A new poll released this week reveals that white Southerners are fairly divided in how they feel about the Confederate flag and monuments that honor the Confederacy—news unlikely to shock anyone who has followed the conversation around these monuments in Tennessee, Virginia and Georgia.
Are black respondents quite so divided? Of course the hell not, but we’ll get into that later.
Around 1,000 people from Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia were polled for the survey, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Forty-four percent of white southerners said they viewed the flag favorably, while 38 percent of the same group said they viewed the Confederate flag unfavorably. Remaining respondents either refused to answer or didn’t know how they felt. Meanwhile, 15 percent of black respondents said they had a favorable view of the flag (8 percent saying “very favorable” which is ... interesting!).
Notably, though, 55 percent of white respondents said the flag was a symbol of “Southern pride” as opposed to “racial conflict.” To put it another way, a majority of white Southerners seem to believe the flag’s history is unrelated to racism—yet less are willing to say they support it.
So perhaps the most revealing question was what Southerners think caused the Civil War. Given the choice between slavery, states’ rights, both, not sure, and the refusal to answer, only a quarter said slavery—with 30 percent of black people citing it as the reason, compared to 23 percent of whites. Most southerners—black and white—believe the Civil War to equally attributable to both.
This is fundamentally an issue of historical revision and how effective it’s been in the South—as NPR notes in a 2011 article, “Southerners in 1861 were fairly certain the war was about slavery.”
But don’t take our word for it. Here’s Alexander Stephens, vice president of the Confederacy, speaking weeks before the Civil war started in 1861:
The new constitution has put at rest, forever, all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institution African slavery as it exists amongst us the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution.
Ah, clarity. Survey says it’s sorely missing in 2018.