In relatively small numbers, people like Ben Jones are speaking out publicly to defend the confederate flag. Such defenses typically rest on the grounds that the flag represents southern heritage as opposed to racism, and if you talk to a defender of the flag long enough, you are likely to hear an explanation that the original purpose of the flag and the confederacy it represented was not racist—or at least, not primarily racist. This premise is necessary for establishing some kind of positive virtue behind the controversial symbol.
But even the fathers of the confederacy publicly admitted their racist intentions in starting their new country and ultimately fighting their old one. This was no secret then, and it shouldn’t be discounted today.
Those who attempt to deny slavery as the primary cause of the Civil War (and typically by extension, the racist symbolism of the Confederate flag) , need to digest the words of the Vice President of the Confederate States of America as given in a speech just three weeks before the start of the war:
“The new [Confederate] constitution has put at rest, forever, all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institution — African slavery as it exists amongst us — the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution. Jefferson in his forecast, had anticipated this, as the “rock upon which the old Union would split.” He was right. What was conjecture with him, is now a realized fact….[Our new government’s] 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. [Applause.] This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.”
Some white southerners’ misinterpretations of American history directly contradict those damning statements—especially when their misinterpretations produce nonsensical statements like “The Civil War wasn’t caused by slavery.” (I have heard these statements first-hand from otherwise fairly reasonable people.) While it’s understandable for southerners to desire a more palatable history of their beloved homeland and/or ancestors, the fabrication and acceptance of a fictional history only serves to ensure they won’t learn from others’ past mistakes.
Certainly, not every southerner who fought in the war did so because they shared Alexander Stephens’ racist beliefs, and there were plenty of factors both directly and indirectly related to slavery that led to the first shots fired at Fort Sumter, but a denial of slavery as the primary cause of the Civil War and the subsequent denial of the confederate flag as a racist symbol makes the modern-day southern apologist even more ignorant than the leaders of the confederacy 150 years ago.
But, at least the rebels are losing…again.