The presentation of the Confederate battle flag at state government buildings has long been an issue of debate throughout the South. For more than a decade, the NAACP has urged its members to boycott South Carolina because of that state’s display of the flag on the State House grounds.
Prior to taking his current job in North Carolina in 2006, Hardison worked as director at the Mississippi home of Confederate President Jefferson Davis, which is operated as a museum and library owned by the Sons of Confederate Veterans. The group has led the fight in the South for the proud display of the Confederate flag, which it contends is a symbol of heritage, not hate.
Hardison said the battle flag was displayed with other flags described in the diary of a North Carolina woman who visited the Capitol in 1863. A large U.S. flag displayed in the Senate chamber is reminiscent of a trophy of war captured from Union troops at the Battle of Plymouth.
“I thought, wouldn’t it be wonderful to recreate this?” Hardison said. “I think we were all thinking along the same vein. … The Capitol is both a working seat of government, in that the governor and his staff has his office there. But it is also a museum.”
Hardison pointed out that the national flag used by the Confederate government, with its circle of white stars and red and white stripes, is still flown over the State Capitol dome each year on Confederate Memorial Day. The more familiar blood-red battle flag, featuring a blue “X” studded with white stars, was used by the rebel military.
David Goldfield, a history professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and author of the book “Still Fighting the Civil War,” said the battle flag can hold starkly different meanings depending on a person’s social perspective.
“The history of the Confederate battle flag, how it was designed and formulated, how it has been used through the years, clearly states that it is a flag of white supremacy,” Goldfield said. “I know current Sons of Confederate Veterans would dispute that, saying ‘Hey, I’m not a racist.’ But the fact remains that the battle flag was used by a country that had as its foundation the protection and extension of human bondage.”
The NAACP’s Barber said the McCrory administration eventually made the right call, but questioned how the decision to hang the flag was made in the first place.
“A flag should represent a banner of unity, not division,” Barber said. “A substantive symbol and sign of our best history, not our worse. We cannot deny history but neither can we attempt to revision it in a way that glorifies the shameful and attempts to make noble that which is ignoble.”