The Stars and Bars (Task 5, p. 397)

NOTE: June/July 2015:

The shooting at a North Carolina church has ignited a new debate about the use of the Confederate flag by state governments in the South of the US. Make use of the links below to learn more.

confederate flag

Around the world, the short-lived battle flag of the Confederate States of America (1861-1865) has become a kind of general symbol of rebellion against established society. It can be found on the sides of trucks, on the helmets of MC gangs, on the t-shirts of self-styled “rednecks,” as well as among die hard Southern nationalists.  And it still has the ability to stir up controversy at home and raise the hackles of folks far beyond the borders of the USA. 

Just to clear things up, the flag above is not actually the “Stars and Bars.” That flag – the official flag of the Confederate States of America – actually looked like this:

confederate real
But as is often the case in history, the two got mixed up as the actual events of the Civil War disappeared backwards into the fog of the past. They have one thing in common, though. They are both is inaccurate. There were only 11 Confederate states, but each has 13 stars. The extra two stars are wishful thinking. They stand for the slave states of Kentucky and Missouri, which never joined the Confederacy.

After their defeat, not a few Southern states incorporated the Stars and Bars into their state flags as the symbol of their continued resistance to Northern domination. And, just as the flag had stood for the defense of slavery during the Civil War, it came afterwards to stand for the defense of racism and segregation in the South. It became one of the preferred symbols of the notorious Klu Klux Klan. 

State flag of Mississippi State flag of Mississippi In the half century since the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and ‘60s ended legal and political segregation in the former Confederacy, the Stars and Bars has continued to be the center of controversy. It is still found today on the official state flag of Mississippi. African-Americans deeply disapprove. It is a controversy that is not going away. 

This may be illustrated by the following newspaper story in a South Carolina newspaper, dated March 23, 2013: “A federal court has upheld a school district's policy to ban students from wearing the Confederate battle flag T-shirts to school.”

Though some might wish to shed the history of the Stars and Bars, it will be a very long time before it no longer sets peoples’ teeth on edge.