No, they're not. The question is, of course, a rhetorical one. I subscribe to several popular Civil War publications and enjoy all of them very much. However, if you agree with the "logic" of some folks, one might be able to at least make the accusation. Allow me to explain.
A recent post at Civil War Memory gives us a great example of competing interpretations and perspectives regarding the Confederate flag. First, we have what some might consider the "moral reformer" perspective as posited by Kevin Levin (author of one book about the War Between the States):
"the battle flag belongs in a museum where it can be properly interpreted."
Fine, but that's just his opinion.
But what prompted Levin voicing his opinion on the Confederate flag were remarks by Professor James I. Robertson, Jr. (author of more than 20 books on the Civil War) in which Dr. Robertson states that the Confederate flag "was stolen from the South"; another perspective held by many Americans. The remark evidently shocked Levin. I guess Dr. Robertson should have issued a trigger-warning.
Dr. Robertson was referring to the Confederate flag being appropriated for other uses, many of those bigoted and racist. And he is correct, despite Levin's claims to the contrary. Levin's post was then followed by readers making these comments regarding anyone who displays a Confederate flag outside a museum setting:
We defend the right of anyone to be a racist (and thanks to all of you who fly the flag for letting me know exactly what you are).
there is no way that your display will not be interpreted as white supremacist, racist,
you of course have every right to display the Confederate flag in your home, on your truck, etc. Nobody should use force to stop you. But to do so is a racist act
The CBF today is used for racist purposes and or total ignorance.We've been down this road many times, nothing new here. And, as noted before, many of the things said about the Confederate flag could be (and are being) said about the American flag, - a fact Levin and his readers conveniently ignore. It's the proverbial elephant in the room. But that's a bridge too far for even these folks - at least for now anyway.
I suppose we could take these generalizations about the display of the Confederate flag to the next logical step. Lots of respected authors and historians speak to Sons of Confederate Camps and events on a regular basis. Many (if not most) SCV members display Confederate flags and symbols as a matter of ancestral and regional pride. This is a well known fact and not something unknown by the speakers prior to their agreeing to speak. So should we assume that these authors and historians are associating with "racists"? Are they guilty by association? The same analogy could be used regarding Civil War Roundtables; many of which use the CBF in their logos and often display the CBF at their meetings. Since they are displaying the CBF outside a museum setting, are they tainted with the charge as well?
And, as I've pointed out before, what about historians who support and write for popular Civil War magazines which display ads selling trinkets and heritage type items featuring images of the Confederate flag? If it's racist to display the CBF outside of a museum, then what is it to profit from publications that advertise it's "non-museum" display? For example, the ad shown at the beginning of this post which advertises a "pride of the South" watch featuring the CBF and which appeared last year in an issue of the Civil War Monitor (to which I subscribe). That's just one example. I could provide scores of other similar ads from other mainstream Civil War publications, such as the one below which, ironically, appeared in the October 2015 issue of the Civil War Times featuring an article about the flag by noted Confederate flag expert John M. Coski and entitled, "Embattled Banner" -
The spirit of the south still runs deep, rooted in its heritage, and in those who bravely fought in the Civil War alongside visionary commanders like Robert E. Lee. Their gallantry has survived and gained undying admiration.Neither of the Confederate Battle Flag images appearing in these ads are "in a museum." They will not be "interpreted" in a museum. They are, as advertised, explicitly a display based on regional pride. Based on what many of the commenters at the Civil War Memory post wrote, should we assume that those who would purchase and wear such items are "racists"? But what about the company advertising the product? Do they get off untainted? What about subscribers? They're indirectly supporting the ads, whether they purchase the item or not. What about the magazine - are they marketing to "racists"? And what about all those associated in a professional sense with the magazine, are they tainted as well? Maybe it's ok if you're profiting in some way for the display of the CBF, even in a non-museum setting.
What utter hypocrisy and phoniness.
In the Coski article mentioned above, Coski discusses the history of the flag and does not shrink from discussing its misuse. However, he wisely and correctly argues that the flag is anything but one dimensional:
The flag never ceased being the flag of the Confederate soldier and still today commands wide respect as a memorial to the Confederate soldier.Coski also alludes to the fact that the symbolism of the flag could, in fact, be perceived as being "stolen" as Dr. Robertson claimed:
Confederate heritage organizations correctly perceived the Dixiecrat movement and the flag fad as a profound threat to their ownership of the Confederate flag. [Emphasis mine.]And Coski also correctly assesses how the symbolic display of the flag has evolved far beyond both its original meaning, as well as its bigoted misuse:
As the dam burst on Confederate flag material culture and heritage groups lost control of the flag, it acquired a new identity as a symbol of "rebellion" divorced from the historical context of the Confederacy. Truckers, motorcycle riders, and "good old boys" (most famously depicted in the popular television show The Dukes of Hazzard) gave the flag a new meaning that transcends the South and even the United States. [Emphasis mine.]If the symbolism of the flag has evolved once, it can (and has) evolve again; something critics routinely ignore as they advance an agenda.
And, as I've predicted, not even museums are safe from the charges, as one of Levin's readers pointed out:
. . . about the Confederate battle flag belonging in a museum, I recently read an article proposing that the flag should not be in public museums, either . . . In the author’s opinion, Confederate relics like the flag are not worthy of such space.Well of course. Please don't tell me you're surprised. It's going to get worse. This is the natural progression of the
One of the important take-aways from the post at CWM, along with the apparently agreeing comments, is that we need not guess which "interpretation" of the Confederate flag will take place in museums if these folks have their preference: The Confederate flag is only to be interpreted with a narrow, one-dimensional perspective: as an evil image of slavery and bigotry, thus advancing the moral crusade.
Former Virginia Senator Jim Webb put it this way:
The greatest disservice on this count has been the attempt by these revisionist politicians and academics to defame the entire Confederate Army in a move that can only be termed the Nazification of the Confederacy. Often cloaked in the argument over the public display of the Confederate battle flag, the syllogism goes something like this: Slavery is evil. The soldiers of the Confederacy fought for a system that wished to preserve it. Therefore they were evil as well, and any attempt to honor their service is a veiled effort to glorify the cause of slavery. ~ From Born Fighting by former Virginia Senator James WebbIn my opinion, suggesting that anyone and everyone who displays a Confederate flag or image outside of a museum should automatically be assumed to be a "racist" reveals an agenda other than anything to do with understanding our history. If the moral reformers want to make that ridiculous claim, then they'll have to include a lot more persons, institutions and publications than they are currently doing.
Let's see how far that goes.
Finally, Coski concluded his piece in Civil War Times by writing:
Studying the flag's full history also allows us to engage in a more constructive dialogue about its proper place in the present and in the future.I agree. And I would add that the knee-jerk reaction of assuming everyone who displays a Confederate flag is a "racist" not only ruins any chance of constructive dialogue, it is also patently absurd and irresponsible.