Saturday, June 20, 2020

Racist Emblems?

    In recent weeks the debate, argument, discussion, has begun anew, if it had ever died down at all; What is a racist emblem? Who decides? What is it based on? Is it based on factual information or on feelings? Indeed, how do certain emblems make you feel? I wish to present information here designed to encourage and generate thought, and maybe even a desire to do some more reading and research on your part.

   Without a doubt the most oft cited and referred to "racist" emblem is the Confederate Battle Flag. But how did this flag come to be? Why was it created and by whom? Who or what was it meant to represent? To understand these questions we must go back to early 1861 and the first major engagement of the War Between the States, Bull Run, as it was called by the Union troops, and First Manassas, as the South referred to it. Why is this important to know? Until now the major armies of the two nations had not met in combat. A few skirrnishes had taken place, but now it was time for the big show. But this first large scale engagement would prove to be as confusing as it was deadly.

   You see, at this time in our nation's history the authorized color of the regular Union army was a Navy blue sack coat and sky blue kersey pants. The forage cap was the issued cap, but head wear of all shapes was not uncommon. The South, having left that Union and thus still having access to those uniforms in U.S. Arsenals that were in the South, certainly wore them, so right away you begin to see a problem brewing. However, the regular army numbered just over 16,000 men by 1860. When Lincoln called for 75,000 troops to put down the rebellion the Union had to scramble to outfit and equip that many men. In the meantime, what to do? The temporary solution was militia uniforms. Each village, town, city, state had a militia and those militias would drill on their own and often purchase their own weapons and uniforms. While there were some variations, the standard color for militia uniforms at the time was gray. States both North and South had militias and these militias all had some form of gray uniform. An excellent example from the North would be the 7th New York State Militia.

From the South (Alabama)

U.S. Regular (1861 - Coat and pants worn by both sides)

Are you beginning to see a problem here?

So far we see two large armies taking to the field to shoot at each other and they both have a mix of the same types of uniforms. If you have read anything about combat then you have heard the term, "The fog of war." This alludes to the confusion and chaos of combat.The noise, the smoke, the screaming, all that which makes war undesirable. In the mid-nineteenth century combat was much different from what it is today. One distinctive method for distinguishing one army from another was the flags they flew. With a new nation, the Confederacy, came a new flag, but just how "new" was it? The U.S. flag, the Stars and Stripes or the Red, White, and Blue," remained as it has been prior to the war, though a few of the stars were no longer represented. The South, however, had to create a new flag for its fledgling nation. What to do? As one would expect a new national (see Government) flag was thus created - The First National Flag of the Confederate States of America. This flag would receive the nickname - Stars and Bars. Right now many of you, upon reading that, think you know what that flag looks like, don't you? Be honest. Well get ready. Here is the First National, the Stars and Bars.

Be honest, is this what you were expecting? If not then what else have you been given bad information on about that war? Now then, the Stars and Stripes of 1861.

Are you beginning to see what the two armies were up against on the hot July day in 1861?

So far we see that the two armies shared similar uniforms and similar flags. Add to this the "fog of war" and a day with little or no wind, can you imagine what happened next? There were many casualties on both sides from "friendly fire." If one were depending on the flags to help separate the armies, and there was smoke hanging over the field and no wind to push the flags out to their full glory, is it any wonder that Confederates shot Confederates and Yankees shot Yankees? But the battle was fought and it was a Southern victory. Now to take stock of what happened and what was learned.

Many officers and men complained that the similarity of the uniforms and flags caused all sorts of problems. Something had to be done. First was adopting a standard color for uniforms, gray. The Union, once its factories got rolling was producing the standard Union uniform in great numbers. The South had some work to do to catch up, but they got to it. Next it was determined that a different flag was in order. Not created as a "symbol," but as a practical matter, the Battle Flag was born. The commanding Confederate general at First Manassas was Pierre Goustav Toutant Beauregard. A slight, but combative Creole from Louisiana. He demanded a single distinct flag to rally behind. The first example offered was a version of the St. George's Cross.

This was not accepted. Then the St. Andrew's Cross was proffered and accepted. The St. Andrew's Cross being the flag of Scotland was obviously altered, so as not to be using another country's flag. Thus was born the Battle Flag of the armies.

The infantry version of the flag was 52 x 52 inches square. Not the rectangular "gift shop" flag you see so much today. The cavalry version was two and a half foot square and the artillery flag was three foot square. This flag was created for use by the armies as a means of helping to distinguish their men from the Union army in combat. It was not created by the Ku Klux Klan. In the years after the war the KKK would indeed co-opt this flag for its own nefarious purposes, but the same can be said for the Stars and Stripes, as well.

The KKK actually created its own flag when the organization began. This is what it looks like.

Obviously the Klan also used other flags of their nation, as well. Thus attempting to make the case that they are Americans and will use American emblems. Since that time they have created several other versions of "Klan flags," but unfortunately many still associate only the one flag with them, the Battle Flag. This is unfortunate, because to many of us who know the history of that flag know that it was not meant to represent the Klan, it was meant to represent the soldiers of the Confederate armies in the field. The fact that the Klan later started to use it is seen as disrespectful to the soldiers who fought so bravely under that banner. I have never met a Southerner who likes that the Klan uses that flag.

But back to the other flags the Klan used. I want you to look at this photograph from a 1925 KKK march in Washington, D.C. This was at the height of Klan membership throughout the nation, not just in the South. The number was over Four Million members. Look at the flag they are using.

So you see that the Klan is willing to use any flag that it thinks can send a message. Does the fact that they use the Stars and Stripes make that flag a racist emblem in your eyes? Should we banish that flag to the ash bin of history, because someone might find it offensive. Should we allow the Klan to win, by co-opting either or any of these emblems or symbols that were meant to represent something or someone else entirely? Rather, can we learn from our history and say to those who would seek to use our past inappropriately in an effort to divide us - Stop! We know who you are and what you are trying to do and we will not fall for it any longer.

Before you go away from this thinking that I am blind to all aspects of our past or that I am trying to sugarcoat things, understand that I am well aware of our nation's past, both good and bad. I do not seek, as some do, to hide it or abolish it, I seek to present it and learn from it. I understand that when you allow a terrorist group like the KKK to misuse a symbol, any symbol, then you allow them to win. Was there racism in the South. Yes, just as there was in the North, just as there is NOW throughout the country. I have no illusions about that. However, I do not think that it is as bad as those in the media or as politicians who profit from our divisions would have you believe. As you began this article I showed you the "Stars and Bars" as compared to the Battle Flag. I am going to count on you to be honest with yourself, if not with me. Did you know that there was a difference between those flags? Did you think that the Battle Flag was, in fact, the Stars and Bars? If you were wrong, because you have bought in to the hate and because you believe the talking heads on your TV, what else have you been lied to about? What else are you wrong about?

These are questions worth considering.