. To say so is like opposing one drop to a roaring torrent.

Dora Miller’s Diary

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Why Abraham Lincoln Sent the Union Army to Defeat at Bull Run

The First Battle of Bull Run

The First Battle of Bull Run, lithograph by Kurz & Allison

Abraham Lincoln insisted on fighting a battle the army’s own commander said it was not ready to fight.

As I began studying the Civil War, I often wondered why President Abraham Lincoln ordered Union troops to fight the disastrous first Battle of Bull Run although he knew they weren’t ready.

In June of 1861, Lincoln wanted an immediate attack on the Confederates in northern Virginia. But the commander of the Army of Potomac, Brigadier General Irvin McDowell, strenuously protested that his forces weren’t yet prepared for combat. Although McDowell pleaded for more time to train his raw recruits, Lincoln insisted, saying, “You are green, it is true; but they are green, also; you are green alike.”

The result was a fiasco for the Union and for Lincoln. In that first major battle of the war, McDowell’s army was routed by the Confederates, and sent literally running back to Washington in disorganized and humiliating retreat.

What caused Lincoln to make the seemingly rash and certainly catastrophic decision to send his main army into battle when even their general said they weren’t ready?

I began to see the answer to that question when I read an article published in Harper’s Weekly for May 4, 1861.

Harper’s would prove to be a staunch supporter of the Lincoln administration throughout the war. But in the beginning, that influential periodical reflected the impatience of a Northern public that demanded that the President get on with the job of bringing the rebels to heel.

Noting that even friends of the administration were accusing the President of “want of energy” in prosecuting the war, Harper’s went on to say:

If Abraham Lincoln is equal to the position he fills, this war will be over by January, 1862 … With such support, and such resources, if this war be not brought to a speedy close, and the supremacy of the Government forcibly asserted throughout the country, it will be the fault of Abraham Lincoln.

When Lincoln ordered an attack on the Confederates before his army was adequately trained, he did so because of the kind of public pressure exemplified in the Harper’s article. The newly inaugurated President understood that unless he was aggressive in putting down the rebellion, the country might lose confidence in his ability to restore the Union. And without that confidence and the political support that came with it, the war would be lost before it began.

That Abraham Lincoln was able to survive the disaster at Bull Run, and lead the nation to a hard fought victory that took far longer than anyone anticipated at the beginning is, I believe, a testament to the extraordinary political and leadership skills that mark him as the greatest of American presidents.

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Chain Gangs, South and North, During and Before the Civil War

The Wikipedia article on chain gangs* claims they began in the U. S. just after the Civil War. But that’s not the case. The chain gang was in use to punish convicts and reap the rewards of their labor long before the war began. And, again contrary to what the Wikipedia article implies, chain gangs were not just a Southern institution. They were employed both in the North and as far west as California.

* Here’s a link to the copy of the Wikipedia chain gang article as it existed at the time of this writing.

The chain gang in Virginia in 1860 and 1863

My attention was first drawn to the question of chain gangs in this country when I ran across the following article in the Richmond (VA) Daily Dispatch for August 14, 1863:

The Chain Gang

is being employed in cleaning the street gutters and improving grades. Superintendent Wicks seems to manage the prisoners by kindness and firmness, and has but little trouble with them. Many of the negroes are old offenders, and behave themselves with propriety, knowing the mode of punishment resorted to with refractory subjects.

The first thing that struck me about this article is the oxymoronic idea that people who were under the double whammy of being both black and incarcerated in a slave-holding society were receiving treatment that was kind as well as firm.

It seems that perhaps the firmness outweighed the kindness. The article makes it clear that prisoners had every reason to fear the punishment they could expect if they got out of line.

It’s also clear that service on the chain gang was a penance that was, in the public mind at least, reserved for blacks and not whites. The Dispatch seems to take for granted that readers would understand that the prisoners Supt. Wicks was managing on the chain gang were “negroes.” Apparently, no whites need apply.

Contrary to Wikipedia’s claim, the Dispatch article shows that the chain gang was already a well established institution in the Southern states by the mid-point of the Civil War.

1941 Oglethorpe County, GA Chain gang convicts and guard-Jack Delano 02 B

A Georgia chain gang in 1941

In fact, a little more research revealed that chain gangs were in use well before the war began. The Dispatch of December 13, 1860 carries another reference to the chain gang doing street repairs in Richmond.

The Chain Gang

are doing good service in repairing 4th street. The Mayor might probably employ many of the vagrants now in jail, by putting them to work.

That reference to “vagrants” raises the possibility that whites did serve on chain gangs. And perhaps some did. However, it was blacks, whether slave or free, who were most subject to being jailed for vagrancy.

It wasn’t just in the South that the chain gang was a favored means of both controlling prisoners and benefitting from their forced labor.

The chain gang in Ohio in 1859

The Journal of the Senate of the State of Ohio For The First Session of the Fifty-Fourth General Assembly, Volume 56, 1860, carries an entry about the pardoning of one Thomas Hughes, convicted of petit larceny. Hughes was sentenced in February of 1859 to six months at hard labor. But after he had served part of his term, county officials recommended that he be pardoned:

“on the ground that his offense was not of an aggravated character; that his health was likely to be seriously impaired if confined during the whole term; and that the punishment already suffered–forty-five days imprisonment before trial, and near four months hard labor upon the Hamilton county chain-gang–was a sufficient punishment for his offense.”

After an apparently strenuous term on the chain gang, Hughes got his pardon.

The chain gang in California in 1838 and 1850

In 1865 Theodore Henry Hittell published The General Laws of the State of California, from 1850 to 1864, Inclusive, Volume 1. The book includes the following reference:

Chain gang 01This appears to establish that chain gangs were in use in California (not yet a state) in 1850. I hesitate to affirm that only because I’m not sure whether the “Chain Gang” title for the section was in the original act, or was added as a descriptive title in the 1865 book.

The same caveat applies to the following reference published in 1890 in the book, History of California: 1848-1859 by Hubert Howe Bancroft, et al:

Chain gang 02Finally, the book General Vallejo and the Advent of the Americans: A Biography published in 1995 by Alan Rosenus gives the story of a man who was sentenced to eight months on a California chain gang in 1838 for killing cattle. Again, I’m not sure this reference establishes that the term “chain gang” was in use in 1838, rather than being a descriptive term employed by the author of the 1995 volume. But certainly the concept of requiring prisoners to labor on public works was current at the time.

VIDEO: Sam Cooke singing “Chain Gang”

There’s more to be discovered about chain gangs in the U. S.

These few facts about the use of chain gangs in the U. S. prior to the Civil War are the result of doing just a little research to refute the erroneous Wikipedia article. [See Wikipedia Can Be Unreliable: Known Errors Not Corrected]. I’m sure a comprehensive search could give a much fuller picture of when and how chain gangs were employed.

Maybe I’ll get around to that someday.

Ron Franklin

© 2016 Ronald E. Franklin

Photo credit: Jack Delano via Library of Congress

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The Last Confederate Christmas in Atlanta, 1863

Christmas about 1860In 1897 writer Wallace Putnam Reed (author of History of Atlanta, Georgia) published an article in the Atlanta Journal sharing his memories of the Christmas of 1863. That was the last Christmas before a particularly unwelcome visitor by the name of William Tecumseh Sherman, along with about 100,000 rowdy friends, came to town. 1863 would mark the last care-free holiday season in Atlanta for decades to come.

Atlantans knew that since the Confederates lost the battles of Chickamauga and Missionary Ridge some weeks earlier, there was a huge Union army based in Chattanooga just waiting for the right time to swoop down on them. But during that Christmas season, no worries about such a possibility disturbed anyone’s holiday cheer. The city was confident that General Joseph E. Johnston, keeping vigilant watch up near the Tennessee line, would never allow a Yankee army to get anywhere near Atlanta.

Christmas was no less commercial then than now

At that time Atlanta was one of the Confederacy’s thriving commercial hubs. Although its population as reported in the 1860 census was under 10,000, Reed says that by 1863 more than 30,000 people called the city home. In addition, as a military center, Atlanta hosted a large cadre of soldiers either stationed in the area, or constantly passing through.

All that bustle meant there was money to be made that Christmas season. In addition to all the soldiers around the city, thousands of civilians were employed either by military facilities in the area, or by the many foundries and factories that were kept busy churning out the materiel of war. And though it took 20 Confederate dollars to buy one gold dollar, and four or five for a U. S. greenback, there were plenty of those Confederate bills floating around in potential customers’ pockets.

Well before the holiday season arrived, Atlanta merchants had prepared themselves. They sent their buyers to cities throughout the Confederacy to procure the goods they knew would fly off their shelves when Christmas shopping began in earnest. In addition, customers who had the money had placed their orders for luxury goods with blockade runners (remember Rhett Butler?) months before. All in all it was a very vibrant Christmas shopping season in Atlanta.

Show me your papers!

Besides the blockade that made it difficult to find that perfect stocking stuffer, there seemed to be only one way in which the reality of civil war intruded on Atlanta’s festive holiday atmosphere. With military manpower needs getting harder to fulfill, the Confederate government had instituted a draft in April of 1862. Now there were stringent rules in place to insure that men who should be in the service didn’t evade their responsibility.

In Atlanta that Christmas season, guards were stationed, sometimes it seemed on every street corner, to demand that any man walking the streets of the city show a pass, a furlough, or exemption papers to prove his right to be there rather than in an army camp. For men who came to Atlanta to do their Christmas shopping, having to produce papers over and over again became, to understate the case, quite annoying.

A Christmas fixed indelibly in memory

Despite the war and the storm clouds the more perceptive inhabitants could discern just over the horizon, that Christmas of 1863 was uniquely memorable. It even snowed on Christmas Day!

Atlanta would see one more holiday season with the Confederate government still reigning in Richmond. But, given the events that would shadow the Christmases of coming years – Sherman in 1864, Confederate surrender in 1865, and Reconstruction thereafter – for decades after, Atlantans remembered that Christmas of 1863, some with fondness, others with relief, as the last Confederate Christmas their city ever experienced.

Ron Franklin

© 2015 Ronald E. Franklin

Photo: Public domain via Wikimedia

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Huckabee’s Trashing of Obama On Iran Is Nothing New

Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee stirred up a firestorm recently with his claim that the deal President Obama negotiated with Iran to prevent that country from obtaining nuclear weapons “will take the Israelis and march them to the door of the oven.” Most who weighed in, including fellow opponents of the deal, protested that Huckabee crossed a line in his criticism of the president.

I certainly agree that Huckabee, in an apparent desperate attempt to snatch some media attention away from fellow candidate Donald Trump, went way over the top in his charge. But as a student of the Civil War, I’m not shocked. Accusing the president of wicked intentions and malevolent actions is nothing new.

Look, for example, at some of the comments the Richmond Dispatch republished from Northern newspapers under the headline “Spirit of the Northern Press” in its issue of March 13, 1863:

The Detroit Free Press exclaimed that President Lincoln was worse than Napoleon or the Russian Czar in his attempt to “crush and exterminate ten millions of people, armed and united in the cause, which they esteem that of their liberty, their homes, and their honor.”

Lincoln as demon signing EmanProc-loc'gov@exhibits@treasures@images@at0005_3s

Abraham Lincoln as a demon signing the Emancipation Proclamation (Library of Congress)

The editor of the Free Press apparently had no compunction about declaring Abraham Lincoln a mass murderer bent on “exterminating” millions of Southern patriots. The name Hitler hadn’t yet appeared in history, but if it had, it’s very probable the Free Press would have had little hesitation in declaring Lincoln the reincarnation of der Fuhrer.

Then there was the Fort Warren (Indiana) Sentinel, which was sure of “the determination of Lincoln, Stanton, and Halleck, to prevent Gen. McClellan or any of his friends – or, in fact, any Democratic General who designs carrying on the war for the salvation of the Union rather than to build up the Abolition party – from successfully carrying on a campaign.”

So, in the eyes (and columns) of the Sentinel, Lincoln and his Washington clique were deliberately and actively thwarting the efforts of faithful and brilliant generals like McClellan, because they didn’t want a Democrat to succeed in winning the war.

If Mike Huckabee wants to defend himself against those who complain that his statements about President Obama are outrageous, he can claim ample precedent by pointing back to how that other Illinois politician who served as commander-in-chief in time of war was characterized by his political enemies.

Ron Franklin

© 2015 Ronald E. Franklin

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Whose Heritage Does The Confederate Flag Represent?

Confederate flag on flagpole detail 02As the Confederate flag is being taken down from places of honor in public places around the country, there are still many people who protest that such actions are unwarranted and hurtful. They insist that the flag they love is not an emblem of hatred, but of Southern heritage, and they feel that the enforced lowering of the Confederate battle flag from publicly owned spaces manifests disrespect for that heritage.

But whose heritage should be respected when it comes to how the Confederate flag is viewed? For example, I was born and raised in the South. Should my heritage be taken into account in determining what the Confederate flag represents?

I recently commented on an article about the flag by a Southerner who is in agreement with it coming down from public grounds, but who wondered why it couldn’t represent all that’s good in Southern history rather than the oppression, racism, and violence that many others, including most African Americans, see in it. Here is what I said:

I understand your desire to honor your Southern heritage. I too was born and raised in the South (Tennessee).

The heritage the Confederate flag represents to me is the childhood memory I have of cowering in the back seat of my mother’s car as we drove past a public square in my city where men dressed in white sheets and hoods had made a big fire out of something (I’m not sure whether it was a cross). It’s of not being allowed to go to the biggest and best amusement park in the area, and being consigned to a few see-saws and swings in Lincoln Park. It’s of never attending a non-segregated school until I went off to the University of Tennessee.

You think of the good things you remember about the South and ask, “Why can’t the flag represent that?” The answer is, it simply doesn’t. The Confederate battle flag has more than 150 years of very public history behind it, from the men who marched under it with Robert E. Lee in defense of a system every one of them knew was founded on human slavery, through becoming an official symbol in several Southern states of their unyielding resistance to equal rights for African Americans during the civil rights era, right up to its adoption by white supremacist hate groups today.

The “heritage” that flag represents is obviously very different for us two Southerners. But actually that fact is not relevant to the issue. What is relevant is that in the century and a half of its existence, the Confederate flag has been invested with a meaning that cannot be changed by what you or I think of it. It is what it is. And “what it is” is not something we need to take into the future with us.

Nobody is trying to take the Confederate flag away from those who identify with it. Because this is a free country, they have the right to keep it and display it on their property. But to fly it over publicly owned land, where all of us should be represented, is a kick in the face to those of us who have experienced the kind of “heritage” the history of that flag invests it with.

The next time you hear someone say the Confederate flag represents “heritage, not hate,” you might ask them whose heritage they’re talking about.

Ron Franklin

More on the Confederate flag:

Research Says Just Seeing the Confederate Flag Triggers Racism

Confederate Flag: Why “Heritage not Hate” Is Irrelevant

South Carolina takes down the Confederate flag, and turns a corner in its history

Photo credit: Bryan Maleszyk via flickr

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