Historians give Louisiana's General P.G.T. Beauregard credit for designing the Confederate Battle Flag, which seems bound to be his most enduring legacy.
His fine equestrian statue, unveiled by the entrance to City Park in 1915, ain't there no more, but the flags are flying off the shelves, retailers tell The Washington Post. And demand is by no means limited to the Southern states; a leading dealer, Dixie Outfitters of Georgia, says that customers in the north and west now account for 20 percent of its Confederate flag sales, up from five percent 20 years ago.
Opinions vary as to why business is so brisk, although a favorite theory, at least among Democrats, is that it results from President Donald Trump's crusade to make America racist again. But what causes most puzzlement, according to the Post, is that the Confederate Battle Flag has come to be identified, in some white circles, as a symbol of American patriotism.
Dixie Outfitters reports that its sales of Old Glory are up too, and the flags of both sides in the Civil War can often be seen flying alongside each other. Unless Americans have taken up vexillology as a hobby, this may seem a tad illogical. As the Post has it, “Historians wrestle with how a flag that stood for treason can be seen as patriotic.”
Around here, we've been seeing it that way almost before the ink was dry at Appomattox. The transformation of Johnny Reb into a defender of the U.S. Constitution is part of what then-New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu called “the cult of the Lost Cause” in his Gallier Hall speech explaining why the Confederate monuments had to be removed from the streets. Sales of the battle flag were boosted then too; lots of Landrieu's constituents had rushed out to buy theirs as soon as he took up that cause.
Such was the scale of death and suffering in the Civil War that neither side could ever be expected to question the nobility of the principles to which so many heroes were sacrificed. Thus, in the somewhat fanciful Southern version, the war was fought in defense not of slavery but of the Tenth Amendment. The Federals and the Confederates were all patriots; they just happened to read the constitution differently.
That interpretation was not so easy to maintain for the first two years after the Civil War, when Confederate President Jefferson Davis was in prison, charged with treason. But by the time his statue was unveiled on the newly renamed Jefferson Davis Parkway in 1911, he had been transformed into a patriot. The statue, draped in Confederate and American flags, was unveiled on Feb. 22, which, not coincidentally, was George Washington's birthday. Speaker after speaker hammered home the patriotic point, and Gov. Jared Sanders declared that, although “no part of the United States is more loyal than Dixieland,” Louisiana retained a “sweet love and reverence” for the Confederacy. Robert E. Lee, the first Confederate leader to get a statue in New Orleans, and Beauregard, the last, were similarly lauded as patriots.
The lawsuit filed against former Secretary of State Tom Schedler has ended with a gag order.
Divided loyalties may be nothing new, and Lee and Beauregard were admirable fellows, but their statues went up at the heart of Jim Crow, and many of the battle flag's latter-day fans have been unabashed racists. It was much in evidence every time David Duke staged a rally at the other Confederate icon, since purged from the streets, the Liberty Monument.
Now the flag is now being raised, the Post reports, over houses in such unlikely states as New Jersey, Ohio and Oregon after being spotted many times at Trump rallies. Its popularity has risen just as Confederate symbols have been disappearing from the public square in many cities besides New Orleans. The disaffected white voters who are said to have propelled Trump into the White House evidently have their own ideas about which aspects of Americana should be revered.
That does not make them all racists, of course, but there is no denying that the battle flag is inextricably linked with white supremacy. It won't be disappearing any time soon.
Email James Gill at Gill1407@bellsouth.net.