Removing Racism

Grant Baldwin

Removing Racism or Erasing History? The Modern Confederate Conversation

June 17, 2015 was supposed to be an ordinary Monday. Ordinary people like eighty-
seven-year-old Susie Jackson, college student Tywanza Sanders, and others had gathered

together at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.
Susie, Tywanza, and their Christian brothers and sisters were enjoying the tranquility that came

from their weekly Bible study. What made this Monday unordinary, however, was when forty-
five minutes into the service a man pulled out a Glock 41 .45 caliber handgun and open fired,

killing innocent Susie, Tywanza, and seven others (Inwood and Alderman 1). After fleeing to
North Carolina, the authorities caught and arrested Dylann Roof, the man responsible for the
deaths of these nine African Americans. Roof admitted after his arrest that his motives in these
assassinations were “in hopes of igniting a broader race war” (Inwood and Alderman 1). Later
photos and videos would go viral of Roof undeniably participating in hate speech and racist
activities in the past, in particular using the Confederate Battle Flag as a symbol to embody his
hate toward African Americans.
In reaction to this travesty, the South Carolina legislature voted to remove the
Confederate Battle Flag from display on the state’s capitol grounds. This decision sparked a
controversy that spread to cover the entire nation. While it is easy for the victims of the
Charleston massacre and those of other similar hate crimes to understand, many Americans still
refuse to believe that the Confederate Battle Flag or Confederate monuments stand for anything
inherently racist. Many still hold the flag as a symbol that embodies the aspects of living a

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Southern life. A survey done by CNN following the travesty in Charleston suggested that 66% of
white respondents believed that Confederate symbols do not represent racist ideas, in contrast to
the 72% of black respondents who considered the symbols to be intrinsically racist (“Attitudes
Toward Confederate Emblems and Symbols among US Adults, 2015”).
The entire situation provokes a question: Should Americans continue to honor the
symbols and leaders of a group who rebelled against their country and fought to preserve the
enslavement of African Americans on the basis of “preserving heritage?” As of 2016, there were
718 monuments dedicated to the Confederacy or to Confederate leaders across 24 states–13 of
which were not members of the Confederate States of America or were not even states during the
Civil War (“Existing Confederate Memorials and Observances by State, 2016”). In response to
the Charleston massacre and following South Carolina’s example, many city and state politicians
are pushing for the further removal of these symbols and monuments from their public spaces
across the country. Those against removal of these monuments claim it as an attack on their
Southern heritage, or as an attempt to rewrite history.
In this paper, I will look through American history and identify how the Confederate
symbols in question have been connected with racism throughout the past. I will then debunk
some of the misconceptions commonly associated with Southern history and the Confederate
symbols. I will conclude with the outcomes of the recent removals of monuments in New
Orleans and Dallas and address how this debate connects to the larger issue of racial injustice.
History of Hate
To uncover the original motives of the flags and monuments that are under controversy,
we must look back at their history by observing how these symbols have been used over time.
Most history buffs could tell you that the “Southern Cross,” the familiar flag that features a blue
X with thirteen stars, highlighted in white across a red background, was never the official flag of

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the Confederacy. Between 1861 and 1865, the Confederate States of America (CSA) actually
had three official flags, but because of the short lifespan of these three designs, many
Confederate states and their armies adopted the Southern Cross as their battle flags for the
duration of the Civil War. The adoption and use of this flag by the Confederate armies ensured
that the symbol would go down in history as being associated with the CSA and everything it
stood for (Webster and Leib). The flag embodied rebellion against the United States in the fight
to preserve enslavement of African Americans, and would continue to embody these ideas until
Although the Confederacy lost the Civil War in 1865, many would argue that its
convictions remained alive. These convictions were voiced through the hoisting of the Battle
Flag and erection of monuments dedicated to Confederate leaders. During the Reconstruction
era, the Battle Flag was flown over private residences across the South to voice opposition
against the occupying federal soldiers (Webster and Leib). As Reconstruction ended, these
federal troops withdrew from the South and brought their racially progressive laws and
politicians home with them (Curtis). White Southerners once again rose to political power and
quickly began to disenfranchise African Americans. As discriminatory laws became a more
common occurrence, some would say that it is not coincidental that this time also brought the
erection of hundreds of monuments honoring Confederate leaders (Gibson and Reich). The first
Confederate monument built in New Orleans was dedicated to General Robert E. Lee in 1884, 19
years after the defeat of the Confederacy (Curtis). The timing of the construction of these
monuments help us see that they were likely built due to Southern bitterness toward the Federal
Government and primed racial prejudice, rather than as symbols of Southern heritage. The flags
and monuments were instruments played by racist Southerners that vocalized a reminder that
African Americans would remain on the bottom of the social ladder.

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Opposition to the Civil Rights movement in the South saw a second revitalization of
Confederate remembrance. The flag quickly returned to the public eye due to events surrounding
the Democratic Party’s national presidential nomination convention in 1948, when numerous
proposals regarding the civil rights of African Americans were added to the party’s official
platforms. In response to the party’s shift, multiple delegates from the South stormed out of the
convention while waving the Southern Cross (Webster and Leib). Later in August that year,
these Southern delegates held their own so-called “Dixiecrat” convention in Birmingham,
Alabama in an effort to display to the Democratic party that the South was not in favor of the
emerging Civil Rights movement (Webster and Leib). It was at this convention that the Battle
Flag was readopted as an emblem for white supremacy and racial prejudice in the 20th century.
As the Civil Rights movement gained more ground, the Confederate flag and further
erection of monuments progressively became more associated with protest against African
Americans’ newly gained freedom. Following the pivotal Brown v. Board of Education Supreme
Court ruling, white citizen councils, supported by the imagery of the Battle Flag, formed in
Mississippi to speak publicly against the desegregation of schools. It is at this time that states
like Georgia and South Carolina voted to fly the flag over their state capitol domes (Webster and
Leib). Hate crimes toward African Americans were commonly seen alongside the Battle Flag;
there were even reports of peaceful black protesters in Alabama being pelted with urine filled
balloons thrown from cars decorated with Southern Crosses (Inwood and Alderman 2). All of
these incidents specifically sprung as a reaction to more liberties being given to African
Americans, not as a celebration of Southern pride. As the fight for civil rights continued, the use
of Confederate names and symbols in public places skyrocketed; culminating in over seven
hundred statues and monuments, one hundred schools, ten US military bases, and eighty counties
and cities named after Confederate figures (“Confederate Remembrance”). Once again, the

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timing of these incidents makes apparent that these symbols served a larger purpose than simply
honoring the South’s heritage. Rather, it can be concluded that they were specific reactionary
symbols, sparked by the original convictions of the Confederacy, to voice a pro-discrimination
and white supremacy agenda.
While African Americans may have won the fight for civil rights, Confederate symbols
continue to ignite racial passions like no other symbol in the United States to this day. This is
apparent by the aforementioned tragedy at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in
Charleston. Dylann Roof was driven by hate toward African Americans which he voiced, in part,
by the use of the Confederate Battle Flag. Many Americans view this tragedy as a wakeup call to
remove these symbols and monuments from public spaces, on the belief that the government
should no longer sponsor symbols that embody a history of prejudice and racial violence. But
despite an apparent history of hate, some refuse to let go of what they assert to be a part of their
The Lost Cause
Many Southerners could easily defend their pride toward the flag as a piece their heritage
by pointing to examples from pop culture. The 1930’s film Gone with the Wind displays the
Battle Flag and idealized the perfection of the Southern life, disconnected from racism (Webster
and Leib). Dukes of Hazard fans will associate the flag with the television show from the ‘80s,
which featured a car named after Robert E. Lee embellished with the Southern Cross. Prominent
musical groups like Lynyrd Skynyrd, Pantera, and Hank Williams Jr. have all famously flown
the flag alongside their fans to proudly show their Southern pride (“Confederate
Remembrance”). All of these examples could easily portray how Confederate symbols are not
connected with hate, rather with an idea of their regional glory. The symbols bring out the best of
the South: barbeques, football, charm, courtesy, and extravagant or rebellious lifestyles. Simply

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because certain groups have used the flag to personify their racism in the past, their actions do
not represent the view of all Southerners, they could argue. This argument, however, has
difficulty holding strong when the original motives of the Confederacy are examined, or when
put into the perspective of black Southerners.
“The Lost Cause” is a term used by many historians describing the cultural phenomenon
that occurred in the South following the Civil War. Social scientist Mary Tompkins Gibson
describes the Lost Cause as a, “…narrative, debunked by scholars, that cast the Civil War as a

noble, but unwinnable battle between Southern gentlemen who fought for liberty and self-
determination against Yankee aggression” (Gibson and Gabriel). She argues that Southerners

who pushed forward the Lost Cause narrative attempted to remove the guilt from white
Southerners surrounding the enslavement of millions of African Americans and for causing
America’s bloodiest war (Gibson and Gabriel). Major tenants of the Lost Cause ideology include
the insistence that the Confederacy left the Union over state’s rights, not over slavery, and that
slavery was a divine institution that benefited both the slave and the master (Curtis). It is
basically a detachment of all things unpleasant from the Confederacy or its history, and the
attachment of all things praiseworthy. This ideology entrenched incorrect perceptions in the
minds of many white Southerners regarding the reality of slavery, and these perceptions have
continued to endure over generations. It could be argued that the Lost Cause ideology is what
caused many to view Confederate leaders and flags with skewed perceptions as virtuous pieces
of their heritage, even to this day.
If these statues and flags truly do stand for Southern heritage, why do Southern African
Americans typically not share the same viewpoint? As evident from the examples
aforementioned, black Americans were typically on the losing side of Southern history. The
heritage that many are trying to protect is not one that black and white Southerners share. New

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Orleans’ Mayor Mitch Landrieu provided perspective when he spoke at his city’s removal of
four Confederate monuments, he expressed:
Another friend asked me to consider these four monuments from the perspective of an
African American mother or father trying to explain to their fifth-grade daughter who
Robert E. Lee is and why he stands atop of our beautiful city. Can you do it? Can you
look into that young girl’s eyes and convince her that Robert E. Lee is there to encourage
her? Do you think she will feel inspired and hopeful by that story? Do these monuments
help her see a future with limitless potential? Have you ever thought that if her potential
is limited, yours and mine are too? We all know the answer to these very simple
questions. When you look into this child’s eyes is the moment when the searing truth
comes into focus for us. This is the moment when we know what is right and what we
must do. We can’t walk away from this truth. (Landrieu par. 10)
His rhetorical inquiry sheds light on what effect these monuments and symbols have on the
African American community: constantly reminding them of a past where they were treated less
than human. The monuments lie to white Southerners, tricking them to believe a false narrative
that establish horrible things like slavery and discrimination as praiseworthy. Black Southerners
are also lied to, deceiving them to accept a history that lowers their potential and self-worth. To
African Americans, this is not heritage, it is horror.
Removing Monuments & Moving Forward
Inspired by the mass shooting in South Carolina, people’s eyes are beginning to open
regarding the true meanings of these Southern symbols. As previously mentioned, the city
council of New Orleans, Louisiana approved the removal of its four Confederate monuments in
2017. Because of opposition, many of the monuments’ removals took place late at night by
crews wearing bulletproof gear, while being watched over by snipers surrounding the locations

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(Curtis). At the removal of Robert E. Lee’s monument, large groups advocating for and against
the removal arrived earlier than 3:30 A.M. The streets were filled with signs reading “Take ‘Em
Down” and “Heritage, Not Hate” (Curtis). As morning rolled around, Mayor Mitch Landrieu
declared, “The Civil War is over, and the Confederacy lost and we are better for it” and
encouraged the citizens to break free from the Lost Cause perspective that tainted the city
(Landrieu). The opposition conceded, and the evening saw streets filled with Mardi Gras-like
celebrations featuring big brass bands and dancing. Lee was taken down from his pedestal,
starting a brighter future for the city of New Orleans.
In Dallas, Texas, a particular group called the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV)
sought legal means from the federal courts to hinder the removal of their beloved Confederate
monuments. Following New Orleans’ example, the city of Dallas approved to get rid of multiple
Confederate monuments and statues from public city locations. The SCV filed a lawsuit,
Patterson v. Rawlings, against the city council and mayor on allegations that the SCV’s
constitutional rights of free speech were being violated due to the removal of the monuments
(Kozlowski). When brought to the court, the SCV argued that the planned removal, “infringed on
their political viewpoint communicated by the monuments” (Kozlowski 3). The city responded
by claiming that removing a monument did not restrict any one person or group’s ability to
exercise free speech. The court acknowledged the following: “…in this instance, the federal
district court found no suggestion that Patterson and SCV had been deprived of any First
Amendment freedom for any period of time,” and that, “the removal of Confederate monuments
from City-owned property would in no way ‘prevent [the SCV] from expressing [their] political
viewpoint’” (Kozlowski 3). The court’s ruling added the stamp of approval to the removal of the
monuments and specified that their removal in no way infringed on the rights or freedoms of
those in favor of the monuments’ preservation.

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After South Carolina, New Orleans, and Dallas, opponents of the flag and symbols would
seem to have plenty of reasons to celebrate. Many see these victories as dramatic advances
toward social justice for African Americans. Social scientists and political geographers, Joshua
Inwood and Derek Alderman, admit that the removal of the flags and statues are great places to
start, but they are only the beginning to addressing the problem of structural inequality (2). They
explain, “…while state legislatures from across the South should be applauded for taking down
Confederate symbols, this is not the same as addressing the deeply entrenched social spatial
conditions that allow white supremacy to permeate not just the Charleston AME church but
wider swaths of American life” (Inwood and Alderman 2). As evident from the innumerable
events of historical and modern racial violence in the South, removing the flag and these
monuments are only the beginning on a long path toward eventual racial justice. The recent
removal of the flags and statues are victories, but that in no way implies that African Americans
should stop fighting the greater war.

In the context of the Confederate flag and monuments, it is important to remember the
difference between honoring and remembering something. Survivors of the holocaust and 9/11
encourage us to “never forget” these atrocities, yet we do not see monuments honoring Adolf
Hitler or Osama Bin Laden. Many would argue that removing our Confederate monuments from
the public scene would erase the Confederacy’s history from the South. Remembering history is
in no doubt important and crucial to moving forward, but remembering and honoring are two
very different things. It is crucial that as Americans remember the mistakes that have been made
in our past, especially slavery and racial discrimination, for these will provide us the basis and
judgment to make better decisions in the future. The preservation these symbols in public places

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as alleged virtuous pieces of history illustrates that as Americans, we are proud of the civil
injustice committed against African Americans. By removing the monuments, we recognize the
mistakes of our past, stripping away the blindfold of the Lost Cause that has impaired our view
for too long. We hope not to forget these mistakes as we strive to move forward into a better
future. We must always look back, not forgetting or altering the truth of what has occurred, and
continue by looking forward and righting the wrongs done by those before us.

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Works Cited

“Attitudes Toward Confederate Emblems and Symbols among US Adults, 2015.” Gale Opposing
Viewpoints in Context, Gale, 2017. Opposing Viewpoints in Context,
&xid=cb0c09d5. Accessed 29 Nov. 2018
“Confederate Remembrance.” Opposing Viewpoints Online Collection, Gale, 2017. Opposing
Viewpoints in
=OVIC&xid=9c13fc96. Accessed 15 Nov. 2018.
Curtis, Wayne. “Decommissioning Lee: The Controversial Removal of a Prominent New Orleans
Statue.” The American Scholar, vol. 86, no. 4, 2017, p. 97+.,
“Existing Confederate Memorials and Observances by State, 2016.” Gale Opposing Viewpoints in
Context, Gale, 2017. Opposing Viewpoints in Context,
=4db30dd3. Accessed 29 Nov. 2018.
Gibson, Mandy T. “Confederate Monuments: Heritage, Racism, Anachronism, and Who Gets to
Decide?” Social Education, vol. 81, no. 6, 2017, pp. 356-

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Inwood, Joshua F. J., and Derek Alderman. “Taking Down the Flag is just a Start.” Southeastern

Geographer, vol. 56, no. 1, 2016, pp. 9-15,

Kozlowski, James C. “Standing to Challenge Removal of Confederate Park Monuments.” Parks &

Recreation, vol. 53, no. 5, 2018, pp. 34-39,

Landrieu, Mitch. “Mitch Landrieu’s Speech on the Removal of Confederate Monuments in New
Orleans.” The New York Times, 23 May 2017,

Webster, Gerald R., and Jonathan I. Leib. Whose South is it Anyway? Race and the Confederate
Battle Flag in South Carolina. vol. 20,

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