Linda Dunn: Confederate flag’s unintended consequences

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Linda Dunn

I certainly understand those who want to honor their southern heritage. My mother lived in Hayesville, North Carolina, until she was a teenager, and family vacations were trips “home” to visit Mother’s relatives.

I understand and appreciate my neighbors’ love of the Confederate flag — I really do — but I think they’ve gotten their facts confused with some feel-good urban legends.

That “Confederate flag” that’s so popular was not designed with a religious intent. That “St. Andrews Cross?”

Well… let me tell you a true story behind that.

Charles Moise, a self-described “southerner of Jewish persuasion” had asked that “the symbol of a particular religion” not be made the symbol of the nation. William Porcher Miles (who claimed to be the flag’s creator and who championed it over the lifetime of the Confederacy with the hope that it become the national flag), called that blue cross “a saltire, a heraldic device.”

“The Confederate Battle Flag,” written by historian John M. Coski, library director of the Museum of the Confederacy, offers considerable insight into the design of the flag and how it evolved to become the preferred flag over the ones chosen to be the official flags of the Confederacy. I recommend my Confederate flag-waving friends read it, because the true history is actually more interesting than these fairy tales about the flag.

The story that women sewed the flag from their own clothing is a fun story, but it’s not true. Few women of that era paraded around in poppy red and vibrant blue dresses. The boring truth is that Captain Colin M. Selph purchased large quantities of silk from a Richmond dry goods merchant and consigned the task of flag-making to 75 women in four Richmond churches. As use of the flag spread, so did individual variations on its material and appearance as others used whatever fabric was available.

Hetty Cary is generally credited as being the “Betsy Ross of the South.” She and her sister, Jenny, had to flee Maryland to avoid arrest after making confederate uniforms for Marylanders fighting for the South. They and their cousin, Constance, allegedly delivered the first of what we now commonly call “Confederate flags” to generals.

Modern use of that flag is often tied to Dixiecrats separating from the Democratic Party and all the havoc that went along with it. Some people think it had more to do with bootlegging and car racing. Others tie it to the Civil Rights era.

Personally, I didn’t notice “Confederate flags waving” in the back of pickup trucks until after the “Dukes of Hazzard” TV show became popular with their “General Lee” car. Apparently, the flag gave the car super powers to soar over broken bridges while the sheriff cars chasing them plunged into the water.

It was harmless fun… until it wasn’t.

That flag has been co-opted by the type of people that would have turned in their Jewish next-door neighbors if they’d lived in Nazi Germany. They’ve made the flag into a symbol every bit as powerful and terror-evoking as the swastika.

For those of us caught between the people who love it and the people who fear and hate it, that flag has turned into something else: a sad reminder of the deep and unhealed divisions that have plagued our country since the Civil War.

When I see it flying, I don’t think, “There’s someone who loves their Southern heritage.” I just wonder if they know what they’re flying and if they care about the feelings their public display evokes in others.

So fly it if you like since it’s your constitutional right, and we certainly don’t want to restrict your freedom. Just be aware that doing so sends a message that you may not intend.

A lifelong resident of Hancock County, Linda Dunn is an author and retired Department of Defense employee. Send comments to [email protected].