Jim Crow State Flags: Confederate Iconography

Figure 1.--We do not know just when the Condereate flags began to be displayed at public gatherings in the South. It was not possible of course while Federal troops were present. But it is diffucicult to know just when this began. Photography in the 19th century was almost entirely studio photography. Amateur photography was complicated and expenive. We begin to note the Confederate battle flaf=g being displayed as soon as amateur snapshots became common at the turn of the 20th century. Here we see some kind of family gathering, we think about 1910. Click on the image for a closer view.

Every state had a state flag. The flags adopted for Condereacy were different than those flags and thus did not have any Conderate iconography. Of course when the Condederate states were accepted back into the Union they used the same ante-bellum flags. They would not have been allowed back into the Union id they had trid to add in Condeferate elements. This only began two decades lter when passions had cooled and the Condefderate states were carefully back into the Union. This began with North Carolina (1885). Eventually seven southern states introduce Confederate elements to their flags, some covertly with plausabile deniability, some overtly with the famous battle flag of Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. As this became an issue with the succss of the Cvil Rights Movement, defenders if the Confederate Flag insisted Southern heritage was involved. Those concerned with Civil rights argue that it is actually a symbol of hatred and racism and that all had nothing to with heritage, but were relatively modern additions to the seven flags. South Carolina did not change their flag, but allowed the Confederate flag to be flown over the State House. We are not sure when Confederate flgs began to be displayed in the South at public gatherings. Most 19th century photography is studio photography, but the smapshot became common at the turn-of-the-century and we do see displays at this time.


The Alabama state flag is a very Condefrate looking red cross. It was adopted in 1895. It reminds one of the Civil War battle flag of the Army of Norther Vurginia. And Alabama's attorney general provided a written history of the flag (1987). The red cross was desind to evoke the Condederate Battle flag.


A new Arkansas state flag was adopted (1913). The new flag had three blue stars. They represented the three countries (France, Spain, and the United States) of which Arkansas had been part. Arkansas was the third state created from the 1803 Louisiana Purchase. Eventually people in the state began to notice that the four country, the Southern Cofederacy did not have a star. So a fourth star was duly added.


Florida's flag is a red cross, a virtual copy of Alabama's red cross flag, except that the state seal is impossed in the center. The cross was added to the flag after Alabama adopted its flag. Governor Francis P. Fleming saw to it. As a youth, Fleming had enlisted in the Confederate army. It was his way of evoking the Confederacy.


The Georgia stat flag includes the Confederate battle flag. But it was not added until 1956 in the middle of Southern resistnce to the Civil Rights Movement. The Confederate flag was ordered renoved by the legislature (2001). Therewas a general outcry. Sonny Perdue ran for governor and was elected on aromise to put the flag referendum to a referendum. The Legislature changed the design again. The new design includes the first national flag of the Confederacy--the Stars and Bars and the Georgia seal. The Stars and Bars does not seem to carry the same racial baggage as the battle flag.


The Missippii state flag which includes the Confederate battle flag was adopted in 1894. And the state now is the only state still incorporating the Confederate battle flag into its state flag design. A state-wude referendum as held in 2001 to settle the issue whether to retain the current or to remove Confederate elements. Voters decided to retain the existing flag by a two-to-one margin.

North Carolina

North Carolina was the first former Confederate state to adopt a new state flag, doing so in 1885. It is very close to the stars and bars flag adopted by the Confederacy in 1861. The first date on the flag, May 20, 1775, is the date of the Mecklenburg Declaration, a purported statement of independence from Great Britain that happened in North Carolina, although there is disagreement on the precise nature of the declaration. Secesionists during the Civil War referredto the Mecklenburg Declaration as precent for South's declaration of independence from the North. Confederate President Jefferson Davis speaking at Charlotte, North Carolin reportedly said "people of this section were the first to defy British authority and declare themselves free." In the state's flag, the second date was May 20th, 1861 -- the date North Carolina's withdrew from the Union. That date was changed to April 12, 1776 -- when the state called for independence from Great Britain.


The Tennessee Legislature adopted a new flag in 1905. Vexillologist Steven A Knowlton writing in 2013 writes, "the Tennessee flag has pragmatic unity with the Confederate flag: both share the element of white stars inside a fimbriated blue charge, and the element of that blue charge on a red field." He also pointed to a resemblance as a result of the vertical bars and the vertical bar of the third national flag of the Confederacy. He claims tht aey elmentvwas the plausible deniability: "it is reasonable to say a logo is only expressing Tennessee pride, even if deeper symbolic recognition does link it to Confederate imagery."


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Created: 9:01 PM 6/17/2017
Last updated: 9:01 PM 6/17/2017