Campus Conversation: Confederate Flag

October 14, 2015
Posted by
Alyssa Onisick
GMercyU Confederate Flag Campus Conversation
Professor of history at Villanova University Judith Giesberg, PhD, GMercyU Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice Patrick McGrain, and GMercyU Adjunct Professor Rebecca Signore, MA

Gwynedd Mercy University is hosting a series of Campus Conversation lectures this semester focused on hatred and inequality in America. Events such as the riots in Ferguson and the removal of the Confederate flag from State buildings will be examined, as well as the psychology of hate and forgiveness. The guest lecturers will share their opinions and experiences with the intent of educating students.

The Confederate Flag that was taken down off of state buildings in the south was never intended to be a political symbol, nor was it ever representative of the whole south, Professor of history at Villanova University Judith Giesberg, PhD told GMercyU students.

GMercyU’s second Campus Conversation explored the many different flags used by Confederate troops, its use after the war ended, and its political resurgence. The flag we think of today as the Confederate flag was originally used by the Confederate Navy. A similar version, used by Gen. Robert E. Lee in northern Virginia, was elected as the flag of the Confederate nation for a short time, but was changed soon after.  

It wasn’t until the early 20th century that the Confederate flag was used in any capacity other than commemorative purposes when college football players in the south and members of the U.S. Armed Forces started to display it.

“In both of those settings, the flag we knew as the Confederate flag began to have new meaning,” Giesberg said.  “And then, of course, during World War II when they appeared in photos, they posed with the Confederate flag… It was really an expression of their regional identity.”

Giesberg, author of “Embattled Banner: A Brief History of ‘The Confederate Flag,’” said the University of Mississippi was among the first southern schools to display the flag at sporting events. Around the same time, the school adopted the moniker “Ole Miss,” which is slave jargon for “girlfriend.”

“The flag had become synonymous with youth rebellion,” Giesberg said.

Later, when the Dixicrats left the Democratic Party, they used the flag as a symbol of their fight to save segregation, despite many southern states having passed a law to prevent the flag from being used for political purposes.

Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice Patrick McGrain said 60 percent of Americans think nothing of seeing a Confederate flag, and that many southerners think of it as a relic from the past.

“The American flag that flies represents something for all of us. Do you not believe that the Confederate flag represents something for some of us?” McGrain said. “To call the flag ‘heritage’ is to gloss over the fact it is seen as oppressive for some.”

Giesberg said that the recent debate about the Confederate flag is important, but so too is the fact that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs spends millions of dollars maintaining the graves of Confederate soldiers. In the last decade, $2 million was spent on headstones for Confederate graves.

“There are cemeteries for U.S. colored troops that are abandoned,” Giesberg said.

She also noted that several U.S. military bases are named after Confederate Generals. For example, Fort Lee is named after Robert E. Lee, “a man who killed more Army soldiers than Hitler,” Giesberg said.

While the flag is the center of the debate for many Americans, it should serve as a catalyst for a bigger conversation, she said.