As the United States is currently commemorating the 150th anniversary of its Civil War (that’s the Sesquicentennial for all you Latin fans out there), and having been born and raised in Virginia, where one can’t go for very long without being reminded of that war (e.g. my high school was named after Robert E Lee with one of our rivals being Jeb Stuart High), I decided to read a book analyzing this American (Southern in particular) obsession with the war: Tony Horwitz’s Confederates in the Attic. In his book Horwitz, journalist by trade, travels through much of the South to attempt to learn why the war is so engrained in the Southern-American psyche. Horwitz of course encounters the Confederate Battle flags throughout his trip through the modern South as well as many personal reasons for displaying it by its owners.
Obviously the Confederate Battle flag invokes some sort of reaction out of most Americans, regardless of background. The flag remained a symbol in the 146 years after the Confederacy surrendered in 1865 for both descendants of the CSA and also for hate against African-Americans as it became the standard for both the Ku Klux Klan in the Reconstruction Era South, and for the Anti-Civil Rights groups of the mid-20th Century. The Confederate Battle flag has been the focus of controversy in the United States in the past two decades or so, as Southern state governments and grass-roots organizations in those states campaigned to either keep the symbol of the war or remove it from capital buildings and other state institutions. Georgia is an example of a state who removed the Battle Flag from its state standard in 2001. States such as Mississippi and South Carolina, however, still continue to fly the Confederate flag either directly on its state flag (Mississippi) or fly the Battle flag above various government buildings (South Carolina). Other Southern states offer residents who request it state-issued license plates with the controversial flag.
Of course freedom of speech in the United States protects private citizens’ right to fly whatever flag they wish on their own property but my question is should state governments continue to be allowed to fly the Confederate Battle flag and open protect it, as Mississippi, South Carolina, and others have done for so long, when a large minority of their populations see the flag not only as offensive but as symbols of past oppression and intimidation? Would this still lie under Mill’s definition of “free discussion” to be protected, if it can be seen as an ever present reminder to the African-American minorities in those states of intimidation, especially intimidation with the intent of stopping their free-speech (e.g. KKK and Anti-Civil Rights governments’ attempts to stop Blacks from voting, serving in government, etc)?