Kriston Capps is a staff writer for CityLab covering housing, architecture, and politics. He previously worked as a senior editor for Architect magazine.
Short of removing existing Confederate symbols, maybe we could stop building new ones?
Building new Confederate memorials is the business of Confederate heritage groups—and business is good.
The Sons of Confederate Veterans might chuckle to hear the revived debate over the Confederate battle flag that flies over the South Carolina State House. One-hundred fifty years after the surrender of the Confederacy to the Union, the symbols of that vanquished pretend-state aren’t disappearing. They’re proliferating.
In Orange, Texas, the Texas Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans just built a large Confederate memorial park, complete with a classical-ish monument featuring 13 columns—one for each of the states in the short-lived, and utterly defeated, Confederate States of America. Now, drivers who cross the state line from Louisiana into Texas will not be able to avoid the sight of 32 different Confederate regimental flags.
This being East Texas, the Sons of Confederate Veterans parked the memorial as close to Interstate 10 as possible, so that “over 55,000 cars per day see Confederate Flags flying proudly in the Texas breeze.” (No one else would see it, otherwise.) And this being Confederate sympathizers, they did not hesitate to build the memorial where the highway meets Martin Luther King Jr. Drive.
The Beaumont chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People opposed the memorial, according to The Beaumont Enterprise, as did residents of Beaumont and Orange. In fact, no residents spoke up in favor of the monument during an Orange City Council meeting about the monument in February 2013, where many residents turned up to oppose it.
But Granvel Block, head of the Texas Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, nevertheless prevailed. (Block was also a plaintiff in the Supreme Court case over Confederate license plates. He lost in that arena.) In fact, divisions of the Sons of Confederate Veterans have succeeded all across the country in recent years—in Georgetown, Delaware, for example, in 2007, despite the fact that Delaware did not secede. Arizona, a state that didn’t even exist during the Civil War, put up a Confederate memorial in Sierra Vista in 2010.
In fact, it wasn’t that long ago that a prominent Confederate base was a feature on the social circuit in the nation’s capital. Confederate Memorial Hall—a home and gathering place for Confederate veterans in Washington, D.C., and later, a social hall for white politicians from the South—stood for all but 11 years of the 20th century. This living social-and-political memorial to the Confederacy, located just off Logan Circle, only closed in 1997.
“This was all from the early 20th-century period of reconciliation, let bygones be bygones,” said Gary Scott, a National Park Service historian, in an interview with The Washington Post about Confederate Memorial Hall. “Left out were African Americans. It was a reconciliation of the white South and the white North.”
The same could be said about the Confederate flag wherever it flies: in Texas, in South Carolina, in Arizona, it is always and only a marker of pride for whites. It sends a different message to black people, as my colleague Brentin Mock explains for The New York Times.
In 2010, activists in Charleston were able to successfully block the state division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans from building a monument to secession. A century and a half after the defeat of the South, it is one of the few symbolic battles that the Union has been able to win.