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  • A.J. Wright
    fyi...aj wright // ajwright@uab.edu ... From: H-Net Reviews [mailto:books@H-NET.MSU.EDU] Sent: Thursday, January 18, 2001 1:50 PM To: H-REVIEW@H-NET.MSU.EDU
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      Subject: Kinsel on Martinez, et al, _Confederate Symbols...._

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

      J. Michael Martinez, William D. Richardson, and Ron McNinch-Su, eds.=20
      _Confederate Symbols in the Contemporary South_. Gainesville:=20
      University Press of Florida, 2000. xv + 351 pp. Black and white
      illustrations, tables, notes, and index. $49.95 (cloth), ISBN

      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

      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.=20

      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).=20
      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 controversy?"=20

      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 readers.=20

      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).=20

      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 been.=20

      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).=20
      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.=20

      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 culture.=20

      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.=20
      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.=20

      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).=20

      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.=20
      "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. 96-97)."=20

      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).=20
      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).=20

      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.

      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 na=EFve 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).=20

      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.=20

      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 locations.=20

      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.=20
      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.=20

      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.=20

      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.=20
      (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.)=20

      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

      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.=20
      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)."=20

      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.=20

      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)."=20
      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.=20

      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)."=20

      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.=20

      _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

      Copyright (c) 2000 by H-Net, all rights reserved. This work=20
      may be copied for non-profit educational use if proper credit
      is given to the author and the list. For other permission,=20
      please contact H-Net@....
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