LIANE HANSEN, host:
For many Americans, the Confederate flag is still a potent symbol of slavery. At "AfroProvocations," an exhibit at the Brogan Museum of Art in Tallahassee, Florida, conceptual artist John Sims has created a series of irreverent pieces based on the Confederate battle flag. Essayist Diane Roberts visited the show and considers the continuing cultural power of that banner.
DIANE ROBERTS: The "Drag Flag" has marabou feathers with the Cross of Saint Andrew picked out in sequins. The "Bride Flag" is all in white with a tulle veil and roses. The showstopper, though, is a full-sized gallows with the rebel banner swinging from a rope. The title of this piece is "The Proper Way to Hang a Confederate Flag."
My Aunt Vivian, late doyenne of the local United Daughters of the Confederacy, must be spinning in her grave. The Florida Sons of Confederate Veterans called the exhibition, "an abomination." I'm just standing here at the art museum, astonished. You'd think we'd be over it by now. But the Confederate battle flag haunts us, black and white. Or maybe it taunts us, I don't know. John Sims, the artist, says the white South simply cannot give up the flag. He says, there's some kind of separation anxiety that's become hereditary.
Florida still has a law protecting any flag or emblem used by the Confederate states or their military or naval forces at any time within the years 1860 to 1865. The statute declares it unlawful to mutilate, deface, defile, or contemptuously abuse any Confederate symbol.
The Sons of Confederate Veterans and others support this and don't see why they should give up the flag. For them, it would mean abandoning the symbol of independence, a legacy of courage and sacrifice. They say the flag signifies heritage, not hate.
A lot of Floridians like to pretend Florida isn't part of the South. Okay, there were a few plantations and a couple of bus boycotts, but I mean, Florida wasn't like Alabama or Georgia; except Florida was exactly like Alabama or Georgia. In Florida, the battle flag presided over cross burnings and lynchings. Now, some more extreme worshippers at the altar of the lost cause demand that the exhibition be taken down. Others threaten to go to the museum and dismantle the artwork. The old Confederacy never did get that democracy thing. My ancestors also fought under some version of the battle flag at Petersburg and Second Manassas, Antietam and Gettysburg. I'm sure they had honorable intentions. But the fact remains the heritage of the flag, too much of it, is hate.
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HANSEN: Diane Roberts examines her own Confederate ancestry in her latest book, "Dream State."
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HANSEN: You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News.
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