The History of the Confederate Flag

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Whether one believes it symbolizes a fight for states’ rights or slavery, the battle over the Confederate Flag demonstrates that the flag remains a potent symbol in America. Throughout the century after the Civil War, it was used by white southerners as a sign of heritage and pride—but also by groups and organizations promoting segregation. The triumph of the Civil Rights movement, however, changed the meanings associated with the Confederate Flag and framed the debate about it.Read

By the end of the Civil War, it was no longer a flag that celebrated the “Lost Cause.” Instead, it came to stand for a revolutionary political idea: That the federal government’s power over property and life was excessive and that the States had the right to self-government, even if that meant denying fundamental human and civil rights to black Americans.

Tracing the Controversial Past: The History of the Confederate Flag

This new interpretation of the Confederate Flag, based on an examination of hundreds of documents, provides an in-depth look at its evolution. It reveals that the Beauregard flag was not first sewn as a symbol but as a practical banner, a solution to an obvious problem: The Confederate Congress’s first national flag —which resembled the Stars and Stripes —was impractical and dangerous on the battlefield. That was what compelled commanders to create the vast array of other battle flags that were used throughout the war. The story of the Confederate Flag tells us much about how and why symbols acquire new meanings—and shows that, regardless of the bloodshed that infuses them, these ideas are never fully buried in history.

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