If tomorrow all the things were gone
I’d hoped for all my life
And I had to start again
With just my family by my side
I’d thank my God above
To be living here today
‘Cause the flag still stands for freedom
And they can’t take that away…
And I’m proud to be an American…
God Bless the U.S.A.
Lee Greenwood, God Bless the U.S.A.
There’s a lot of discussion about removing Confederate Monuments, and there are a lot of folks who are displaying, and waving, the Confederate flag; many of them waving it right alongside fellow marchers waving the American Flag. (I won’t link to the photos from Charlottesville from this past weekend).
I think some have some gaps in their historical understanding.
I generally write about business books, and books related to social justice issues, on this blog. Consider this a social-justice related history reminder.
I’m a deep believer in the idea of, and the power of, symbols. And, in its purest form, a flag is a symbol. It represents something; it stands for something. You know: “’Cause the flag still stands for freedom,” sang Lee Greenwood.
But, also, the flag means – it must mean — what it did mean. In other words, it is in the founding moments, the founding beliefs, that we find the meaning of the flag.
Take the American flag. I would put these words as the “key” words behind the American flag: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” Let’s call these words the words that provide the foundational truth and principle behind the American flag.
Well, if the founding words give meaning to the flag that symbolizes what we believe, what are the founding words behind the Confederate flag? This is not an unimportant question. And, there is an answer, as surely as there is an answer to that question for the American flag.
And a similar question can be asked about statues. What is the “truth” behind the position that someone like Jefferson Davis attained?
So, here are some of those foundational, founding words; those rock-bottom, “this is what we believe” words:
Jefferson Davis, before the founding of the Confederacy:
“This Government was not founded by negroes nor for negroes, but by white men for white men. The “inequality of the white and black races was stamped from the beginning.”
Jefferson Davis, on the floor of the US Senate, April 12, 1860
And, for the Confederate flag, there is no greater underlying statement of belief than can be found in the Cornerstone Speech, delivered by Alexander Stephens, the Vice President of the Confederate States of America, delivered at the Athenaeum in Savannah, Georgia, on March 21, 1861. Here is the key excerpt:
Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite ideas (R.M. – opposite from the Declaration of Independence; the “all men are created equal” idea); its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.
So, take a good look at these three slides: words and images together. I think they capture the meaning behind the symbols. And, maybe, you will understand why some think it is time to remove some of these symbols, and only keep the American flag.
I do think this: the idea that the Confederate flag would be waved alongside the American Flag would have been unthinkable. The American side of that horrible war clearly understood exactly what the Confederate flag stood for. So should we.
This is the flag I will cherish: