Modern display of the Confederate battle flag

The modern display of flags used by and associated with the Confederate States of America started in response to the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s and continues into the present day. Their revival began with Senator Strom Thurmond's Dixiecrats in reaction to growing public support for racial equality, alongside opposition to civil rights in 1948.[1][2]

A modified version of the "Southern cross" used as the battle flag of General Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia has become the most popular and is now the most widely recognized symbol of the Confederacy. Displays of flags associated with the Confederacy have long been controversial. Many Southerners associate the Confederate battle flag with pride in Southern heritage, states' rights, historical commemoration of the American Civil War; opponents associate it with historical revisionism and glorification of the Civil War (i.e. the Lost Cause myth), racism, slavery, segregation, white supremacy, attempted intimidations of African-Americans and treason.[3][4][5][6]


The Confederate States of America (CSA) originally used three national flags during the American Civil War. The latter two incorporated the "Southern cross" canton that was widely recognized as a symbol of the Confederacy by 1863.

The vernacular "Confederate flag"

Designed by William Porcher Miles, the chairman of the Flag and Seal Committee of the Confederate Provisional Congress, the flag now generally known as the "Confederate flag" was initially proposed, and rejected, as the national flag in 1861. The design was instead adopted as a battle flag by the Army of Northern Virginia (ANV) under General Robert E. Lee.[7]

Most popular today is a rectangularized variant of the originally square ANV battle flag, common in modern reproductions. (A similarly rectangular flag was used during the war by the Army of Tennessee under General Joseph E. Johnston.[8][9]) Despite never having historically represented the Confederacy as a country nor been officially recognized as one of its flags, it is commonly referred to as "the Confederate Flag" and has become a widely recognized symbol of the American South.[10] It is also known as the "rebel flag", "Dixie flag", "the Confederate battle flag", and "Southern cross", and is often incorrectly referred to as the "Stars and Bars".[11] (The actual "Stars and Bars" is the first national flag of the Confederacy, which used an entirely different design.) The self-declared Confederate exclave of Town Line, New York, lacking a genuine Confederate flag, flew a version of this flag prior to its 1946 vote to ceremonially rejoin the Union.[12]

Revival and controversy

Confederate soldiers were not familiar with the modern flag as such, but many were fond of the flags of their own units. These often included design elements found on the modern Confederate flag. They honored battlefield comradery rather than Southern nationalism. During the "memorial period" that ran from the late 19th century through the 1920s, use of Confederate flags broadened and they became the symbolic embodiment of the Lost Cause.[13] The Confederate battle flag was added to the state flag of Mississippi in 1894 and appeared on two former state flags of Georgia from 1956 until 2003.[14] The 50th anniversary reunion at Gettysburg in 1913 was a turning point in obtaining national acceptance of the flag and other Confederate symbols. The flag appears prominently in Birth of a Nation (1915), a highly succcessful and influential film. The second Ku Klux Klan (1915–1944), a group inspired by this film, was a nativist organization that flew the U.S. flag exclusively. Margaret Mitchell's novel, Gone with the Wind, led to a brief but intense period of nostalgia for the Old South during which the Confederate flag appeared widely.[15] In the film adaptation, the flag flutters over a scene of vast carnage.

Unofficial military use

During World War II some U.S. military units with Southern nicknames, or made up largely of Southerners, made the flag their unofficial emblem. The USS Columbia flew a Confederate Navy Ensign as a battle flag throughout combat in the South Pacific in World War II. This was done in honor of Columbia, the ship's namesake and the capital city of South Carolina, the first state to secede from the Union. Some soldiers carried Confederate flags into battle. After the Battle of Okinawa a Confederate flag was raised over Shuri Castle by a Marine from the self-styled "Rebel Company" (Company A of the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines). It was visible for miles and was taken down after three days on the orders of General Simon B. Buckner, Jr. (son of Confederate general Simon Buckner, Sr.), who stated that it was inappropriate as "Americans from all over are involved in this battle". It was replaced with the regulation, 48-star flag of the United States.[16] By the end of World War II, the use of the Confederate flag in the military was rare.[17]

Political groups

The 1948 Dixiecrat political party extensively used Confederate symbols, including the battle flag, and contributed to the flag's post-World War II re-popularization.[18] According to historian John Coski, segregationists utilized Confederate symbols since both they and the Confederates had similar goals, that is, opposition to efforts to "change the South's racial status quo." As a result, Coski stated that "There could be no more fitting opposition" to desegregation "than the Confederate battle flag. Although segregationists lost their battle and their cause was discredited, attitudes of white supremacy live on."[19]

In Georgia, the Confederate battle flag was reintroduced as an element of the state flag in 1956, just two years after the Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education. It was considered by many to be a protest against school desegregation.[20] It was also raised at the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) during protests against integration of schools.[21]

Supporters of the flag's continued use claim it is a symbol of Southern ancestry and heritage as well as representing a distinct and independent cultural tradition of the Southern United States from the rest of the country. Some groups use the "southern cross" as one of the symbols associated with their organizations, including groups such as the Ku Klux Klan.[22] However, the flag of the United States is commonly used instead. For other supporters, the Confederate flag represents only a past era of Southern sovereignty.[23] As the public display of Nazi flags (or any other flags) is protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, which guarantees the right to freedom of speech,[24] both the Nazi-era Reichskriegsflagge, and the original style of Nazi Party flag used by the Third Reich, have also been seen on display at white supremacist events within United States borders, side-by-side with the Confederate flag,[25]

Historian John Coski noted that the Sons of Confederate Veterans, the "most visible, active, and effective defender of the flag", "carried forward into the twenty-first century, virtually unchanged, the Lost Cause historical interpretations and ideological vision formulated at the turn of the twentieth."[26] Coski wrote concerning "the flag wars of the late twentieth century":

From the ... early 1950s, SCV officials defended the integrity of the battle flag against trivialization and against those who insisted that its display was unpatriotic or racist. SCV spokesmen reiterated the consistent argument that the South fought a legitimate war for independence, not a war to defend slavery, and that the ascendant "Yankee" view of history falsely vilified the South and led people to misinterpret the battle flag.[27]

The allied United Daughters of the Confederacy and other historical societies also used the flag as part of their symbols.

In Petersburg, Virginia, the Ladies Memorial Association of Petersburg in 1909 had a Tiffany stained-glass Confederate flag included in a window over the door to the former Blandford Church.[28]

From a very different political perspective, both the Southern Student Organizing Committee and the Young Patriots Organization (the latter among Southern migrants in Chicago), were 1960/70s New Left anti-racist movements that attempted to reappropriate the Confederate flag in their symbolism.

Religious groups

In 2016 the Southern Baptist Convention passed a resolution at their annual meeting calling for Southern Baptist churches to stop displaying the Confederate flag, as a "sign of solidarity of the whole Body of Christ."[29]

Public opinion (2011-2017)

The Confederate flag is a controversial symbol for many Americans today. A 2011 Pew Research Center poll revealed that 30% of Americans had a "negative reaction" when "they saw the Confederate flag displayed."[30] According to the same poll, 9% of Americans had a positive reaction. A majority (58%) had no reaction. Among black Americans, 41% had a negative reaction, 10% had a positive reaction and 45% had no reaction. A similar poll taken in 2015 revealed little change from 2011.[31]

In an October 2013 YouGov poll, a plurality (38%) of those polled disapproved of displaying the flag in public places.[32] In the same poll, a plurality (44%) of those asked viewed the flag as a symbol of racism, with 24% viewing it as exclusively racist and 20% viewing it as both racist and symbolic of pride in the region.[32]

In a national survey in 2015 across all races, 57% of Americans had the opinion that the Confederate flag represented Southern pride rather than racism. A similar poll in 2000 had a nearly identical result of 59%. However, poll results from only the South yielded a completely different result: 75% of Southern whites described the flag as a symbol of pride. Conversely, 75% of Southern blacks said the flag symbolized racism.[33]

Another poll, administered by Economist / YouGov after racially motivated violence in Charleston in August 2017, showed that by a 5% margin – 43% to 38% – the Confederate Flag was viewed as a symbol of southern pride rather than racism. However, participants of color were 32% more likely than their white neighbors to see it as a sign of racism.[34]

Historical and modern meaning

As a result of these varying perceptions, there have been a number of political controversies surrounding the use of the Confederate battle flag in Southern state flags, at sporting events, at Southern universities, and on public buildings.[35] In their study of Confederate symbols in the contemporary Southern United States, the Southern political scientists James Michael Martinez, William Donald Richardson, and Ron McNinch-Su wrote:

The battle flag was never adopted by the Confederate Congress, never flew over any state capitols during the Confederacy, and was never officially used by Confederate veterans' groups. The flag probably would have been relegated to Civil War museums if it had not been resurrected by the resurgent KKK and used by Southern Dixiecrats during the 1948 presidential election.[36]

Southern historian Gordon Rhea further wrote in 2011 that:

It is no accident that Confederate symbols have been the mainstay of white supremacist organizations, from the Ku Klux Klan to the skinheads. They did not appropriate the Confederate battle flag simply because it was pretty. They picked it because it was the flag of a nation dedicated to their ideals: 'that the negro is not equal to the white man'. The Confederate flag, we are told, represents heritage, not hate. But why should we celebrate a heritage grounded in hate, a heritage whose self-avowed reason for existence was the exploitation and debasement of a sizeable segment of its population?[37]

Symbols of the Confederacy remain a contentious issue across the United States and their civic placement has been debated vigorously in many southern U.S. state legislatures since the early 1990s, such as the effort that led to the replacement of Georgia's flag in 2001.[38] Supporters have labeled attempts to display the flag as an exercise of free speech in response to bans in some schools and universities, but have not always been successful in court[39] when attempting to use this justification.

Popularity outside the southern U.S.

The flag has found some popularity in places far outside of the former Confederacy, especially in rural areas in the United States.[40]

Pacific Northwest

When researching his ethnography of whites, Searching for Whitopia, scholar Rich Benjamin kept a notepad while traveling the Pacific Northwest. "I remember driving through swaths of Washington and Oregon and seeing a lot of Confederate flags," Benjamin explained to journalist Matthew Novak. "There are a lot of refugees from the South who seem attracted to Oregon not because they're racists, but because Oregon has a racial homogeneity and a conservatism and a gun culture that they really appreciate." The Pacific Northwest offers a cultural collision between the Confederate flag, other emblems of racism, and its new technological profit hubs.[41]

Calls for the removal of Confederate flags from Jefferson Davis Park in southwestern Washington State began in 2015, after the Charleston church shooting, by Rev. Marva Edwards, the president of Vancouver's NAACP chapter.[42] [43] Even though the markers and flags are located on private property, they are and were intended to be highly visible (to all cars travelling Interstate 5). Their visibility, and events in other parts of the nation regarding Confederate memorials, still make these symbols a local focus of strong emotions, especially in the aftermath of the white nationalist Unite the Right rally August 11–12, 2017.[44][45]

At European far-right events

In a "limited" degree of reciprocity with its use beside the First Amendment-protected display of Nazi flags at far-right events within the United States, there has increasingly been seen at far-right group gatherings within some European nations' borders, the use of the rectangular "rebel flag" form of the Confederate naval jack, in place of often-banned Third Reich flags.[46] In Ukraine, a Confederate flag was prominently displayed in the hall of Kiev's city council following the Maidan revolution.[47]

"Southern pride" in Italy's football stadiums

A Napoli FC supporter group born in Eighties, South Boys , had modified Confederate flags as insignia. The flag can be seen also in a photo taken at San Paolo stadium of Naples on May 10, 1987.

Washington Post reporter Adam Taylor, in an article of June 22, 2015 about use of Confederate flag in Italy, reports that first time Napoli FC supporters were noticed flying the flag abroad was in Chelsea, during quarterfinals of football Champions League in 2012. He quotes explanation, given several years before to historian Don Harrison Doyle and reported in "Divided Nations (2002) by a professor of American Literature in Naples: “We too are a defeated people. Once we were a rich and independent country, and then they came from the North and conquered us and took our wealth and power away to Rome.”

Writer Vladimiro Bottone, in an article of July 15, 2004 on Naples newspaper Corriere del Mezzogiorno, adds that stadium is the "place [where] the first virulent and explicit opposition between North and South of the post-war period was made visible in a mass dimension” […]. For Napoli FC supporters, […] “Napoli is what it could have been if the robbery of Savoy sneaky team (aiming to Juventus FC, main team of Turin, town of the Savoy, the Italian Royal family, ndr) was not able to perpetrate its damage, to the point of colonizing the Belpaese football with the violence of fraud, thus distorting the development of what should be a fair competition between territories."

In film and television

The 1979–1985 American television series The Dukes of Hazzard, set in a fictional Georgia county, featured the General Lee stock car with the flag prominently painted over its roof throughout the series' run.

The 1977 film Smokey and the Bandit, set in the Southern United States, featured a 1977 Pontiac Trans Am displaying the flag mounted on the front license plate of the vehicle.

Use by musicians

The Southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd has made heavy use of the flag. They tried distancing themselves from it because of its divisive history as a symbol of racism in 2012. In an interview with CNN, Gary Rossington stated, "We just had it in the beginning because we're Southern and that was our image back in the '70s and late '60s. But I think people through the years, people like the KKK and the skinheads…kidnapped the Dixie rebel flag, the Southern tradition and the heritage of the soldiers, you know, that's what it was about. We didn't want that to go to our fans or show the image like we agreed with any of the race stuff or any of the bad things."[48] Two weeks later, after backlash from fans, they resumed using it, with Rossington stating on the band's website, "We know what the Dixie flag represents and its heritage; the Civil War was fought over States rights."[49]

Metal band Pantera sold numerous items in their official online store that featured the flag until July 2015.[50] Founding member Dimebag Darrell, who was shot and killed in 2004, used a Dean ML guitar customized with the flag covering the guitar's body. As of July 2015, singer Phil Anselmo distanced himself from usage of the flag.[51]

Hip-hop group Lil Jon and the East Side Boyz used the flag on the cover of their 2001 album Put Yo Hood Up, as well as in the music video for their single "Bia' Bia'".[52]

Rockabilly musician Ray Campi played an upright bass with a customized image of the flag on the back of the instrument. At some point prior to 2009 he changed the image to the Texan flag.[53]

University of Mississippi statue

On February 16, 2014, University of Mississippi campus police discovered the James Meredith memorial statue, erected in October 2006, surrounded with pre-2003 Georgia State Flags (containing the Confederate Flag) and a rope tied into a noose around the neck of the statue. Meredith, an alumnus of the University of Mississippi, was, in October 1962, the first African American to attend the school.[54] The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Oxford, Mississippi Police Department conducted an investigation shortly after the event which led to the arrest of Graeme Phillip Harris, a former freshman at the university. Harris pleaded guilty in June 2015 to a misdemeanor for using threat of force to intimidate African-American students and employees. U.S. District Judge Michael P. Mills sentenced Harris to six months in prison, followed by twelve months of supervision after release.[55] A second student, Austin Reed Edenfield, 21, was sentenced to a year of probation in addition to 50 hours of community service.[56] A third student has yet to be charged.[57]

House bill banning flag at Veterans Administration cemeteries

On May 19, 2016, the United States House of Representatives voted to ban the display of Confederate flags on flagpoles at Veterans Administration cemeteries, by a 265-159 vote. The ban was contained in an amendment (House Amendment 592, 114th Congress) to House bill 2822, an appropriations bill.[58] The author of the amendment was California congressman Jared Huffman, who stated that the flag represented "racism, slavery and division."[59][60]

In June 2016, Republicans in Congress attempted to attach an amendment to a bill funding the fight against the Zika virus epidemic that would have reversed the flag ban. It was just one provision of several that Republicans had attached, including an amendment cutting Planned Parenthood funding. Senate Democrats blocked the bill through filibuster.[61][62]

Six Flags Over Texas

On August 2017, in response to the controversial Unite the Right rally that was held in Charlottesville, the park Six Flags Over Texas replaced their six flags (which had included the Confederate flag) with six American flags. A representative of the park told KXAS-TV, "We always choose to focus on celebrating the things that unite us versus those that divide us. As such, we have changed the flag displays in our park to feature American flags."[63]

Display at American University

On September 27, 2017, ten Confederate flag posters bearing chunks of cotton were found on the campus of American University.

The date coincided with the presentation by historian Ibram Kendi to introduce the Antiracist Research and Policy Center.

Silent Sam controversy (North Carolina)

On November 11, 2018, a plane towing a Confederate flag and the words "Restore Silent Sam now" flew over Chapel Hill, North Carolina.[64]

Official usage in Southern U.S. states

In the years after the end of the American Civil War, many former slave states that were members of the Confederacy during the war adopted new state flags. Incorporating in their new flags' designs were motifs that were used in the Confederacy's flags, such as the St. Andrew's cross. In the case of Mississippi, Florida, and Alabama these new state flags were adopted around the same time that new Jim Crow segregation laws were being enacted. These laws, combined with poll taxes, literacy tests, and extrajudicial violence such as lynchings, disenfranchised African American voters for the next ninety years.[65] According to historian John M. Coski:

The flag changes in Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida coincided with the passage of formal Jim Crow segregation laws throughout the South. Four years before Mississippi incorporated a Confederate battle flag into its state flag, its constitutional convention passed pioneering provisions to 'reform' politics by effectively disenfranchising most African Americans.[65]

State flags


Though state legislation described the flag of Alabama as being based on the design of St. Andrew's Cross,[66] it has been hypothesized that the crimson saltire of the flag was designed to resemble the blue saltire of the Confederate Battle Flag. The legislation that created the state flag did not specify if the flag was going to be square or rectangular.[67] The authors of a 1917 article in National Geographic expressed their opinion that because the Alabama flag was based on the Battle Flag, it should be square.[68] In 1987, the office of Alabama Attorney General Don Siegelman issued an opinion in which the Battle Flag derivation is repeated, but concluded that the proper shape is rectangular, as it had been depicted numerous times in official publications and reproductions.[69]

Another slim possibility is in the flag of Co. F 7th Regiment Alabama Cavalry. The regiment was the only Alabama regiment in Rucker's Brigade commanded by Col. Edmund Rucker of Tennessee, later Alabama, who became a prominent Montgomery businessman after the war. The flag of the brigade used a white background with a red saltire which did not always extend to the corners and charged with dark colored stars upon the saltire. The flag of Co. F, 7th Alabama Cavalry is currently held by the Alabama Department of Archives and History as part of its Alabama Civil War Period Flag Collection.[70] But, the flag carried by Co. F 7th Alabama was not an Alabama Flag, it was the flag made for Rucker's Brigade a month before the 7th joined his brigade; the 7th was color party only after September 24, 1864. A bunting flag that exists, in the white and red configuration with 13 blue stars, is not believed to be Alabama associated, but tied to Rucker's Brigade.


The flag of Arkansas contains a 4 blue stars within a diamond representing the 4 countries that historically controlled the territory, one of these stars represents the Confederate States of America. [71][72] The design of the border around the white diamond evokes the saltire found on the Confederate battle flag.[73] In 2019, the Arkansas legislature did not approve a bill that would have redefined the star as referring to Native Americans.[74]


The current flag of Florida, adopted by popular referendum in 1900, with minor changes in 1985, contains the St. Andrew's Cross. It is believed that the Cross was added in memory of, and showing support for, the Confederacy.[75][76] The addition of the Cross was proposed by Governor Francis P. Fleming, a former Confederate soldier, who was strongly committed to racial segregation.


In 1956 the Georgian state flag was redesigned to incorporate the Confederate battle flag. Following protests over this aspect of the design in the 1990s by the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) and other groups, efforts began in the Georgia General Assembly to remove the battle flag from the state flag's design. These efforts succeeded in January 2001 when Georgia Governor Roy Barnes introduced a design that, though continuing to depict the Battle Flag, greatly reduced its prominence.

The following year, amidst dwindling demands for the return of the 1956 design ("Battle Flag" version) and lesser opposing demands for the continued use of the new "Barnes'" design, the Georgia General Assembly redesigned the flag yet again; it adopted a "compromise" design using the 13-star First National Flag of the Confederacy (the "Stars and Bars"), combined with a simplified version of Georgia's state seal placed within the circle of 13 stars on the flag's canton.


The Confederate battle flag became a part of the flag of Mississippi in 1894. In 1906 the flag statutes were omitted by error from the new legal code of the state, leaving Mississippi without an official flag. The omission was not discovered until 1993, when a lawsuit filed by the NAACP regarding the flag was being reviewed by the Supreme Court of Mississippi. In 2000 Governor Ronnie Musgrove issued an executive order making the flag official, which it did in February 2001. After continued controversy, the decision was turned over to citizens of the state, who, on April 17, 2001, voted 2:1 to keep the Confederate Battle Flag a part of the current state flag.[77]

The Mississippi flag, containing the Confederate battle flag, is included on campaign signs of the State Senator Chris McDaniel, whose signature issue is a promise to preserve the state flag.[78]

Following the Charleston church shooting in June 2015 and subsequent discussion of the flying of the Confederate Battle Flag at the South Carolina State House, Speaker of the Mississippi House of Representatives Philip Gunn publicly called for the removal of the Confederate Battle Flag from the flag of Mississippi.[79]

North Carolina

The first flag of North Carolina which was adopted in 1861 and had two ribbons. On one of the ribbons is emblazoned “May 20th, 1775.” The other one had the inscription "May 20, 1861".[80]

The new flag which was adopted in 1885 has a modified design with other colors and the date of the North Carolina’s secession was replaced by "April 12, 1776".[81][82]


The current Flag of Tennessee was designed by Colonel Lee Roy Reeves, an attorney and officer of the Tennessee National Guard.[83] The flag was officially adopted in 1905, replacing the original post-Civil War state flag. Although the symbolism is reported as referencing only the State of Tennessee, its color scheme, symbolism, and design evoke the flags of the Confederacy. The red field and blue charge with white fimbriation evoke the Confederate Battle Flag, and the placement of the vertical bar at the fly of the field evokes the Third National Flag of the Confederacy.[84] The language the designer used to describe the three central stars ('the indissoluble trinity', albeit regarding the three 'grand regions' of Tennessee) and their central placement evokes the cross of St. Andrew of the Confederate Battle Flag. Vexillologist Steven A. Knowlton, an Assistant Professor and Collection Development Librarian of the University Libraries of the University of Memphis,[85] believes the relationship of the current Tennessee State Flag and the flags of the Confederacy is one of "pragmatic unity" with a "deeper symbolic recognition" linking it to the Confederacy.[84] While there is no explicit evidence of any intention on the part of the designer to create a link, Knowlton believes many Tennesseans have perceived and continue to perceive a link, given the cultural and historical context.[86] Christopher Ingraham of the Brookings Institution considers this a case of "plausible deniability" and that the flag is one of seven state flags visually continuing the legacy of the Confederacy.[87]

State symbol

Stone Mountain, Georgia is a "monument to the Confederacy"[88] that was paid for and is owned by the state of Georgia. Stone Mountain Park opened 100 years to the day after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.[89] It is the most visited destination in the state of Georgia.[88]

Four flags of the Confederacy are flown at Stone Mountain.[90] In addition, the Stone Mountain Memorial Lawn "contains...thirteen terraces — one for each Confederate state.... Each terrace flies the flag that the state flew as member of the Confederacy."[91]

State seals

The first Confederate flag, together with five other nations that have had sovereignty over Texas (Spain, France, Mexico, Republic of Texas, United States) appear (tiles) above one of the side entrances to the Capitol. They also appear on the reverse of the Seal of Texas, which is the subject of a floor mosaic in the Capitol Extension. The reverse of the seal was proposed by the Daughters of the Republic of Texas and approved by the Texas Legislature and Governor in 1961, modified in 1991.[92]

The Alabamian coat of arms features the Confederate battle flag's saltire in its design. Similar to Texas, the saltire on the coat of arms represents one of the five countries which have held sovereignty over part or all of Alabama.

The shield of the Confederacy was found in the Rotunda of the Florida Capitol, together with those of France, Spain, Great Britain, and the United States – all of them treated equally as "nations" that Florida was part of or governed by. The five flags "that have flown in Florida" were included on the official Senate seal, displayed prominently in the Senate chambers, on its stationery, and throughout the Capitol. On October 19, 2015, the Senate agreed to change the seal so as to remove the Confederate battle flag from it.[93] The new (2016) Senate seal has only the flags of the United States and Florida.[94]

Vehicle license plates

In Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee, vehicle owners can request a state-issued license plate featuring the Sons of Confederate Veterans logo, which incorporates the square Confederate battle flag.[95]

In 1998, a North Carolina appellate court upheld the issuance of such license plates in the case Sons of Confederate v. DMV, noting: "We are aware of the sensitivity of many of our citizens to the display of the Confederate flag. Whether the display of the Confederate flag on state-issued license plates represents sound public policy is not an issue presented to this Court in this case. That is an issue for our General Assembly."[96]

In 2015, the dispute over Texas vanity plates that would have displayed the logo ended up before the United States Supreme Court.[97] In its decision in Walker v. Texas Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans, the court ruled that license plates are governmental speech, so the government may decide what to have printed on them. Texas's refusal to issue flag-emblazoned license plates therefore didn't violate petitioners' right to free speech.[98]

In 2015, Virginia recalled its vanity plates with the Confederate flag emblem pictured within the logo of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.[99] To holders of SCV plates, the state mailed replacements without the emblem. The old design with the emblem was invalidated and driving with such Virginia tags was made a misdemeanor similar to driving an unlicensed vehicle, though in October 2015 a SCV legal team tried fighting the ban in court.[99]

Display at South Carolina State Capitol

The flag flying at the South Carolina Confederate Monument in Columbia, South Carolina
View of the South Carolina State House with the Confederate Monument in front

The Confederate battle flag was raised over the State House on April 11, 1961 at the request of Representative John May, ostensibly as a part of opening celebrations of the Confederate War Centennial, according to Dr. Daniel Hollis, an appointed member of the centennial commission. Many historians point out that the appearance of the flag likely had a more nefarious purpose: to symbolize Southern defiance in the face of a burgeoning Civil Rights Movement. In March 1962, lawmakers passed a resolution directing the flag be flown over the State House.[100][101][102] As Time magazine later noted, the move was "a states’-rights rebuff to desegregation."[103] In 1996, then-governor David Beasley advocated for the removal of the flag from the Capitol dome, but later backtracked and was voted out of office.[104]

On April 12, 2000, the South Carolina State Senate passed a bill to remove the Confederate flag from the top of the State House dome by a majority vote of 36 to 7.[105] "...[T]he new bill specified that a more traditional version of the battle flag would be flown in front of the Capitol next to a monument honoring fallen Confederate soldiers." The bill also passed the state's House of Representatives, but not without some difficulty. On May 18, 2000, after the bill was modified to ensure that the height of the flag's new pole would be 30 feet (9 m), it was passed by a majority of 66 to 43.[106] Governor Jim Hodges signed the bill into law five days later after it passed the state Senate. On July 1, 2000 the flag was removed from atop the State House by two students (one white and one black) from The Citadel;[107] Civil War re-enactors then raised a Confederate battle flag on a 30-foot pole on the front lawn of the Capitol[107] next to a slightly taller monument honoring Confederate soldiers[108] who died during the Civil War. State law prohibited the flag's removal from the State House grounds without additional legislation.

In 2005, two Western Carolina University researchers found that 74% of African-Americans polled favored removing the flag from the State House altogether.[109] The NAACP and other civil rights groups attacked the flag's continued presence at the state capitol. The NAACP maintained an official economic boycott of South Carolina for 15 years, citing the state's continued display of the battle flag, until the flag was eventually removed completely from the State House grounds.[110][111]

In 2000, the National Collegiate Athletic Association "announced that it will cancel future Association-sponsored events in South Carolina if that state doesn't take action to remove the Confederate battle flag from atop its state capitol." The association said that "many coaches and student-athletes feel that an inhospitable environment is created by the display of the Confederate flag over the South Carolina state house", and its chair said "there is no question that to a significant number of our constituents, the flag is a symbol of oppression." This has prevented South Carolina from hosting any championship sporting events in which the sites are determined in advance.[112] This NCAA ban on post-season championships in South Carolina has been strictly enforced, with the exception of HBCU Benedict College. In both 2007 and 2009, the school hosted the post-season Pioneer Bowl game, in violation of the NCAA ban, though no action was taken.[113] On April 14, 2007, Steve Spurrier, coach of the University of South Carolina football team, made an acceptance speech for a community service award in which he referred to the flag on the State House grounds as "that damn flag." This statement was also inspired by the actions of, as Spurrier said, "some clown" who waved the battle flag while being videotaped for SportsCenter.[114] On July 6, 2009, the Atlantic Coast Conference announced a decision to move three future baseball tournaments out of South Carolina citing miscommunications with the NAACP concerning the display of the Confederate flag in the state.[115]

The flag was removed in 2015 in the wake of the Charleston church shooting.[116] However, "one-day" duration temporary displays at the South Carolina State House which were mentioned in media reporting on July 10, 2018, are intended to be made by the South Carolina Secessionist Party, as has been done every July 10 since the official 2015-dated removal.[117]

Marion County, Florida

A Confederate flag flies on the grounds of the Marion County Courthouse.[118]

Official use in Americana, São Paulo

From 1975 to 1998, a version of the Confederate battle flag appeared in the coat of arms and flag of Americana, São Paulo, a city settled by Confederate expatriates.[119]

Presence in other parts of the World

The Confederate flag has also been employed by far-right rallies and by other separatist groups around the world. In Europe, far-right organizations in Germany, Poland, Spain, Italy and the UK have made use of the flag in its rallies. In Latin America the Confederate flag is flown by nationalist and conservative Christian circles in countries like Argentina, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico and Peru.

Reactions to 2015 Charleston church shooting

On June 18, the day after a deadly church shooting in Charleston, South Carolina perpetrated by white supremacist Dylann Roof, whose controversial website contained pictures of him holding the Confederate Battle Flag, many flags were flown at half-staff, including those at the South Carolina State House. The Confederate battle flag flying over the South Carolina Confederate Monument[120] near the state house was not, as South Carolina law prohibits alteration of the flag without the consent of two-thirds of the state legislature.[121] The flagpole lacked a pulley system, and thus the flag could not be flown at half-staff, only removed.[121]

In June 2015, the National Park Service ceased flying Confederate flags over Fort Sumter.[122]

On June 23, 2015, three state governors—Terry McAuliffe of Virginia (a Democrat), Pat McCrory of North Carolina (a Republican), and Larry Hogan of Maryland (a Republican)—announced plans to seek discontinuation of their states' Confederate-flag specialty license plates. In addition to the Charleston killings, the governors cited the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Walker v. Texas Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans, issued days earlier, in which the Court affirmed that states are not constitutionally obligated to issue Confederate specialty plates.[123]

On June 24, 2015, Robert Bentley, governor of Alabama, ordered the removal of the Confederate flag from a memorial on the state capitol grounds. A spokeswoman for Governor Robert Bentley told the Montgomery Advertiser on Wednesday that he did not want the flag to be a "distraction".[124] Speaking with, Bentley said he made the decision himself to take the flag down.[125]

There were renewed calls for the flag of Mississippi, the only state flag that still includes a Confederate battle emblem, to be changed, but several bills introduced in the Mississippi Legislature were not successful.[126] A number of municipalities and schools in Mississippi, including the University of Mississippi and the city of Biloxi, announced they would no longer display the current flag.[126][127]

South Carolina State Capitol and proposed removal at The Citadel chapel

Following the Charleston church shooting, many commentators questioned the continued display of the Confederate flag on the South Carolina State House grounds.[128][129][130][131][132] Calls to remove the Confederate flag from the State House grounds, as well as debates over the context of its symbolic nature, were renewed after the attack[133][134] by several prominent figures, including President Barack Obama, Mitt Romney, and Jeb Bush.[135] On June 20, several thousand people gathered in front of the South Carolina State House in protest. An online petition at encouraging the removal of the flag had received over 370,000 signatures by that time.[136]

At a statehouse press conference on June 22, 2015, Governor Nikki Haley, flanked by elected officials of both parties, including U.S. Republican senators Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott, and former Republican Governor Mark Sanford, called for the flag to be removed by the state legislature, saying that while the flag was "an integral part of our past, it does not represent the future" of South Carolina.[137] "We are not going to allow this symbol to divide us any longer," she said. The legislature, scheduled to meet the following day for a budget session, must vote by a two-thirds majority to extend debate to the flag issue, and by two-thirds to remove the flag from statehouse grounds,[138] although the legality of that provision has been questioned by some lawmakers.[139] Haley said she would call for a special session if the legislature did not act.[137]

"With the winds that started blowing last week, I figured it would just be a matter of time," said Ken Thrasher, speaking for the South Carolina division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, which opposed the flag's removal. "Whatever the Legislature decides to do, we will accept it graciously."[139] A number of prominent Republicans who had previously appeared to struggle with the issue immediately endorsed Haley's call to remove the flag, including Kentucky Senator and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus, and governors and presidential hopefuls Scott Walker and Rick Perry.[140]

On June 23, 2015, the South Carolina General Assembly added discussion of the flag to its special-session agenda in a procedural vote that indicated broad bipartisan support to remove the flag from the Statehouse grounds. The motion carried by a unanimous voice vote in the state senate and by a 103–10 vote in the state house. In the senate chamber, the desk of Clementa Pinckney, the pastor and state senator who died in the attack, was draped in black cloth with a white rose atop it. Among the legislators speaking in favor of removing the flag was Republican State Senator Paul Thurmond, son of Senator Strom Thurmond, whose 1948 "Dixiecrat" segregationist presidential campaign helped politically re-popularize the flag.[141][142]

Eulogizing the Rev. Clementa Pinckney on June 26, 2015, before 5,000 congregants at the College of Charleston, President Barack Obama acknowledged that the shooting had catalyzed a broad movement, backed by both Republicans and Democrats, to remove the flag from official public display. "Blinded by hatred, [the gunman] failed to comprehend what Reverend Pinckney so well understood: the power of God's grace," Obama said. "By taking down that flag we express God's grace. But I don't think God wants us to stop there."[143][144]

In the weeks before the flag was officially removed, several men and women, including activist Bree Newsome, were arrested for removing or attempting to remove the flag as well as various other offenses stemming from the protests around the flagpole. The attempts to remove the flag were criticized by several South Carolina state legislators who supported the flag's removal because they said such actions could hurt their goal to have the flag permanently removed.[145][146][147][148][149]

On July 6, 2015, the South Carolina Senate voted, by the required two-thirds majority, to remove the Confederate flag from display on the grounds of the South Carolina State House. Following 13 hours of debate and over 60 attempts to amend the bill, the vote in the South Carolina House of Representatives to remove the flag was passed by a two-thirds majority (94–20) on July 9. Governor Nikki Haley signed the bill the same day.[150]

On July 10, the Confederate flag was removed from the State House grounds and placed in storage for later display at the South Carolina Confederate Relic Room & Military Museum.[116] Following the removal of the flag, the NAACP announced the end of its 15-year boycott of South Carolina.[111][151]

In June 2015 a controversy at The Citadel, The Military College of South Carolina over a Confederate naval jack, model 1863–1865, ended when the school's Board of Visitors voted in favor of moving the flag from the chapel to what was called "an appropriate location on campus."[152] As of September 2017, the flag had not yet been removed, nor had an "appropriate location" been selected.[153]

Retailer bans

Following the Charleston church shooting, the retailer Walmart announced that it would no longer sell items with the Confederate flag on them.[154] In a statement to the press, Walmart stated that "We never want to offend anyone with the products that we offer. We have taken steps to remove all items promoting the Confederate flag from our assortment – whether in our stores or on our web site."[155][156]

Shortly afterward, a number of other retailers, including, eBay, Etsy, Sears (which also operates Kmart) and Target announced that they would also be removing Confederate flag items from sale.[157][158] Google also pulled Confederate flag merchandise from their shopping site.[159] Smaller flag retailers are also ceasing to sell it.[160]

Valley Forge Flag, Annin Flagmakers, Eder Flag and the Dixie Flag Manufacturing Company, four of the largest U.S. flag manufacturers, also announced that they would cease selling Confederate flags.[159][161][162][163]

After Dylann Roof's racially motivated murder of nine people in a Charleston church, Warner Bros. announced that they were halting production of The Dukes of Hazzard "General Lee" toy cars, which prominently featured a Confederate flag on the roof of the car.[164] Reruns of The Dukes of Hazzard television show were also pulled from TV Land's schedule due to the controversy.[165] On July 2, 2015, professional golfer Bubba Watson announced that he would modify the General Lee car that he purchased at auction by painting an American flag over the Confederate flag that had appeared on the car's roof since it was customized for the TV series in 1978.[166][167] Actor Ben Jones, who portrayed Cooter in the original series, announced that his chain of Cooter's Place novelty stores would still sell merchandise featuring the flag.[168] Actor John Schneider, who portrayed Bo Duke in The Dukes of Hazzard television series, said he was "saddened" that Roof's murders could "cause one of the most beloved television shows in the history of the medium to suddenly be seen in this light."[169]

Also in June 2015, Apple's App Store began removing mobile apps featuring the flag.[170] Several U.S Civil War-based wargames were initially removed, but Apple later announced that they were only targeting apps "that use the Confederate flag in offensive or mean-spirited ways" and was working with developers who felt that their apps were wrongly removed.[170][171]

The U.S. National Park Service announced that it is requesting that its retail partners stop selling the Confederate flag, as well as other items that depict the flag as a stand-alone feature.[172][173]


Following the Charleston church shooting, the American auto racing sanctioning body NASCAR, which has roots in the Southern United States and has many fans who fly the Confederate flag at campsites, supported Governor Haley in removing the Confederate flag from the South Carolina State House. In addition, NASCAR chairman Brian France vowed the sanctioning body would not associate themselves with the flag and wanted to eliminate the flag from races. NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers and teammates Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon, along with team owner and former NBA player Brad Daugherty (the only African-American team owner in NASCAR), also supported eliminating the Confederate flag from racing events.[174] Prior to the Coke Zero 400 race at Daytona International Speedway on July 5, 2015, the track announced fans can voluntarily exchange Confederate flags for American flags.[175] On July 2, 2015, the NASCAR tracks issued a joint statement calling for fans to refrain from flying the Confederate flag at races,[176] but many fans still continued the practice.[177]

Washington National Cathedral

At the Washington National Cathedral, the Confederate battle flag appeared in two stained glass windows, which memorialize the Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. On June 8, 2016, Mariann Edgar Budde, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington and the interim dean of the cathedral, said they would be removed "as soon as we can do it," to be replaced, at least temporarily, by plain glass.[178]

The windows were installed in 1953 after lobbying from the Daughters of the Confederacy. The dean of the cathedral, the Very Rev. Gary Hall, stated that the Charleston church shooting was the catalyst for the planned removal, saying "It seemed to me that we couldn't, with credibility, address the race agenda if we were going to keep the windows in there."[179][180] On September 6, 2017, workmen were removing them.[181]


Within a year of the shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, a backlash to the removal of Confederate flags that the shooting inspired was playing out across the country, according to Politico.[182] The backlash extended to the national political scene as well.

  • In the first two months after the Charleston shooting, 173 Confederate flag rallies were held.[183]
  • Confederate flags were displayed at rallies supporting Donald Trump. A police officer, Michael Peters, resigned after being suspended for flying a Confederate flag from his pickup truck at a "Love Trumps Hate" rally, three days after Trump’s presidential win.[184][185] Even though event organizers of rallies "...ask participants only to bring American flags to the rally, with no Confederate flags allowed",[186] they continued to be seen at rallies.[187] On July 6, 2017, a Confederate battle flag was waved to greet President Trump upon his arrival in Poland for a brief visit before the G20 summit in Hamburg.[188]
    While Trump expressed support for the removal of Confederate flags in 2015,[189] racists, anti-government radicals, and states’ rights activists who have led the battle charge for restoration of the rebel flag believed that he offered dog-whistling encouragement to them during his 2016 presidential campaign.[182]

Display in South Carolina vandalized

Three Sons of Confederate Veterans groups erected the flags of the United States, South Carolina, and the Confederacy on June 16, 2018, on private land outside Holly Hill, South Carolina. A sign said the Sons of Confederate Veterans is honoring "All of Our Ancestors."

A newspaper report from June 21, 2018, said that graffiti that said "Move" and five dollar signs had been sprayed on the sign.

"Holly Hill Town Council asked the Confederate groups in April not to erect the display along U.S. 176. Mayor William Johnson said he was disappointed by the display."[190]

See also

Further reading

  • Merwin, Daniel K. (2015). "It Belongs in a Museum: The Confederate Flag and the Comic Corrective" (PDF). Central States Communication Association.
  • Ladd, Donna (August 6, 2018). "Pride and prejudice? The Americans who fly the Confederate flag". The Guardian.


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  2. Strother, Logan; Ogorzalek, Thomas; Piston, Spencer (June 12, 2017). "The Confederate flag largely disappeared after the Civil War. The fight against civil rights brought it back". Washington Post. Those seeking more depth are referred by the authors to their article "Racial Prejudice, Southern Heritage, and White Support for the Confederate Battle Flag", Du Bois Review, Vol. 14, No. 1, 2017.
  3. Scott Eric Kaufman (9 July 2015). "What tradition does the Confederate flag represent? Is it slavery, rape, genocide, treason, or all of the above?". Salon.
  4. Ta-Nehisi Coates (22 June 2015). "What This Cruel War Was Over". The Atlantic.
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