The Moral Struggle For The Dixie Cross
By Carl W. Roden
It is wrong to subject black people to the Confederate battle flag, or to ask a black American to accept that banner in any way. To do so discounts the pain that the sight of that banner causes to those who lost family members to racial injustices, to lynchings, and other atrocities committed by those who displayed that flag out of hatred.
The flag was birthed during a treasonous rebellion against the United States by those who wanted slavery to continue in America and engaged in a war that murdered more than half a million Americans. Its meaning therefore cannot be divorced from its origins.
Its history beyond that war is further tarnished with its display and use by those who supported racial segregation through violent means. The flag is covered in the blood of the innocent. It is often seen as the favored banner of hate groups that promote white supremacy today.
Many Americans today see the battle flag is an "American swastika" and it will always be seen as such. We are one nation under one flag, it's time to let go of that tarnished symbol of a shameful past for good.
It doesn't matter what your own feelings are, even if they are not racially or politically motivated, even if the intentions are well meaning and honorable. No matter how much honoring dead soldiers and people who lived a century and a half ago means to you, the tolerant thing to do is concede to the emotions of the moment for the greater good of your fellow Americans living today.
When someone's feelings are hurt its time to put away the things that offend. It simply has to go, how can anyone argue with that logic? How can there be any further debate on the matter?
With those words, those six paragraphs, I have pretty much summed up the entire argument advanced by those who oppose the public display of the Dixie Cross (battle flag) in just about any context, either officially sanctioned by State and local government, or displayed by everyday individuals who honor what they feel it stands for.
There was a time in the past that I have always been willing to give flag opponents the benefit of the doubt. There is no doubt many of the people who feel this way are well meaning people who honestly believe they are doing the right thing for the sake of "tolerance and progress" - at least as far as their education and sense of logic would define the terms. I would also be among the first to concede the point that on average a good many people who hold that point of view are not always themselves anti-Southern, nor anti-free speech. Indeed some of those same people are Southern born and claim Confederate ancestry themselves.
The argument itself is simple, well rounded, and - some would argue -- perfectly logical: If its offensive get rid of it. Be tolerant. Be sensitive. Show respect.
So how do we as Confederate descendants who honor the Dixie Cross as a living symbol of Southern identity and remembrance for the Confederate dead counter this argument? With the truth as we know it, of course. Often times however, that proves not to be enough.
Here are some examples of what I mean:
The flag is a symbol of "Southern heritage".
An utterly disambiguous term for those who do not understand fully what that term truly means when applied to in the grand scheme of Southern history from pre-European colonial times to the present day.
The flag is a memorial for the Confederate dead.
But there are monuments in practically every Southern town in America with inscriptions detailing Confederate heroism, so then is flying that flag at any of them truly necessary?
The flag is a symbol of Southern pride and identity.
Surely there are other symbols that even Confederate descendants can take pride in, after all didn't the CSA have other flags which haven't been co-opted by bigots in white sheets and hoods?
Flying it is about "Heritage Not Hate" and "Pride Not Prejudice".
Mere slogans, meaningless, powerless words that do nothing but argue against what can easily be countered with image upon image of that flag displayed by the worst sort of human trash, racists in white hoods, or shaved heads and brown shirts, or simply black and white photos of ignorant people protesting the integration of schools in the late 50s and 60s.
Of course we can respond to any of these counter arguments with historic truths from the South's historical perspective. We can counter images of the misuse of that flag with ten times as many other images where that flag is not used in any racist or obscene way. We can even counter with image upon image of the United States flag misused in much the same way by the same people for the same hateful purposes for far longer. That if Americans were willing to give our national banner the benefit of the doubt surely the banner of the Confederate soldier deserves the same consideration?
These responses inevitably lead to other arguments and likewise familiar talking points from the Opposition. After awhile the shouting starts, recriminations and accusations are throw around, emotions flare, and absolutely no progress one way or the other is made. No hearts or minds changed, no eyes opened; just more of the same bitter feelings that brought about this entire controversial debate in the first place.
So again our opponents would ask: "Why not just give up and move forward with the rest of the world?" Never mind that for most of us their exact definition of the term "moving forward" is just as disambiguous as the term "Southern heritage" may be for them. Indeed I doubt a good many who express a need to "move forward" have much of a clue what it is they want to move forward to.
Also overlook the fact that - with only very few exceptions - the rest of the world by large has no controversy with either the display, or symbolism, of the Dixie Cross. The misguided views of that flag as a symbol of racism is for the most part a distinctly American concept. But then again such oversights are more often trivial to the Opposition - or perhaps it could also be that the "rest of the world" is their figurative way of saying "everyone who lives in our own way of thinking" and not literally applied?
Many people in America today share the opinion that the Dixie Cross is a negative symbol with a negative past that must be banished from civilized society. An opinion currently shared by a good many of America's most powerful political and social leaders both Left and Right of center, and - for the most part - by those who currently control American popular culture, who all but reinforces this negative view of both that flag and the people who display it at every chance they get.
The fact that there are more than a handful of small-minded agents of racial hatred in America today who display this flag when committing some heinous and intolerable act does nothing but legitimize said negative views. These acts are all pointed to eagerly by the current Establishment as further proof of their alleged moral high ground. The fact that they likewise legitimize the haters themselves and some of their ideals in the process of establishing their claims against the advocates of Southern heritage seems to escapes the Establishment at times though. But hey, never mind, as long as the narrative fits, right?
In the face of so much opposition and negative emotion towards the Dixie Cross and its display, obviously defending its presence can often times prove overwhelming, even demoralizing for those of us who continue to stubbornly honor it. So much so that there are even at present those very few among our own Southern Heritage Preservation Movement, including those among the historic and heritage groups like the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) and United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC), and even some among the Southern Nationalist organizations, who support the idea of a change of banners to one of the less known historical battle flags, or the first national banner.
They would argue that we need to grow and expand, and to do so we have to appeal to the unbiased masses. We have to put aside the banner, change our groups logos, not display it at public gatherings, at memorial services, or sometimes even at the graves of our honored dead.
Not permanently, they add to reassure the rest of us, but just for a few decades or so until things get better and more people can be informed about Southern heritage and how it applies today. That the Dixie Cross should be packed away safely and lovingly for better times. Their misguided way of showing the Opposition that, see look at us, we can be tolerant and sensitive to your feelings too.
So why don't we simply take down the flags, furl them up, put them in a closet or basement, and put up something that better symbolizes our Southern and American heritage as a whole? After all it would be so much easier than the hassle of resisting a viewpoint based on the negative feelings about that banner so many people are adamant on advancing.
So what if it means conceding a seemingly outdated piece of red cloth with a blue cross to modern racist groups with few if any legitimate historical claims to that banner and to other individuals with sordid causes who use it to terrorize non-white Americans, including the descendants of non-white Confederate soldiers? They've already tarnished that banner after all, so why take up so much time trying to fight against what seems to be the judgment of American history regarding that flag?
After all we are "One Nation Under One Flag" the Opposition says - though the fact that there are in fact fifty State flags and several territorial banners under American sovereignty seems to be a bit lost in that particular argument, but hey, why let a little detail like that stand in the way of an emotional plea for "tolerance" huh? The Opposition certainly doesn't so who are we to do so?
According to the Opposition those of us who continue to honor Confederate soldiers are just as bunch of Lost Cause throwbacks who look at the past with rose colored glasses, dreaming of moonlight and magnolias. Of course by virtue of their theoretically advanced education and the "tolerance" they show to the emotions and politics of the day, they are right by default. They're the ones who currently hold the power in popular culture and academia now. They're the ones who champion the "accepted" views of history that popular culture advance today, with just a little tiny hint of their own personal political philosophies thrown into the mix.
They are the current modern Establishment, the Politically Correct.
The arguments against the display of the Dixie Cross, as I said, are well rounded - perhaps even a bit circular - and very simple. They are based on emotion that one simply cannot discount.
I doubt there are but a few among us who honor that flag that are so hardened to stories of past injustices that any of us can completely brush them aside. I know I've heard my share of them, some of which are forever burned into my memory.
Among the worst of these (because I had a visual aid for it) was from a black Southern man from North Carolina who showed me a scar behind his ear where a white man with a Southern Cross tag on his truck's front bumper smashed a Coke bottle over his head and then, - along with two other white men - kicked him repeatedly when he lay curled up on the sidewalk unable to defend himself.
This gentleman told me something I would never forget, something that would stay with me haunting my thoughts to this day. He told me that while he was down on the ground he saw people walking on the sidewalk turn and go the other way. Nobody helped him, one even smirked as he walked by.
Needless to say I feel a deep shame that such things ever have happened in this Southern land of my birth, and certainly that it happened under a banner that I consider - next to another great American banner - near and dear to my heart. It makes me sick to know that in isolated cases such actions still happen today. Indeed every time I read such a story, or hear from the mouths of a fellow Southerner of color a tale of injustice and torture, even death, nothing can stop the tears from coming to my eyes.
I've even been witness to one such incident personally, and although I took a personal stand against it, the fact that it happened will always remain a terrible scar in my memory.
At this point I can practically hear the Opposition's thoughts as they read my words:
Then if that is the case, why do you continue to argue for and fly a banner which has come to stand for so much pain?!
No matter what you feel about some dead soldiers, that flag hurts feelings and it offends people living and breathing today!
I mean, do you get some sick thrill out of waving that flag in the face of black people who are afraid of the sight of it?!
Isn't it time to put aside your "Lost Cause" nostalgia and your misguided quest to somehow "redeem" that flag?! Don't you know that's as much a lost cause as that war your ancestors started in the first place?!
Indeed, why don't we do just that? Why not? I mean it's certainly easier to surrender to the passions and the politics of the present. It's so much simpler to surrender ones individuality to the group mindset, especially when that sense of identity is allegedly harmful to others who fear the motives behind it - regardless if said fear is real, or more often times imagined. Why work so hard, and endure so much anger and accusations, to fight for what appears to be the redemption of a relic, a piece of the past that is better off hanging in the back of some museum - preferably out of the view of part of a segment of the public that would cringe at the sight of it?
Why don't we?
This Is Why
Well ladies and gentlemen, let me tell you why I for one will never lower, nor renounce, the Dixie Cross. Why I will never stop defending its display, and why I will never cease to speak out against those who tarnish it, and those who choose to discount what it truly stands for in my heart - and the hearts of its defenders - as a living symbol or our shared Southern identity and Confederate heritage.
Let me tell you why I, a Southern-born man and proud descendant of a Confederate soldier, would rather endure the hatred and disgusted looks of those so offended by even the mention of the Dixie Cross banner rather than surrender it to those who through actions and words attempt to define it unjustly as a symbol of hate.
What makes me so willing to defend that old battle-tattered flag and to endure the ridicule of the "tolerant" of American society? To make myself a willingly subject to the scornful judgments of the "politically correct" who dictate through popular culture those whom they alone define as worthy to be a part of the popular clique deserving of praise and respect.
These are my consistent views on the matter which I now state for the record. I know that some of these are going to shock both friends and opponents alike, but please indulge me for just a bit and I will make things clear.
I am not going to offer you some slogan like "Heritage Not Hate" though it is a view I fully agree with. The flag is a part of Southern heritage as a whole, but also a big part of the Confederate heritage aspect of that Southern identity - which has both its noble and its less than noble aspects, neither of which can totally be disregarded if a final solution to this debate can ever be resolved honorably.
I will certainly not offer any sort of justification for the South's war for independence and it's root causes.
I fully accept that the issue of slavery in America was one of the main reasons that seven Southern States felt the need to evoke what they felt was their right of secession from the United States of America because the then Democrat politicians in the South felt that the balance of power was against them with the election of 1860. At least six formal documents outlining the articles of secession of these State governments from the Union mention slavery and the compromises toward the westward expansion of that institution - and by extension the limits put on the political power of one section of the country in favor of another - as the main reason for their decision to declare their States sovereign entities. Slavery and attacks on that institution over several decades and the subsequent weakening on Southern political power were among those reasons they left, there is no way to deny that without looking like a total fool.
I also accept that one of the main reasons the Confederate States of America was formed - beyond the need of seven sovereign States as they saw themselves to form a bond of mutual defense - was to preserve the institution of slavery as an economic engine of Southern agrarian culture until such a time that it could rationally be phased out and replaced.
I also accept that given the racial attitudes of most predominately European dominated Western societies and imperial colonies in the 19th Century, white supremacist thinking was the accepted standard norm - the cornerstone of those societies - and remained so until the 20th century and the great struggles for human rights and racial equality. The Confederate States of America were no different, this fact being reasserted by the words of Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens in his infamous "Cornerstone Speech" of 1861.
I also fully accept that had the CSA formally assured its independence (I won't say "won it" because from a certain point of view, they were an independent - though formally unrecognized - country for four years) at the end of the War Between the States, the institution of African slavery would most likely have endured on the North American continent for at least another two to three more decades (Brazil ended slavery through manumission in 1888 and likely the CSA would have done the same by the end of the 19th century).
Those are all historical facts, both in America and for the state of the 19th century world at large, none of which are in dispute in any detail - except perhaps the idea that the CSA was not an independent nation outside of foreign recognition. I would also add that I do not fully accept that the establishment of a permanent slave class in America was the main goal of Confederate leaders in leaving the Union specifically, rather that it was a deeper difference over constitutional principles concerning the rights of the government and of the Several States with the issue of slavery in the western territories being the spark that set off a political powder keg that began following the American Revolutionary War and the formation of the Union itself.
Nor will I defend the war that battle flag was born in.
The Confederacy fired the first shots of that war, again no denying that, though I would question the idea that secession itself was what caused the War, or made it inevitable, rather than the fact the Union failed to recognize the establishment of the Southern Confederacy as a nation within its own right. That is not to say that the South was wrong to evoke what if felt was the right of secession. The US Constitution made no such provision, though several States that joined the United States of America in 1787 did so under the provision they could leave if they so choose. There was no specific consensus on the issue of secession in America at that time, nor was the South the only section of the country that considered evoking the right prior to 1860.
I would also add that the issue of secession was not legally settled until the court case Brown v Texas in 1869, a full four years AFTER the War ended, so I don't feel that the charge of "treason" can fully be applied to the South, or any Confederate leader. For the record, I believe that neither side was technically wrong in so far as how they defined the rights of the Several States and the US Constitution.
I will not argue a case for war.
I despise war and what it stands for, namely the rejection of reason that separates humanity from the other animals in nature. When we choose to fight war, no matter the cause, we choose to throw away civilization and revert back to the darker more primal parts of our human nature. Both sides governments and civil leaders were guilty of allowing that war to happen, for the death and destruction that followed; and both the winners and losers - even those freed as a result of its outcome - were all tarnished forever by the ugliness and bitterness that followed.
I won't re-fight that war because it is not my war. It was fought 150 years ago and the men who fought it are long dead.
Yet, in saying that I will be the first to speak up for the memories of their sacrifices and service of the Confederate citizen soldier who fought in the South's defense. I will also state, again for the record, that I do not think they were wrong in either fighting to defend their unrecognized independence, nor guilty of treason for defending their homes from invasion.
I also believe that for the vast majority of those men and boys who wore the hallowed gray and butternut uniforms of Dixie, the defense of the Confederate government and the social institution of slavery were of less personal importance than the defense of their homeland and their personal honor as a fiercely independent Southerner people.
It was the soldier's flag first and foremost.
Finally, when those flags were returned to the surviving aged veterans who wore the tattered gray and butternut of Dixie, and to their sons and daughters of those soldiers in 1905 by the very government they were surrendered to, any so-called "treason" assigned to those flags and the men who fought and died under them was absolved - by the men who fought against them and their sons no less.
The symbol of that flag became a precious gift given by those veterans to their descendants: a living symbol of Southern honor (I won't say "glory" because that is a word assigned to justify the meaningless slaughter of war) that was woven into the tapestry that is Southern cultural identity, and a memorial to the dead of the Confederacy and the heritage of blood that links the generations together. A hereditary symbol that shares a history beyond that horrible war to the present day. A history that has its good moments, and its bad ones - neither of which should be entirely overlooked.
For the rest of my argument, I will stick to defending the modern meaning of the Dixie Cross and what it means to Southerners in the 21st century, particularly to Confederate descendants today.
Before going on allow me to concede another point: Yes, not all Confederate descendants approve of the display of that flag.
This is an unfortunate fact, one brought about by a number of educational and social factors, but ultimately by the personal choice of the individuals in question. I will not include those particular individuals in my broad definition of Southerners and Confederate descendants. To do so would be as disingenuous as the arguments made by those members of the Opposition who claim that "black people" are offended by its display; a broad argument that presumes to claim the perspective of the vast majority of millions of American-born individuals solely on the views of one vocal segment. Such arguments are counter to independent thinking and presumes to reduce said people to vast focus groups rather than reasoning, thinking human beings.
Rather I will include only those tens of millions across this world on six continents; people of all races, religions, creeds, and nationalities who can claim a single strand of Confederate ancestral DNA and who honor both that ancestry and the honorable display of the Dixie Cross. A vast and distinct group of people and cultures from a broad spectrum who are bound together by a common respect for those who wore the gray and butternut of the Confederate military and carried the various battle flags of those armies.
Also allow me to clarify that by "honorable display" of the Dixie Cross, I refer to any display of the battle flag as purely an identifying symbol of Southern-American identity significant to the heredity of Confederate descendants, and other Southern-born people, with no personal racial aspects implied. Across the American Southland and the world at large approximately 95% of such displays are made simply to convey a simple expression of honoring and remembering a distinct individual's Southern cultural identity and heritage. This can also apply to historical displays where the Dixie Cross is placed at Confederate monuments, grave sites, old battlefield sites, and in any number of significant contexts by Confederate descendants groups during recognized memorial days and historical anniversaries.
Resolution And Resolve
On Saturday, August 19, 1989, the Sons of Confederate Veterans, an organization made up of lineal descendants of the Confederate citizen soldier, unanimously passed and adopted a profound resolution at their General Convention in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, which reads:
WHEREAS, the use of the Confederate Battle Flag by extremist political groups and individuals who seek to clothe themselves in respectability by misappropriating the banner under which our southern ancestors fought for a cause which was noble as much latter day use is ignoble, and
WHEREAS, The Sons of Confederate Veterans are the true inheritors of legacy and symbols for which the Confederate Veterans fought and died, and
WHEREAS, The Sons of Confederate Veterans does denounce the use of the Confederate Battle Flag and any other Confederate symbol by the Ku Klux Klan as the desecration of a symbol to which the Ku Klux Klan has no claim, and
WHEREAS, the misuse of the Confederate Battle Flag by any extremist group or individual espousing political extremism and/or racial superiority degrades the Confederate Battle Flag and maligns the noble purpose of our ancestors who fought against extreme odds for what they believed was just, right, and constitutional, and
WHEREAS, the misuse of other flags and symbols of the Confederate States of America and the Confederate States Army, Navy, and Marines is similarly degrading,
NOW, THEREFORE , BE IT RESOLVED, that the Sons of Confederate Veterans in General Convention assembled in Oklahoma City ,Oklahoma, does hereby condemn in the strongest terms possible the use of the Confederate Battle Flag or any other flag, symbol, seal, title, or name bearing any relationship whatsoever to the Confederate States of America or the armed forces of that government by any such extremist group or individual, of whatever name or designation by which known, and
LET IT BE FURTHER RESOLVED, that the Sons of Confederate Veterans , in General Convention assembled , does hereby condemn in the strongest terms possible the inappropriate uses of the Confederate Battle Flag or any other flag ,seal, title to name bearing any relationship whatsoever to the Confederate States of America or to the armed forces of the Government of the Confederate States of America by individuals or groups of individuals, organized or unorganized, who espouse political extremism or racial superiority.
With those profound words, the SCV declared before America and before the whole world that the Dixie Cross - the living symbol of modern Southern-American cultural identity and historical heritage; the memorial to the honored Southern dead, men recognized as American Veterans equal to all others - would henceforth and forever mean nothing in the unworthy hands of those who promoted racial hatred.
Granted that as profound a moment that was, it would have been better all around if that noble declaration had taken place - say around 1962 at the height of its cultural prominence, when that flag was the subject of that dishonorable misuse, many times at the hands of white Southerners, as a tool of defiance against integration of schools and equal voting rights. Had that resolution been delivered then odds are good that while some would have ignored it, a good many more might have taken a step back and realized the dishonor such actions were towards that flag's true heritage. Perhaps then, the stains of bigotry would not have been so glaringly bad, and the process of finding a balance between that flag's history as a battlefield emblem and its heritage as a cultural and hereditary icon might have come much further along, rather than become further jumbled.
Yet, the fact remains that it was the lineal descendants of the Confederate soldier that finally stood up and said before the world: No More! Not Now And Never Again!
Since the time that resolution passed, a growing cultural movement in Dixie has risen against those who attack and who misuse that flag for their own twisted purposes. A chorus of voices that was joined by the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) and the Sons of Union Veterans Civil War (SUVCW) - the descendants of those who fought against the Confederate soldier.
Who after all is more qualified to define the true meaning of the Dixie Cross than the bloodline of those who actually carried the original battle standards into battle - and those ironically who fought against them, won the war, and ultimately returned those same banners out of a spirit of true American reconciliation?
Yet, as I mentioned before, this is far from universal in regards to all Confederate descendants, and certainly with the descendants of their Union opponents. Many of them are all too eager to simply toss aside one aspect of their cultural identity and ancestry simply to live comfortably and conveniently in the present with those who practice a one-sided, collectivist view of "tolerance." These individuals are more than willing - in the interest of surrendering to what's fashionable in the present - to speak loudly against those who fight against such misuse. Who are more than willing - in order to appear in goosestep (oops....I meant "lockstep") with the Establishment - to tear those Dixie Cross off of monuments to the honored dead, fold it up, hand it over to those who continue to dishonor it and say: Here, it's yours now and forever! and in doing so, legitimizing such hatred, while at the same time arrogantly proclaiming that they are against hatred. Who stand smugly with the Establishment in mockery, in labeling, and worse in violent hatred against those who stand defiantly against the real bigots, and who seek nothing more and nothing less than simply to honor their living Southern heritage and ancestry.
Such people dishonor their own blood, and worse, promote the very hate they themselves claim to reject, not just against their fellow Southerners, but against their fellow Americans and people of good will around the world, who speak up and say: No More!
I am proud to say that when that same resolution was reaffirmed at the SCV National Convention in Anderson, South Carolina in July, 2010, I was there as a member of that band of brothers - men of all colors, faiths, and identities who shared a common bond of blood - to proudly state before the South, before America, and before the world, that I will never sit by while someone throws that flag in another human being's face out of mean-spirited hatred and bigotry without speaking out and declaring to those same haters: No more! You do not have my permission to dishonor the banner my ancestor gave his life under! You do not have the right to use it to create fear and hatred in the heart of another human soul! You do not have my permission to do so without me speaking out and letting everyone know there is a difference between those who hate and those who honor!
I am also proud to say today that not a story about that flag in media and American popular culture being misused for racial bigotry can be reported without at least one or more Southerners, or other Americans of good will, standing up and saying that the Dixie Cross does not belong to the haters, its belongs rightly with the South and all its people - Confederate descendants and non-descendants alike.
That number is steadily growing stronger.
I believe that in the decades to come the angry voices, the voices of fear and hate will count for less and less, and the voices that speak out for honor and True Tolerance will count for more. There will be a day when a casual display of that flag will never insult, or frighten another American regardless of their color. When someone who honors that flag as a symbol of their culture will be given the benefit of the doubt by all.
Does this mean ignoring the past misuse of that flag? Forgetting all the ugliness associated from that misuse? No, absolutely not! To forget dishonors those wronged, and it permits the possibility of evil to again take root. It also does no honor to cover up the negatives. They must be remembered, if only to make the good parts of its history and heritage shine all the brighter. This is the only way to bring justice, without malice, to all generations of the Southland - past and present.
We must remember and acknowledge the full history of the Dixie Cross - the good and the bad - as we must remember the history of the good and bad in all cultural symbols, and in the human soul. We must remember, and we must stand together today and say: Never Again!
If you want me to tell you why I think this end is worth it? Well like the Opposition, let me make both the questions and the answer simple:
Why don't I forget the Dixie Cross? Why don't I give it up and join the politically correct thinking of today?
Because if I did, then their memories die....
....I would be betraying these honorable people, my fellow descendants and Southerners....
....and I would be allowing these "people" would win.
The memories of those who fell under that flag, the honor of those who respect it today, and the heritage it represents are not for sale.
Not now, and never again.
Simple as that.