After years of debating whether the Confederate battle flag should fly on government property, a consensus is finally being reached against a symbol that is clearly racist.
Editor’s Note: This op-Ed was published in 2015 - the last time the debate over the confederate flag in the U.S. flared up. Now this week Mississippi voted to remove the confederate flag from their flag.
There is no other symbol in America that represents racism more than the Confederate battle flag. The idea that the flag stands for anything else but racism is preposterous. Let’s look at history — the Confederate flag began as a symbol of slavery and later used by groups opposed to Civil Rights. This shouldn’t be up for debate.
Republican leaders of South Carolina have rightfully called for its removal in Charleston and there appears to be a growing movement in Mississippi calling for the legislature to redesign the state flag.
This is a debate the LGBT community should be paying attention to because no symbol of hate should be revered. The LGBT community should condemn this flag — this symbol — in the strongest terms possible. We must stand with our black brothers and sisters. This fight against hate affects us all. We have borne the brunt of hate time and time again. So we know what it feels like.
And that brings me to Florida.
Our flag appears to be benign enough, but it also has a connection to the Confederate flag. The red bars featured on our flag are known as St. Andrew’s Cross, a prominent symbol of the Confederacy — a symbol that is the basis of the Confederate battle flag. It’s also known as the Southern Cross. The only difference between the Confederate flag cross and Florida’s cross is that one features stars inside the bars, while our bars are solid red.
The man who proposed this flag, Francis P. Fleming, was a known segregationist, who served in the Confederate army. He was also the Governor of Florida.
Fleming said he wanted to add the red bars so our flag would not look like a white flag of truce or surrender. Coincidentally Alabama also added red bars to their flag in 1895 just five years before Florida did. According to historical records that flag was modeled after the flag of Alabama’s Civil War infantry.
While there doesn’t appear to be any legislative records linking Florida’s addition of the St. Andrew’s Cross to the Confederacy or Civil War, it’s safe to assume the connection.
“While no legislative records indicate the new flag was an attempt to honor the Confederacy, University of Florida history professor Fitz Brundage said the change came during a decade that saw a wave of nostalgia sweep across the South for the ‘Lost Cause.’ The fact that the St. Andrew's cross was chosen also is evidence of an intent to commemorate the Confederacy, he said.”
— From an article in Savannah Morning News in 2000
Besides Fleming serving in the Civil War his ties to the confederacy are well established long after the war was over with him serving as commander of the R.E. Lee Camp of Confederate Veterans; aide-de-camp to General John B. Gordon, Florida Division of the United Confederate Veterans; and president of the Old Confederate Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Home Association.
Further evidence is found in one of Fleming’s most notorious acts as Governor where he removed from office the state’s only black judge, James Dean of Monroe County in 1889, because he had married a white man to a black woman, which was illegal in the state (even though the groom claimed he was “mulatto”).
In 2002 Jeb Bush posthumously reinstated the judge.
"This happened in a different space and time in our state's history, but irrespective of how long it's taken us to right this wrong, I think it's more than appropriate to do so," Bush said at the time.
I agree with Bush on that. And the same could be said for our flag. It was designed in a different space and time in our history, but there’s nothing from stopping us from redesigning it again. This time making sure it has no connection, no link, however slight, to our racist past.
There are many who like to downplay slavery as the reason for the Civil War, but I think the motive can be summed up by this speech from the Vice President of the Confederacy, Alexander Stephens.
Here’s just a snippet of the now infamous speech known as the “Corner Stone Speech.”
“Its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth. This truth has been slow in the process of its development, like all other truths in the various departments of science…
… Many governments have been founded upon the principle of the subordination and serfdom of certain classes of the same race; such were and are in violation of the laws of nature. Our system commits no such violation of nature’s laws. With us, all of the white race, however high or low, rich or poor, are equal in the eye of the law. Not so with the negro. Subordination is his place. He, by nature, or by the curse against Canaan, is fitted for that condition which he occupies in our system.”
So you see the Confederacy was based on the belief that not all men were created equal. And the above speech says it all. This was America’s great shame and it should not be celebrated — ever. The Confederacy is a part of our history, there’s no getting away from that, but that doesn’t mean we need to throw it in the black community’s face.
That’s why it’s time for Florida to change its flag.