Raising Questions: Gettysburg Rising’s Confederate Flag Forum

By Olivia Ortman ’19

On March 3, Gettysburg Rising–a group that encourages civic engagement by sharing information–hosted a forum on the Confederate flag. It drew a modest, yet eager crowd. The goal of the event was to create an opportunity for people to come together and share their thoughts and feelings about the flag. After Professor David Hadley delivered a brief history of the flag, the attendees took the mic.

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The March 3rd event sought to provide an open forum for discussion on the Confederate Flag and its legacy. Image courtesy of Gettysburg Rising.

One of the big themes during the ensuing discussion was time and place. While everyone disagreed on the specific circumstances, all agreed that the flag’s display was appropriate in some situations and unacceptable in others. Flags in museums were universally accepted by the group, as museums present a controlled setting where the history can be shared via accompanying informational plaques. On the other side, the flag’s use by white supremacist groups was deemed always inappropriate and offensive. When carried by these groups, there was no mistaking the flag’s message of hate. Everything in between – reenactments, historical sites, private property, merchandise – fell into different categories of acceptability for each person.

The question of whether the flag could be separated from Confederate ideals was also discussed. Anyone who reads the Articles of Secession must admit that slavery was a central factor in causing the Civil War. That’s not to say that individual Confederates weren’t fighting for other reasons, but the Confederacy itself was dedicated to slavery. As a symbol of the Confederacy, the flag necessarily championed slavery. However, many people in the room questioned whether the flag could be dissociated from the Confederacy and therefore from slavery. Take the case of using the flag to honor a dead Confederate ancestor: that ancestor is not the larger Confederacy, and the living relative is evoking a sense of personal history, not advocating for slavery. The group grappled with the question of whether the flag could be dissociated from slavery in this instance, or if the full sense of the flag’s symbolism must always be present.

When asked for suggestions on how the flag controversy could be solved, the room seemed to largely agree on the same tactics. The first proposal was that people needed a better education on the flag’s history. It’s hard to understand the full significance of something without knowing its background. The second proposal was societal shunning. The group also largely agreed that the government should not be involved in deciding when or where the flag is displayed. The public should thus decide when it is appropriate and essentially, perhaps relying on peer pressure and boycotting to keep people from using the flag inappropriately. It would be like society’s shunning of the N-word; although it is still used in some instances, that word has become mostly unacceptable in our world.

The most significant idea shared that night, however, was the importance of listening. When Professor Scott Hancock took a turn speaking, he explained how important it was to talk to each other about the flag. Although Professor Hancock’s research has led him to certain conclusions and opinions, he still actively seeks out other people’s thoughts. It’s important to listen to everyone’s views, even if those views go against your own, because this is the only way to truly understand the full meaning of the flag. Understanding is key to moving forward together in the flag controversy.

In the spirit of understanding, which was the motivating goal behind the forum, I hope that any of you that feel comfortable will use this post as an opportunity to share your own thoughts. I do want to set a few ground rules, though. Be respectful, no profanity, and no personal attacks. Also, this is a conversation, not a debate. You aren’t trying to prove each other right or wrong, simply exploring different thoughts on the flag. Here are some questions to get you started, but by no means do you have to answer all or any of them.

  • When and where do you think displaying the flag is appropriate?
    • Reenactments? Battlefields? Cemeteries?
  • What are your thoughts of Confederate flag merchandise?
  • What thoughts pop into your head when you see a Confederate flag?
  • Can the flag be separated from the Confederate Cause in some situations?
  • Any ideas of how we can move forward together on the controversy surrounding the Confederate flag?

5 thoughts on “Raising Questions: Gettysburg Rising’s Confederate Flag Forum”

  1. The Confederate battle flag (52 inch x 52 inch) should be used by museums, historical battlefields and cemeteries. The number of different soldiers that served, and the word served is what they did, is as complex as the different soldiers who served the Union. For a citizen of either government to pick up and leave their homes, and serve their State by offering themselves is a selfless act MANY did. Regiments were State designated, such as 1st Minnesota or 33rd North Carolina and their loyalty and identity was with those States. Along with the State flag, the government flag was carried into battle also. To deny these banners, of our civil war, would be to deny the existence of the States, the soldiers and their many different religions, ethnicity and cultures that bought all together to SERVE their States.

  2. That’s amazing to get a group of people together and talk. I wish we could do that with lots of other issues as well! I think, as with many symbols, it means something different to many people so it’s hard to say what is appropriate and when. While there are some broad strokes we can all agree on (white supremacy is BAD) the deeper history of some symbols is always more complicated.

  3. My father was a 13th generation Southerner and a Vietnam veteran. He has always said, “the Confederate flag was a battle flag. It belongs on battlefields, museums and if so choose, inside a person’s private residence (obviously they are displayed in paintings about a battle, etc.). State flags should be placed on graves to “honor” Confederate ancestors, not the battle flag – as many Southerners conscripted did not necessarily believe in secession; they were fighting “invaders” coming into the South, thus protecting homes and family.” He further stated, “I do not believe in Confederate merchandise; Confederate emblems on hats, cars, shirts, etc. It is a “dishonor” to the Southern dead by misappropriating the flag under which they fought and died.” He actually even believed that “playing at battle” (re-enactments) dishonor the dead of both sides. As a veteran who saw his own friends blown up and mangled gruesomely in battle, I can understand why he would say “learn the history but stop pretending to kill each other” it contributes to “separatism” and division between North and South today, and it keeps the violence going, which is always really inappropriate. There was no playing acting at killing in the Civil War, or any war for that matter. It was MURDERING OTHER PEOPLES’ SONS, FATHERS, ETC.

  4. Before the war began, America was one country..All were Americans…During the war, everyone was still Americans, however Americans with different ideas and opinions, just like today. Slavery was pushed by those who could afford to own other human beings and to win support from those who did not, spread the fear of an invasion by the north taking over everyone’s land and property…The south separated declaring themselves a country which called for a national flag…it’s one of the first thing a new country will adopt or come out with as a matter of representation, is to have a flag…it certainly was not evil or owners having evil intent…That flag has been used and misused by the most undesirable hateful groups…and there is the terrible association. To the poor farmer, landowner fighting for their home, their land, he was fighting for an idea, for hope of keeping their land and property and pledge allegiance to that new national flag..unfortunately the slave owner, the politicians of the day wanted to retain THEIR power, their status in society and eventually was even able to pay for the poor soul to go fight for him…rich man’s war, poor man doing the fighting…Please do not destroy your own history…Sorry..even though I’m not American, I am very passionate about your history and as such, can separate myself from the emotional part of the discussion and see history for what it is or was….

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