Burn Baby Burn: 13 Flag Funeral

Confederate battle flags were set ablaze or buried in 13 Southern states on Memorial Day. It was inspired, and loosely coordinated, by Florida artist John Sims:

Sims, 47, has been playing with Confederate flag imagery for about 15 years, creating works of art and installations in New York, Virginia and other states. In 2004, one of his installations in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, featured a Confederate flag hanging from a noose, eliciting angry calls to shut down the exhibition. Aside from the usual online chatter, Monday’s “burials” went off without a backlash.

The events, which were simultaneously streamed online Monday, consisted mainly of artists and locals discussing the flag’s symbolism. Images from the events were being uploaded Monday evening to thisFacebook page. Sims also collected the 13 artists reading their 13 Confederate flag eulogies into a video montage.

It happened here in New Orleans as well but there wasn’t any local media coverage. All I could find was this brief mention in the IBT article above:

In New Orleans, a group of locals burned the flag on a BBQ grill at the base of the Robert E. Lee monument, which towers over a popular intersection of the predominately African-American city.

That would be Lee Circle on St. Charles Avenue, which is a main thoroughfare and traffic artery. I’m not sure why they chose the word “popular” unless, that is, all they know about it is the streetcar line. Dizneylandrieu strikes again.

I took a look at the Facebook page and found this status update, which I’ll post despite the egregious usage of exclamation points:

I have two questions. First, did they dry rub the flag before grilling it or did they use sauce? Second, what happened to the S in New Orleans? One could call this the Case of the Missing S…

On a more serious note, I wish the organizers had done a better job getting the word out on social media. The Facebook page had a mere 136 likes before I added my own thumbs up, but searching for #13flagfuneral on Twitter was slightly more fruitful. Btw, most of the people who were vexed by the mini-bonfires cannot spell. Anyone suprised? I thought not.

One Tweet was from a friend of mine who thoughtfully posted a link to a video of the Lee Circle flag BBQ:

Here’s my take on this bit of political performance art. I think it’s a good thing. They did get quite a bit of MSM attention in other cities, largely because of the drama of a burning flag. In some places, they buried the stars and bars, which eliminates the chance of the fire spreading to unintended targets if it’s a windy day. It’s a uniquely appropriate form of protest because of the origins  of Memorial Day as described by Ben Railton at TPM Cafe:

…Memorial Day’s original meanings and narratives are significantly different from, and would add a great deal of complexity and power to, how we see them nowadays. The holiday was first known as Decoration Day, and (per thorough histories by scholars like David Blight) was originated in 1865 by a group of freed slaves in Charleston, South Carolina. The slaves visited a cemetery for Union soldiers on May 1st of that year and decorated their graves, a quiet but very sincere tribute to what those soldiers have given and what it had meant to the lives of these freedmen and women.

There you have it. Memorial Day is rooted in a holiday started by black folks, which is another reason to find veneration of the stars and bars obnoxious and the flag itself eminently burnable.

It’s astonishing to me that we’re still having an argument as to whether the stars and bars is a symbol of slavery, racism, treason, and oppression. The flag’s proponents argue that it’s a symbol of Southern pride and heritage. That may be true but it’s a symbol of the dark side of the South and its heritage of human bondage. That damnable flag was waved during the battle against desegregation and was a staple at lynchings. The oddest thing about the whole discussion is that it wasn’t even the *national* flag of the Confederacy. It’s a part of the myth of Robert E. Lee, reluctant traitor.

In the years after the Civil War, the losing side won the battle over how the war was characterized. Southern historians made the myth of the “lost cause” romantic as opposed to bigoted. The coming of the movies reinforced that, The Birth Of A Nation and Gone With The Wind are just 2 of the films that propagated the “moonlight and magnolias” view of the old South. The Klan were freedom fighters in both movies; apparently cross burning and murder were okay as long as they were done to protect white chicks.

Would I ban the stars and bars? Absolutely not, if I see it flying or bumperstickered on some lout’s truck, I know to avoid those people and places. It’s the yellow caution tape of flags. I do wish, however, that the states that still include it on their state flags (Mississippi and more subtly Alabama) would remove it.  Flags are meant to unite people, not divide them. Ain’t nothing more divisive than the stars and bars.

I hope the 13 Flag Funeral on the holiday formerly known as Decoration Day becomes an annual event. It reminds me of the Jazz Funeral we had in New Orleans on Inauguration day in 2005:

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Symbolism is a powerful thing. In other countries, they don’t understand our flag obsession. It eludes me from time-to-time as well but Old Glory is a symbol of all that unites us. The stars and bars is a symbol of all that divides us. I realize that I just repeated myself but it’s something that cannot be said often enough: ain’t nothing more divisive than the Confederate battle flag.

Burn baby burn.

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3 thoughts on “Burn Baby Burn: 13 Flag Funeral

  1. mmferry1965 says:

    About fifteen years ago some people I vaguely knew announced they’d be burning a flag on LSU campus. They didn’t say it was a Confederate battle flag…anyway, if I remember, they got a modest and rather angry crowd along with coverage in the LSU newspaper.

    I personally wouldn’t burn a Confederate flag, but, then again, I’d never buy one in the first place.

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  2. Unfortunately symbolism tends to overshadow facts, particularly since victors writethe histories. The Confederate flag symbolizes slavery an its noral bankruptcy. The Stars and Stripes, OTOH, represents the noble Union going to battle valianty tto liberate the poor, oppressed Negroes who were held in bondage by supremacist Southern tyrants.

    Except the fact is that the Union was a slave nation longer than the Confereracy.

    Washington, DC was a slave city. Nine months before he signed the Emancipation Ptoclamation,Lincoln signed a bill emancipating the approximately 3,000 slaves in the city, with one major difference than the emancipation of Southern slaves eight months later: slaveholders in the District Columbia (politicians, cough cough) were reimbursed for the value of the manumitted slaves. This was a morally proper procedure to follow, since slaves in the New World were considered property, and freeing the slaves without compensation would have amounted to an unlawful taking.

    The Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 offered no compensation to Southern slaveowners. Their property was taken without just compensation.

    Oh, and Delaware and Maryland remained slave states throughout the Civil Way Delaware notes defeated the 14th Amendment in 1867 and gave up slavery when the provoiison was ratified by 37 other states.

    Missouri has tens of thousands of slaves, yet they sent troops to fight their Southern brothers for the Unon.

    So please don’t think that the Union was the standard bearer for a new, slave-free national polity. They wren’t. They had their slaves, they kept their slaves even after January 1, 1863.

    Buit symbols are more imortant than, well, facts. Union states held slaves and laughed at the notion of turning them loose. Washingtom bigwigs had their slaves freed in exchange for compensation. A proposal to release Southern slaves on a compensated basis went nowhere. So burn that flag, kiddies. In your mind, the Stars and Bars are an affront to the all-American principles of equality and brotherhood REGARDLESS OF RACE OF COLOR.

    But passing off misinformed symbolism is a great way substitute myth for facts.

    Burn those damn Stars and Bars. But burn the Stars and Stripes too. For the same reasons.

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    • Adrastos says:

      There’s a lot of truth to what you’ve said but in the context of 2015, symbolism *is* all that matters.

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