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FW: H-South Review: Kinsel on Martinez, et al, _Confederate Symb ols in the Contemporary South_

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  • A.J. Wright
    fyi..aj wright // ajwright@uab.edu ... From: H-South Review Editor Ian Binnington [mailto:binningt@uiuc.edu] Sent: Sunday, December 10, 2000 8:51 AM To:
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      -----Original Message-----
      From: H-South Review Editor Ian Binnington [mailto:binningt@...]
      Sent: Sunday, December 10, 2000 8:51 AM
      To: H-SOUTH@...
      Subject: H-South Review: Kinsel on Martinez, et al, _Confederate Symbols
      in the Contemporary South_

      Published by H-South@... (December, 2000)

      J. Michael Martinez, William D. Richardson, and Ron McNinch-Su,
      eds. _Confederate Symbols in the Contemporary
      South_. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2000. xv + 351
      pp. Black and white illustrations, tables, notes, and index. $49.95
      (cloth), ISBN 0-8130-1758-0.

      Reviewed for H-South by Amy J. Kinsel, akinsel@..., National
      Coalition of Independent Scholars, Seattle.

      Lawyers and Political Scientists Examine Confederate Symbols

      Earlier this year the South Carolina legislature voted to remove the
      Confederate battle flag from a place of honor atop the state capitol
      building where it had flown since 1962. Black South Carolinians had
      objected to officially-sanctioned use of the battle flag on grounds that it
      was an offensive symbol of the state's racist past, while the business
      community had voiced concerns that persistent political conflict over the
      prominent position of the flag would harm the state's tourist industry. In
      a compromise that has sparked continued controversy, the battle flag now
      flies in a somewhat less prominent position beside a Confederate monument
      on the capitol grounds.

      If the editors of _Confederate Symbols in the Contemporary South_ are
      correct, South Carolina's concession on the battle flag's location will
      satisfy neither "traditionalists" who support the use of pro-Confederate
      symbols nor "reconstructionists" who wish to see them removed from the
      Southern landscape (p. 4). In the introduction to their edited volume of
      essays, J. Michael Martinez and William D. Richardson argue that the flag
      issue and other modern disputes over Confederate symbolism are not amenable
      to compromise because they pit racially conservative Old South perspectives
      against racially liberal New South points of view (p.4). While not all the
      authors of the eleven essays in this collection would accept their editors'
      explanation for the potency of Confederate symbols one hundred thirty-five
      years after the end of the Civil War, they would agree that the symbols
      themselves remain controversial.

      Because of its topical subject matter and the journalistic approach adopted
      by several contributors, a number of academic presses rejected _Confederate
      Symbols in the Contemporary South_ before the University Press of Florida
      finally agreed to publish it (p. viii). As a result, some of the
      information and many of the references in the essays are
      dated. Nevertheless, the central question of the book, stated in the
      introduction (p. 3), remains important: "Why are Confederate flags and
      monuments open to competing interpretations that trigger intense political

      Martinez and Richardson contend that the malleability of Confederate
      symbols provides much of the answer; in other words, not everyone agrees on
      just what these symbols mean. But for many Southerners, both
      traditionalists and reconstructionists, there is no ambiguity at all about
      the meaning of Confederate symbols. In spite of the determinedly moderate
      tone set by co-editors Martinez, Richardson, and Ron McNinch-Su, there is
      significant tension in this book between contributors whose unambiguous
      interpretations of Confederate symbols come from competing ends of the
      political spectrum. This book provides interesting essays on Confederate
      symbolism without offering definitive conclusions. Indeed, there is an
      inconsistency of tone between the book's chapters that may turn off many

      Part I on "The Southern Tradition" demonstrates the inconsistent nature of
      this collection. It begins with two essays written from a traditionalist
      perspective that prove to be the weakest chapters in the book and ends with
      a much stronger third essay written from a reconstructionist point of
      view. In the first chapter, Robert C. Jeffrey, a professor of government
      at Wofford College in Spartanburg, South Carolina, discusses "Southern
      Political Thought and the Southern Political Tradition." Jeffrey examines
      the political legacy of states' rights thinkers such as George Fitzhugh and
      John C. Calhoun (pp. 34-37), in the process relying heavily on Eugene
      Genovese's Marxist critique of Northern capitalism to make a case for the
      virtues of Southern agrarianism (pp. 39-45).

      The "traditional values" of the South's agrarian past appeal to Jeffrey,
      who romanticizes the South while admitting that an aversion to the "amoral"
      aspects of modern capitalism does not provide much of a guide to "what
      measures an appeal to the Southern tradition might recommend" (p.
      44). Jeffrey sees great merit in the South's supposed attachment to local
      community (p. 35). He abhors the centralization of political authority in
      Washington, D.C. and decries what he sees as modern judicial activism in
      the application of the Fourteenth Amendment to the states (p. 39). He
      attempts to link Southern thought to "natural law" and "the natural rights
      teaching of the Declaration" of Independence that he says includes "the
      right of families and small communities to govern themselves" (p. 45). But
      Jeffrey does not address the role Confederate symbols played in the
      development of the South's agrarian mythology or what the often politically
      oppressive and racist historical results of Southern self-government have

      In Chapter Two, "Southern Minorities, Popular Culture, and the Old South,"
      George Schedler, a professor of philosophy at Southern Illinois University,
      Carbondale, tries to rebut what he sees as unwarranted national stereotypes
      about the South, namely that its people are inclined to violence and racial
      conservatism (p. 49). Schedler's rebuttal is based on three arguments: a
      claim that the South has historically been much more diverse than many
      non-Southerners have chosen to admit; an assertion that the black roots of
      modern rock and roll provide a nonracist explanation for Southern
      attachment to arguably racist Confederate symbols; and an allegation that
      empirical studies linking Southern identity to racism are wrong because
      they do not take the diversity of the South into account.

      In presenting his arguments, however, Schedler consistently exaggerates his
      evidence. He overestimates the historical ability of black sharecroppers
      to challenge white authority, for example; he overstates the political
      influence of the South's tiny Jewish population; and he overreaches in
      attributing the popularity of Confederate symbols to regional pride in rock
      and roll's Southern roots. While Schedler is undoubtedly correct that not
      all of Southern experience has been racist, in this essay he is far from
      disproving that violence and racism are significant aspects of Southern

      By contrast, political scientists Robert P. Steed and Laurence W. Moreland
      (both of the Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina), find in Chapter 3 that
      racism has lurked beneath the surface of Southern politics for decades. In
      "Southern Politics in Perspective," Steed and Moreland argue that the
      South's shift in allegiance from the Democratic to the Republican Party
      during the last fifty years has not represented an actual ideological
      change but has resulted from the Republicans' co-optation of traditional
      Southern symbolism. Latter-day Southern Republicans appeal to the same
      religious and racial conservatism that for so many years kept the former
      Confederate states solidly in the Democratic column.

      Modern Republican rhetoric on issues such as welfare reform and affirmative
      action presents a less blatant brand of racism to be sure than that
      espoused by the old white Democratic Party in the days of Jim Crow (p.
      76). According to Steed and Moreland, however, the Republican Party has
      essentially replaced the Democratic Party "as the defender of many of the
      region's traditional orientations and practices" (p. 77), including its
      racial politics. For example, Republican legislators in South Carolina
      have supported flying the Confederate battle flag atop the capitol
      building, while the state's Democratic Party in allegiance with black South
      Carolinians is largely opposed (p. 77).

      Part II of _Confederate Symbols_ more closely examines flags and
      monuments. In "The Confederate Battle Flag in Historical Perspective,"
      John M. Coski, a historian at the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond,
      Virginia, explains the flag's origins and chronicles its uses in the South
      and other regions. Calling the battle flag "the symbolic repository for
      all the opinions and feelings that surround the Confederacy" (p. 89), Coski
      contends that the flag has always represented more than battlefield valor
      alone. "Precisely because the flag was the flag of the armies," he writes,
      "and because its armies were the Confederacy's greatest glory, by 1863 the
      battle flag had become the de facto symbol of the nation and the cause (pp.

      During the late nineteenth century, the Confederate battle flag was an
      accepted symbol of the South's Lost Cause (p. 102). In the first half of
      the twentieth century, it became more generally associated with "Dixie" and
      with what white Americans often thought was a benign Southern regionalism
      (p. 108-109). Postwar America, however, saw an increasing association of
      the Confederate battle flag with "malignant racism" through its use at Ku
      Klux Klan events and its adoption by the 1948 States' Rights or "Dixiecrat"
      Party (p. 109). Following the Supreme Court's _Brown v. Board of
      Education_ ruling in 1954, white Southerners began to display the flag as
      an explicit anti-civil rights symbol (pp. 113-114).

      In this chapter Coski takes pains to point out the disingenuousness of
      those who would argue that the Confederate battle flag does nothing more
      than innocently honor Southern heroes. Pre-World War II acceptance of the
      flag as an apparently benign symbol of the South had, Coski argues, "relied
      on the survival of an explicitly white supremacist order in the South and
      its toleration by the rest of the nation. Once that order began to crumble
      and the toleration ended, so, too, did the flag's exemption from racial
      controversy (p. 117)."

      According to Coski, the symbolic meaning of the Confederate battle flag
      cannot reasonably be separated from its history as an emblem of racial
      segregation. "After the fight over civil rights was joined," he writes,
      "the flag became at times a belligerent symbol of an order under attack
      from the federal government" (p. 117). While Coski agrees that racism is
      not the flag's sole meaning, he maintains that "it is naïve and logically
      indefensible for anyone to conclude that because he or she does not regard
      the flag as a racist symbol, others are wrong to regard it so" (p. 118).

      For all the controversy generated by continued display of the Confederate
      battle flag throughout the South, the presence of thousands of Confederate
      monuments on the Southern landscape presents an equally perplexing
      dilemma. Granite and bronze memorials, no matter how offensive to modern
      sensibilities, are not easy to remove or relocate. In Chapter 5, co-editor
      J Michael Martinez, a lawyer and political science instructor at Kennesaw
      State University in Kennesaw, Georgia, and Robert M. Harris, a political
      science graduate student at Georgia State University in Atlanta, provide a
      summary of recent scholarship on Confederate monuments. They remind
      readers that during the late nineteenth century, the vast majority of
      Southern monuments were commissioned by Ladies' Memorial Associations
      (LMAs) and placed in Southern cemeteries (pp. 135-138). After 1900, the
      LMAs were supplanted by the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC), an
      organization that sited its monuments in town squares and on courthouse
      lawns and favored heroic statues of soldiers over funereal
      motifs. Following the First World War, the authors continue, Southern
      legislators appropriated money to add descriptive historical markers to the
      Confederate landscape.

      As social scientists, Martinez and Harris cannot resist creating an
      artificial typology of monuments that they use to differentiate historical
      markers (type 1) from cemetery memorials (type 2) and UDC monuments (type
      3). Martinez and Harris state that type 1 monuments are less controversial
      than the others, that type 2 and type 3 monuments cause more offense
      because they incorporate well-known symbols of the Lost Cause, and that
      type 3 monuments provoke the most conflict because of their prominent

      This typology is of limited value in analyzing memorials that fall into
      more than one category, however, or in determining why a particular
      monument in a specific context might be controversial. In 1995, for
      example, public opposition scuttled a type 1 monument to Union soldiers
      proposed for Bentonville, North Carolina, refuting the authors' claim that
      historical markers are "theoretically unbiased" (p. 169) and do not
      generate much controversy. In reality, historical markers are as biased as
      any other monument; although they often lack the symbols that might draw
      attention to that fact.

      Part III, "Legal Challenges to Confederate Symbols," moves from the
      courthouse lawn to the courtroom itself. In Chapter 6, "Driving Dixie
      Down: Removing the Confederate Flag from Southern State Capitols," lawyer
      James Forman, Jr., in an article that originally appeared as a 1991 Yale
      Law Review note, takes issue with the Eleventh Circuit's 1990 ruling in
      _NAACP v. Hunt_, a case challenging Alabama's right to fly the battle flag
      over its state capitol. The court found that there was no federal mandate
      to remove the flag just because it offended some citizens.

      Forman maintains that the court should have based its reasoning less on the
      flag's present effect on black Alabamians, which the court found to be
      minor, than on the original intent of flying it over the capitol. Alabama
      Gov. George Wallace raised the flag in 1963 in direct defiance of federal
      civil rights orders and, Forman argues, with a clear discriminatory intent
      that violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. In
      addition, Forman equates Alabama's flying of the flag with racist
      speech. He proposes a theory of speech that would forbid racist government
      speech under the same First Amendment rule that allows prosecutions of
      people who shout "Fire!" in a crowded theater. To Forman, a Georgia
      native, flying the Confederate battle flag in an official capacity is not a
      matter of offending a few overly sensitive black citizens; it is an
      incendiary act that calls for federal regulation. (In 1993, after this
      article was first published, Alabama removed the battle flag from its state
      capitol and placed it beside a Confederate monument on the capitol grounds.)

      Co-editor Martinez takes a different approach in Chapter 7, "Confederate
      Symbols, the Courts, and the Political Question Doctrine," an article that
      appeared in _Southeastern Political Review_ in 1997. Martinez argues that
      judges have correctly deferred to the political process on the flag
      question, preferring to let state legislatures decide whether to continue
      to display a symbol that many citizens find objectionable. Martinez agrees
      that it is unfortunate that some Southern states have chosen to fly the
      Confederate battle flag, but he sees the flag as a political problem with a
      political solution. "Accordingly," he writes, "plaintiffs' time, money,
      and energy probably would be better spent lobbying state legislatures for
      redress rather than continuing to use a judicial forum (p. 235)." (As
      noted above, political pressure this year caused South Carolina politicians
      to remove the flag from the capitol dome and as in Alabama place it near a
      Confederate monument.)

      The final section of this book examines "Political Challenges to
      Confederate Symbols." In Chapter 8, co-editor Martinez explores
      "Traditionalist Perspectives on Confederate Symbols." After briefly
      reviewing the appropriation of the battle flag by modern racist hate
      groups, Martinez urges heritage preservation organizations in the South to
      come to terms with the fact that extremists and racists have largely "taken
      over" the meaning of Confederate symbols. Neo-Nazi groups in particular
      have adopted the battle flag and made "the Confederate-symbols-as-history
      argument" much more difficult to sustain than in years past. "Without an
      understanding and acknowledgment of the many uses of Confederate symbols,"
      Martinez warns, "all traditionalists risk being labeled racists, whether or
      not the designation is accurate (p. 272)."

      In Chapter Nine, two Georgia political scientists, Robert Holmes and M.
      Christine Cagle look at "The Great Debate: White Support for and Black
      Opposition to the Confederate Battle Flag." While this chapter is
      disorganized and is already outdated by developments in South Carolina, it
      does lay out the basic opposition between whites who see the flag as a
      symbol of Southern heritage and blacks who regard the flag as "synonymous
      with oppression, slavery, segregation, and white supremacy (p.
      281)." Holmes and Cagle correctly point out that for most whites the flag
      is a more ambiguous symbol than it is for most blacks. Whites can see it
      as a benign symbol of white Southern heritage, as a tribute to white
      Confederate heroism, as an emblem of states' rights, or as a racist banner
      (p. 282). Holmes and Cagle argue that the ineffectiveness of political
      opposition to the Confederate flag in Georgia, where it is incorporated
      into the state flag, has resulted from the ambiguity with which white
      Georgians view the symbol.

      Co-editors McNinch-Su, Richardson, and Martinez continue the examination of
      Georgia state politics in Chapter 10, "Traditionalists versus
      Reconstructionists: The Case of the Georgia State Flag, Part
      One." Georgia's legislature incorporated the Confederate battle flag into
      the state's banner in 1956 in defiance of federal desegregation
      plans. Given the timing of the change, the reason for the legislature's
      action is not seriously disputed. "The unanswered question," according to
      the authors, "is whether the decision to change the flag transformed the
      new design into a symbol of racism, a symbol of state defiance to orders
      propounded by the federal courts absent racism, or a combination of the two
      (p. 305)." Attempts to remove the Confederate battle flag from the Georgia
      state flag failed in the 1990s, largely because citizens of the state were
      so uncertain of the flag's meaning.

      The final chapter of the book is much less equivocal in its view of Georgia
      politics. In Chapter 11, "Confederate Symbols, Southern Identity, and
      Racial Attitudes: The Case of the Georgia State Flag, Part Two," Georgia
      political scientists Beth Reingold and Richard S. Wike test the empirical
      validity of the heritage defense of the Confederate battle flag--that is,
      the claim of white Southerners that the flag benignly honors their
      ancestors. The authors write, "Contrary to the Southern heritage defense,
      our findings regarding white public opinion on the flag highlight the
      continuing importance of race in Southern politics (p. 332)."

      Using data from a 1994 Georgia state opinion poll that sought to measure
      factors related to Southern identity, they find "that the flag issue is
      primarily about racial conflict and accommodation (p. 330)." While younger
      Georgians might have a vague sense of Southern ethnicity that they connect
      generally with the Confederate battle flag, for most white Georgians their
      "Southern identity is closely associated with [conservative] racial
      attitudes" (p. 331) that are symbolized by the flag. To Reingold and Wike,
      their study confirms the 1949 analysis by V. O. Key in _Southern Politics
      in State and Nation_ that politics in the South is the politics of race.

      _Confederate Symbols in the Contemporary South_ ends with a chapter that is
      almost diametrically opposed to the two chapters that began the book. It
      is hard to say how a thoughtful reader will react to this diverse
      collection of essays, or indeed whether many readers will stick with the
      book to its final pages. The editors have aimed for balance in discussing
      a subject that does not lend itself to moderate analysis. This book is not
      likely to change the minds of people who have settled opinions about the
      meaning of Confederate symbols. The editors may be satisfied if their
      efforts simply promote intelligent debate about the role of symbols in
      today's South.

      Copyright (c) 2000 by H-Net, all rights reserved. This work may be copied
      for non-profit educational use if proper credit is given to the author and
      the list. For other permission, please contact H-Net@....
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