Americans are routinely told that the Confederate flag represents Southern heritage. If that is true, then I want no part of Southern heritage. That is because the Confederate flag originated as a symbol of people who had declared war against the USA and who killed American soldiers. The reason that they fought against the USA was in order to keep black Americans enslaved.

In case someone doubts that reason, I will quote from the Corner Stone speech given by Confederacy vice-president Alexander H. Stephens:

“The new [Confederate] constitution has put at rest, forever, all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institution African slavery as it exists amongst us the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution. Jefferson in his forecast, had anticipated this, as the “rock upon which the old Union would split.” He was right. What was conjecture with him, is now a realized fact. But whether he fully comprehended the great truth upon which that rock stood and stands, may be doubted. The prevailing ideas entertained by him and most of the leading statesmen at the time of the formation of the old constitution, were that the enslavement of the African was in violation of the laws of nature; that it was wrong in principle, socially, morally, and politically. It was an evil they knew not well how to deal with, but the general opinion of the men of that day was that, somehow or other in the order of Providence, the institution would be evanescent and pass away. This idea, though not incorporated in the constitution, was the prevailing idea at that time. The constitution, it is true, secured every essential guarantee to the institution while it should last, and hence no argument can be justly urged against the constitutional guarantees thus secured, because of the common sentiment of the day. Those ideas, however, were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. This was an error. It was a sandy foundation, and the government built upon it fell when the “storm came and the wind blew.” Our new [Confederate] government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner- stone 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.”

The Southern culture of the antebellum period revolved around the enslavement of black Americans. The dependency on slavery even extended to the white southern clergy, who owned slaves, too. As an excuse for their embrace of slavery, white southern clergymen would claim that Noah’s curse on his grandson Canaan (mistakenly called the “curse of Ham”) justified the subjugation of black Americans. Alexander H. Stephens refers to that claim in his Corner Stone speech.

After the Civil War ended, white southerners continued to use the “curse of Ham” excuse for practicing anti-black racism. Indeed, the Southern Baptist Convention, the South’s largest church denomination, promoted the “curse of Ham” excuse.

It was not until 1995 that the SBC formally denounced the sins of slavery and racism. It declined to formally denounce the “curse of Ham” excuse when it passed its 2017 resolution that formally denounces the alt-right. The original version of the resolution contains this paragraph:

“WHEREAS, the roots of White Supremacy within a “Christian context” is based on the so-called “curse of Ham” theory once prominently taught by the SBC in the early years—echoing the belief that God through Noah ordained descendants of Africa to be subservient to Anglos—which provided the theological justification for slavery and segregation. The SBC officially renounces the “curse of Ham” theory in this Resolution …”

The version of the resolution that the SBC passed does not contain the above-quoted paragraph. A black pastor wrote that paragraph. Can you guess the skin color of the people who removed it?

Anyway, the “curse of Ham” excuse was used by white southerners back during the civil-rights era, when they revived the use of the Confederate flag to symbolize their opposition to black Americans having the same rights as white Americans.

The Confederate flag has always symbolized a heritage of anti-black racism. That heritage is nothing to be proud of. So, if the Confederate flag truly represents modern Southern heritage, then there is something seriously wrong with modern Southern heritage.

Thankfully, modern Southern heritage isn’t the heritage symbolized by the Confederate flag. What modern southerners need is something that symbolizes them, not their racist ancestors.

David Robertson
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