The Confederate Flag is a Backlash to the Civil Rights Movement

Why don’t we call racists unpatriotic?

The “Confederate flag” has become the focus of national attention in the aftermath of the nine murders at the Emanuel A.M.E. church in Charleston. The controversy centers on the fact that the terrorist killer posed in several photos with the flag, and the flag is also part of a Civil War monument located on the ground of the state capitol.

South Carolina governor Nikki Haley announced yesterday that she supports removing the flag from the capital grounds - but not before conservatives defended the flag as a part of southern history.

Why did conservatives step up to defend a flag that was flown by traitors and racists? And how can the flag’s supporters still be considered patriots?

First, it’s worth pointing out that not a single Confederate state flew the flag that we now call the “Confederate Flag.” That flag was simply the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia under Robert E. Lee’s command. And it was mostly used by Civil War re-enactors for most of the century following the Civil War.

But in 1946, Dixiecrats began flying the flag “as a symbol of Southern protest and resistance to the federal government” - in other words, against integration.

At that time, racists in the South were mostly Democrats. The Southern democrats defended slavery before the civil war, and over the next century would be the party of segregation and Jim Crow. But that all started changing in 1964 when Barry Goldwater, who had voted against the Civil Rights Act, won most of the Deep South despite losing most of the country to LBJ.

And then in 1968, Nixon ran his presidential campaign on a platform of “state’s rights” and “law and order.” He lost the Deep South to former Alabama Governor George Wallace. But that was the last time a Republican presidential candidate won an election without carrying the Deep South.

In an interview in 1981, Republican strategist Lee Atwater bluntly summed up the Republican’s “Southern Strategy.”

“You start out in 1954 by saying, “N*gger, n*gger, n*gger.” By 1968 you can’t say “n*gger”—that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.… “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “N*gger, n*gger.”

That’s a Republican strategist talking about how “states’ rights” and “economic cuts” became dogwhistles for racism. And that’s just one year after Reagan gave his infamous “states’ rights” speech to kick off his presidential campaign at the Neshoba County Fair outside of Philadelphia, Mississippi.

Philadelphia, Mississippi also happened to be the site of the brutal murders of three civil rights workers who were working to register African American voters in 1964. And that Republican strategy of catering to racists has only become more entrenched and less questioned over time. A story at DailyKos points out two startling examples with current politicians.

The first came from Steve Scalise when he ran for Louisiana’s open seat in the House of Representatives against David Duke - the former KKK grand wizard and white supremacist author. What did he have to say about his rabidly racist white supremacist opponent?

“The novelty of David Duke has worn off. The voters in this district are smart enough to realize that they need to get behind someone who not only believes in the issues they care about, but also can get elected. Duke has proven that he can’t get elected, and that’s the first and most important thing.”

That’s Steve Scalise, the third ranking member of the House GOP, basically saying in 1999 that he believed in the same issues as a former leader in the Ku Klux.

Or consider the fact that Richard Quinn, adviser to Lindsey Graham, is the former editor-in-chief of a “neo-Confederate magazine” called Southern Partisan. He used that role to write that Martin Luther King Jr. was leading “his people into a perpetual dependence on the welfare state;” and to call Nelson Mandela a “terrorist” and a “bad egg.”

Oh - and he also gushed over David Duke’s election, writing “What better way to reject politics as usual than to elect a maverick like David Duke.”

That’s a leading political adviser to a U.S. Senator and Republican candidate for President, and he’s praising a convicted felon who has spent much of his life distributing and promoting Nazi and neo-Nazi literature.

No American politician would dare say that ISIS has some good ideas, no one would even dare praise Eugene Debs as a maverick. That would be political suicide: the politician would be painted as a supporter of Islamic Extremism or Communism. Either way, they’d be called unpatriotic.

So, why is it okay to say that they agree with someone who was not just a member - but a leader - of America’s pre-eminent racist terrorist organization?

And why is it okay to support flying a flag that represents the greatest act of treason in American history?

When the Founding Fathers declared the United States independent from the British Empire they wrote “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Racism today goes fundamentally against those words of our Founders. And it’s time that we start calling racists for what they are: unpatriotic.

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