What do you think when you see this flag? Most of you probably think of the Civil War, the Confederacy, or the South in general. However, this flag, also known as the rebel flag, has become a versatile symbol. For some people, it symbolizes racism and hate, for others it’s a symbol of pride for the South, and a select group of people use it as a symbol for their white supremacist beliefs. The Confederate Flag is a civic artifact that holds a lot of history, controversy, and meaning. It started as a simple banner used to identify a group of soldiers and has transformed into a symbol with numerous meanings.
Created by William Porcher Miles, the flag was never the official flag of the Confederacy. In reality, it was the battle flag of General Robert E. Lee (Costa-Roberts). At the time of its creation, the flag was intended to represent the Confederacy, or the rebels in the battle led by General Lee. Following the end of the Civil War, the flag became associated with the Confederacy as a whole. It was often used to honor the fallen Confederate soldiers and veterans, but since, its purpose has changed. Beginning in the 1940s, the flag began to be used for purposes unrelated to the Confederacy such as University of Mississippi football games. The flag’s meaning truly began to change in 1948, when a segregationist political party, the Dixiecrats assumed the flag as a symbol for their organization (Costa-Roberts). This association soon gave the Confederate Flag a negative connotation as it became linked to segregation. Since, the flag has been used by many different groups including the Klu Klux Klan, other white supremacy groups, and even the state governments of Mississippi and South Carolina.
These negative associations with the flag have grown and while some people still feel the flag is a representation of Southern pride, others feel it is a negative symbol of hate, racism, and oppression. A CNN/ORC poll taken in 2015 showed that 66% of whites in America view the flag as a symbol of Southern pride while 72% of blacks view the flag as a symbol of racism (Weldon). This division clearly shows how greatly the meaning of the flag varies in different groups of people. Another study done by the Pew Research Center found that blacks and Democrats are more likely to feel negative about the flag (Costa-Roberts). The flag once embedded commonplaces of pride for the South and Southern heritage, but it has since become an agent of division, causing our country to grow more and more divided.
Generally speaking, people either associate the flag with Southern pride or racism. This difference has become a catalyst for controversy and debate. Americans routinely debate policy on displaying the flag, using the flag, selling the flag, and even wearing the flag in the form of clothing or accessories. Southerners proud of their heritage feel entitled to use the flag, while those who are offended by the flag and its oppressive message feel that it should be prohibited. The flag’s message is so strong that it ignites feuds in many forms. For example, in my own high school, the flag started what could be defined as a “gang war” between the “rednecks” and the “thugs” as they each called themselves. The “rednecks” wearing and displaying the flag offended the thugs to the point that they engaged in the destruction of property. Ultimately, the school had to ban the flag entirely. Instances like this are not rare, the Confederate flag has caused division nationwide. The flag became further associated with white supremacy in June 2015 when a domestic terrorist shot and killed nine black Americans during their church service (Chen). The shooter, Dylann Roof often used the Confederate flag in images used for white supremacy propaganda on his website. This incident and more have significantly altered the meaning behind the rebel flag.
Notably, the Confederate flag has also been used as a fashion statement and decor. It is often featured on shirts, belts, boots, and even underwear. This usage of the flag often is associated with the “redneck” stereotype. Given the negative associations that have developed, many places such as schools have prohibited wearing clothing featuring the flag. Retailers such as Walmart, Sears, eBay, Amazon, and Etsy have banned the sale from their companies (Krasny). Additionally, many states have passed legislation limiting its use. For example, California passed legislation prohibiting state agencies from selling or displaying the flag (Krasny). In recent years, these types of policy changes have been common as America grows closer to rejecting the symbol of the Confederate flag.
As a civic artifact, the Confederate flag once was a civic inspiration to honor fallen soldiers and veterans and to remember the Civil War and what its impact on America. It has since changed greatly; now the flag inspires us to stand against the white supremacy movement. Its negative associations fuel the determination of activists to eliminate its usage as a symbol of hate. At the same time, it is a very outdated civic artifact. Its original purpose is no longer relevant, and its usage entails more harm than good. The Confederate Flag has become something unneeded in American society; however, use its presence to remind yourself that this hate, segregation, and oppression are something we, as a nation, must continue to fight.
Chen, Kelly. “Charleston Church Shooting: White Gunman Kills 9 At Historic Black Church.”The Huffington Post, TheHuffingtonPost.com, 17 June 2015,
Costa-Roberts, Daniel. “8 Things You Didn’t Know about the Confederate Flag.” PBS, Public Broadcasting Service, 2 July 2015,
Krasny, Jill. “A Complete List of Every Place That Wants to Ban the Confederate Flag.”Esquire, Esquire, 29 Aug. 2017,
Weldon, Kathleen. “Public Opinion on the Confederate Flag and the Civil War.” The Huffington Post, TheHuffingtonPost.com, 17 July 2015,