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  • Mike Martinez

New Publication on Confederate Symbols

In March 2022, my longtime friend and co-author, M. Christine Cagle, and I published an article

titled “Reexamining Confederate Symbols Displayed on Flags and Monuments in Public Spaces: Two Fallacies in the Heritage Versus Hate Debate” in the March 2022 issue of the academic journal Social Science Quarterly.

The article was special to me because it will be my last examination of the Confederate symbols debate. I spilled much ink on the subject early in my writing career. In fact, my very first publication concerned Confederate symbols. That article appeared in the March 1997 issue of Southeastern Political Review a quarter of a century ago.

The new article can be summarized this way:

Objective. This article examines ongoing arguments over the meanings of Confederate symbols—especially symbols displayed on flags and monuments—to assess two fallacies that frequently influence the debate.

Method. The article explores the historical record concerning public displays of Confederate symbols.

Results. The traditional debate is based on two fallacies. First, it presupposes that the meaning of a symbol can be limited to a single referent or set of referents and fixed in time. Second, it assumes that the meaning of Confederate symbols can be divorced from hateful messages of white supremacy and bigotry.

Conclusion. A symbol cannot be limited to its original meaning because the context is constantly evolving. Even if it could be limited, the original meaning of Confederate symbols was always hateful. The debate sometimes has been cast as “heritage versus hate.” Because displays of Confederate symbols in public spaces have always been in a context of “hate”—to defend a slaveholding republic, to promote white supremacy, to defy court-ordered integration of public schools, or to promote the agenda of racist advocacy groups—the meaning of Confederate flags and monuments was never about heritage alone. Hate was always part of the message.

Stay tuned: My next blog, in June 2022, will highlight another new publication in 2022.

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