Mississippi is choosing a new flag, ending the last official usage of the Confederate battle flag by a State. Supporters have long claimed the emblem as a symbol of heritage, a memorial to their ancestors who fought and often died on the Southern side of the civil war. It had also become a general symbol of rebelliousness and opposition to authority, from Hollywood to Italy to northern States that had fought for the Union. Even I felt a pang when the issue became prominent enough that I had to think about it, despite neither I nor my family ever having flown or worn or otherwise used that flag. Yet it had seeped into my subconsciousness as a symbol of that most American of actions, sticking it to the man.
In the real world, the Confederate battle flag flew over the armies that fought to keep Black Americans as property, and to deny them all human and political rights. Whatever debates may now occur about how much the average northerner or southerner cared about slavery and what other reasons might have existed for secession, Union victory brought the emancipation proclamation, the 13th amendment, and freedom. Confederate victory would unquestionably have maintained the slave system for as long as possible. If you are unsure about that, consider the following:
Mississippi’s own causes of secession state that “Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery… a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization” and its list of the wrongs done by the Union includes that “[i]t advocates negro equality, socially and politically…”.
Albert G. Brown, Mississippi Governor and a US Senator until he resigned to support for secession, once listed numerous Central American countries and stated that “[y]es, I want these countries for the spread of slavery. I would spread the blessings of slavery, like the religion of our Divine Master, to the uttermost ends of the earth…”.
Alexander H. Stevens, Vice president of the Confederacy, said that the principles of the founders “were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. This was an error. It was a sandy foundation, and the government built upon it fell when the ‘storm came and the wind blew.’ Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner-stone 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.”
This is what victory by the South meant. This is what the armies of the confederacy fought to enact, no matter what other motivations we might speculate on for its individual soldiers. No amount of positive, non-racist feelings about that flag can trump the fact that had the army flying it been victorious, the enslavement of black Americans would have continued, possibly to this day. That is the heritage that the Confederacy sought to leave to 39% of its population, a heritage that Black Americans today are well aware of. So good riddance, and its about time.