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Confederate soldiers never ever reached the Capitol throughout the polite War. But the Confederate battle flag to be flown by rioters in the U.S. Capitol structure for the first time ever on Jan. 6.

The flag’s prominence in the Capitol riot comes as no surprise to those who, like me, recognize its history: due to the fact that its debut during the civil War, the Confederate fight flag has actually been flown on regular basis by white insurrectionists and also reactionaries fighting against rising tides of freshly won black political power.


an 1897 lithograph shows changes in Confederate flag design. The ‘Southern Cross’ design, favored to visually identify Confederates indigenous Union soldiers in battle, became a price of white insurrection. Library of conference via National geographical

The infamous diagonal blue cross with white stars top top a red lift was never the Confederacy’s main symbol. The Confederacy’s original “stars and bars” architecture was too comparable to the U.S. Flag, which brought about confusion top top the battlefields, where troop positions were significant by flags.

The main flag went with a collection of changes in attempts to distinguish Confederate native Union troops. The Confederacy would ultimately take on the “Southern Cross” together its battle flag – cementing it as a prize of white insurrection. While that is technically the fight flag, it has been offered the most, and therefore has end up being known an ext generally together the Confederate flag.


The Confederate fight flag figures prominently in this explicate of the 1864 fight of Franklin, Tennessee. Kurz and Allison, restoration by Adam Cuerden, via Wikimedia Commons

The initial emblem

Six decades before the Nazi swastika came to be an soon recognizable prize of white supremacists, the Confederate battle flag flew over the pressures of the insurgent Confederate says of America – military troops organized in revolt against the idea that the commonwealth government might outlaw slavery.

The founding papers of the Confederacy do its purposes of white supremacy and preservation the slavery clearly clear. In march 1861, Confederate Vice chairman Alexander Stephens declared of the Confederacy, “its foundations are laid, its corner-stone rests, ~ above the an excellent truth that the black is no equal come the white man; that enslavement subordination come the superior race is his natural and normal condition.”

The files drafted by seceding states make this same point. Mississippi’s declaration, for instance, was an extremely specific: “Our position is thoroughly figured out with the school of enslavement – the biggest material attention of the world.”

Rioting white students at university of Mississippi hoist a Confederate fight flag in a backlash against James Meredith’s attendance as the an initial Black student in 1962. Bettman via Getty photos

Backlash against racial integration

After the civil War, Confederate veterans groups used the flag at your meetings to commemorate fallen soldiers, however otherwise the flag mostly disappeared native public life.

After civilization War II, though, the flag surfaced as part of a backlash versus racial integration.

Black soldiers who battled discrimination abroad knowledgeable discrimination once they came home. Racialism violence versus Black veterans who had returned from fight prompted president Harry Truman to problem an executive, management order desegregating the military and banning distinguish in federal hiring. Truman likewise asked conference to pass a commonwealth ban top top lynching, one of nearly 200 not successful attempts to carry out so.

In 1948, the retaliation because that Truman’s integration initiatives came, and also the Confederate fight flag resurfaced together a price of white supremacist public intimidation.

That year, U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond, a south Carolina Democrat, ran for president as the leader that a new political party that segregationist southerly Democrats, nicknamed the “Dixiecrats.” At your rallies and riots, they opposed Truman’s integration under the banner the the Confederate fight flag.

Throughout the 1950s and also 1960s, white Southerners flew the Confederate fight flag at riots – including violent persons – to oppose gyeongju integration, specifically in schools. Because that example, in 1962, white students in ~ the college of Mississippi hoisted it at a revolt defying James Meredith’s enrollment together the university’s an initial Black student.

It take it the deployment the 30,000 U.S. Troops, federal marshals and also National Guardsmen to get Meredith to course after the violent race riot left 2 dead. Historian William Doyle referred to as the lytic – i m sorry featured the Confederate fight flag at its center – one “American insurrection.”

Charleston, Charlottesville and also the Capitol

More recently, the black Lives matter era has actually seen an increase in violent cases involving the Confederate battle flag. It has actually now featured prominently in at least three recent significant violent events brought out by world on the much right.

In 2015, a white superiorist who had actually posed with the Confederate battle flag online eliminated nine black parishioners throughout a prayer meeting at their church.

In 2017, neo-Nazis and also other white supremacists lugged the battle flag as soon as they marched in Charlottesville, Virginia, seeking to protect against the remove of a statue of Confederate basic Robert E. Lee. One white supremacist journey his automobile through a group of anti-racist counterprotestors, death Heather Heyer.

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At the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, picture of one insurrectionist toting the Confederate fight flag inside the Capitol building arguably distills the siege’s dark historical context. In the elevator of the photo are the portraits of two Civil War-era U.S. Senators – one an ardent proponent the slavery and also the other an abolitionist when beaten unconscious because that his views on the Senate floor.


A man carries the Confederate battle flag in the U.S. Capitol ~ above Jan. 6, in between portraits of senators that both opposed and supported slavery. Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty pictures

The flag has constantly represented white resistance to raising Black power. It may be a simultaneously of specific timing, yet certainly no of context, the the riot taken place the day after Rev. Raphael Warnock and also Jon Ossoff winner U.S. Senate seat representing Georgia. Respectively, they room the first Black and an initial Jewish senators from the former Confederate state. Warnock will be only the second Black senator from listed below the Mason-Dixon Line since Reconstruction.

Their historic victories – and also President-elect Joe Biden’s – in Georgia occurred through large organizing and turnout of civilization of color, particularly Black people. Because 2014, nearly 2 million voters have actually been added to the rolfes in Georgia, signaling a new bloc of black voting power.

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It have to come together no surprise, then, that today’s white insurrectionists protest to the moving tides that power determine with the Confederate battle flag.