When Dylann Roof allegedly opened fire inside a historically black church in Charleston, South Carolina on June 17, he also opened a debate 150 years in the making. Outrage gushed from across the country as details about Roof’s background — including his opinions on race issues and pictures of him wearing clothing displaying the Confederate flag — came into the public eye.
That information raised the question of whether or not the flag waved proudly by Roof and millions of other Americans represent heritage or hate.
Dale Baum, professor emeritus of history at A&M, said the answer to that question should be clear.
“If ever a flag was an insult to common human decency, it’s the Confederate battle flag,” Baum said. “Those of us in the historical profession have said for decades that it belongs in a museum or garbage can.”
Others believe the flag stands as a source of southern pride. Today’s commercialized Confederate flag, popularized by shows such as “The Dukes of Hazzard,” never represented the entire Confederate States of America. It was carried by the Army of Northern Virginia into battle, and adopted about 30 years later as a symbol of the time.
Bill Boyd, commander of the Bryan chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans and A&M class of 1972, said he hopes others can remember the roots of the flag when they think about what it represents.
“I think people confuse the issues,” Boyd said. “All we’re interested in is honoring our ancestors and their service to a country and an association that they felt was in their best interest.”
Citing the existence of slavery in the U.S. for 75 years prior to the Civil War, as well as wars against Native American groups, Boyd said the American flag could have the same negative connotations to certain groups.
“The Confederate battle flag was only in use for about four and a half years,” Boyd said. “There were atrocities that were committed under the American flag both before and after the Confederacy existed.”
A&M NAACP President and business management junior Kendal Gallimore said when looking at the entire history of the respective flags and the nations that flew them, the comparison does not hold up.
“Whenever people saw the American flag, they thought they could come over to America and have a better life,” Gallimore said. “The American flag has stood for a lot more than just oppression and evil. That is all the Confederate flag has ever stood for.”
The issue has not been contained to just the flag, as towns and campuses across the South have received complaints about statues, buildings and memorials honoring individuals with connections to the CSA. In Austin, for example, a petition to take down a statue of Jefferson Davis on the UT-Austin campus has garnered over 3,500 signatures.
Closer to home, the A&M campus honors Lawrence Sullivan Ross, Bernard Sbisa and Richard Coke, among others — all of which have deep ties to the Confederacy. In the small town of Anderson in Grimes County, a memorial on private property honors the Confederate soldiers from that area and flies the flag proudly over the statue of a southern soldier.
Amol Shalia, geophysics senior and president of Texas Aggie Democrats said the references on campus need to be addressed in time.
“We are aware that there are Confederate symbols on campus and we will be raising our concerns over them at the appropriate time,” Shalia said. “Similar to what UT-Austin has done, we would ask that President Young consider forming a task force to address Confederate symbols at Texas A&M.”
Baum said these memorializations raise a different debate, and the question becomes whether or not the memorialized subject had a special connection to the town or campus.
“There’s a lot of dimensions to this,” Baum said. “My colleagues have no real desire to go around and point their finger at some statue that was put up of someone that was a Confederate general, except in those cases [where there is no connection].”
Baum said ultimately, the flag should have no place in modern American society.
“That calling card of white supremacy and white terrorism doesn’t need to be flying high in public places at all," Baum said. "That’s the consensus among the historical profession."
Texas CSV Public Relations Officer Marshall Davis said the intended meaning of the flag is far different from the white supremacy connotation.
“We abhor the misuse of our flag,” Davis said. “Our mission is to preserve the true history of the South and the good name of the Confederate soldier.”
Shalia said while soldiers from both sides should be honored, the memorialization should take the proper form and be done in the proper place.
“Some say that this means we want to erase history or that we want to remove any notion that soldiers on both sides fought with honor and valor,” Shalia said. “We do not. That doesn't mean, however that we believe we ought to have monuments or symbols on our campuses or public squares that glorify the Confederacy.”