. 9
( 11)


Protests and legal challenges made redevelopment much more dif¬cult
than anticipated and only the Cape Technikon (a technical college) and a
small number of apartments for whites were ever built in the area. Most of
District Six is still vacant and traces of former buildings and streets are
still clearly visible.
District Six had long been a site of resistance to apartheid and there
was strong opposition to the forced removals and to subsequent proposals
to develop the areas for whites (Smith and Rassool 2001). Religious and
community leaders formed the ˜˜Friends of District Six™™ and the ˜˜District
Six Rent, Rates and Residents™ Association™™ in 1979. Other protest groups
followed, including Organizations United Against Traitors (OUT), and
Hands Off District Six (HODS), although these two did not include the
active involvement of former residents (Layne and Rassool 2001: 146). In
1988 HODS held a conference that called for the establishment of a
museum for District Six; soon after, the District Six Foundation was
created and began working on the project.
The foundation held a two-week photographic exhibition in 1992 and
planned another two-week exhibit for late 1994 entitled Streets: Retracing
District Six, which generated so much enthusiasm and excitement that it
became the basis of a permanent museum. Housed in the since renovated
Wesleyan Methodist church (a church that had previously served as a
center for resistance activities) on Buitenkant Street, the exhibit was built
out of materials from the District Six site (Delport 2001: 34). Three
features are the central emotional points for the exhibit and the present
expanded museum. One is the old enamel street signs from District Six
that a white foreman who worked on the demolition crew managed to
save in his attic despite having been instructed to dump everything from
Enlarging South Africa™s symbolic landscape

District Six into Table Bay (Figure 9.4). The signs were hung in three
vertical columns and catch a visitors™ eye immediately upon entering the
building. To many, their reappearance almost magically signaled the
return of the streets and houses they marked.
Second is a large canvas on which a map of the district had been
painted (Figure 9.5). It covers most of the central ¬‚oor space, and former
residents and their descendants were invited to write their names on the
spot of their former homes and to indicate the names of shops and other
places of importance in their daily lives. The map proved to be of par-
ticular emotional signi¬cance in several ways (McEachern 1998). In her
thoughtful analysis, McEachern (1998) notes that invariably former
residents visiting the museum ¬rst locate their own house on the map and
that it is at the center of the personal stories they tell one another or their
children or grandchildren.17 She argues that walking across the map is an
active process of recovering what is lost and this helps build popular
narratives and ˜˜makes visible the people in contrast to apartheid making
them disappear into Cape Flats . . . The map works as a mnemonic,
allowing the recall of the place . . . [and] in the revaluing of the District,
the walkers achieve distinction and value themselves™™ (1998: 58). Story
telling, McEachern argues, is about meaning making and the stories are
both models of District Six and models for South Africa and the future.18
A third device that the museum employs to turn visitors into active
participants is a memory cloth on which people are asked to write com-
ments which are later hand embroidered (Figure 9.6). From the outset,
people were interested in writing their own memories and comments on
the cloth and the tremendous response is perhaps best measured by the
fact that in eight years it grew to more than a kilometer long. Those who
write on it are both former residents and visitors.
Since its renovation in 2000, the museum has added an exhibit entitled
Digging Deeper that focuses on the district™s more private and interior
spaces. ˜˜The approach in the new exhibition is to avoid taking a single,

McEachern (1998: 55“56) considers the many reactions to, and uses of, the map for
eliciting deep memories, and notes that for some people their visit to the museum
provided their ¬rst occasion for talking to their children or grandchildren about District
Six. This is not surprising, and is consistent with reports from many places around the
world that people who have experienced trauma often have great trouble talking about it
with family and friends.
Bar-on (2002) makes a similar point about the value of story-telling as part of healing in
his work on the Israeli“Palestinian con¬‚ict. It is also consistent with Geertz™s (1973a) view
that culture is about the construction of shared meanings.

Cultural Contestation in Ethnic Conflict

Figure 9.4 The street signs from District Six on display, District Six Museum

Enlarging South Africa™s symbolic landscape

Figure 9.5 The large map of District Six that covers the main ¬‚oor in the
District Six Museum

Cultural Contestation in Ethnic Conflict

Figure 9.6 A section of the memory cloth that has been embroidered, District
Six Museum

safe narrative and sets out consciously to disrupt and unsettle certain
conventions about District Six™s past™™ (Rassool 2001: 8). It contains a
timeline that goes back to the seventeenth century offering a District
Six based view of events rather than the more standard white history
narrative.19 It encourages people to consider District Six™s diversity and

The timeline can be seen at www.districtsix.co.za/frames.htm.

Enlarging South Africa™s symbolic landscape

the varied experiences of residents over time, the earlier expulsions going
back to the seventeenth century, and epidemics. It reports on tensions and
changes in the community, consciously aiming to avoid romanticizing the
era and its inhabitants. The exhibit contains a room that faithfully
reconstructs the inside of a woman™s home; the Sound Archive has
recordings of music from the district, and oral histories of former resi-
dents that can be heard in the reconstructed barber shop (Layne and
Rassool 2001: 146“53).
While the museum offers a special place to former residents, its
message is far from exclusive and Bohlin contends that ˜˜the category of
˜we™ is broadened to encompass all who suffered under apartheid™™ (1998:
181). In fact there is a great deal of emotional room for outsiders,
including foreign visitors, as witnesses and learners as they both identify
with former residents and see the process of recovering memories and
community in post-apartheid South Africa. In the museum™s symbolic
reappropriation of the land and community that was destroyed, ˜˜the
memories of the events in District Six are construed as belonging col-
lectively to all South Africans, regardless of race, economic status and
political af¬liation™™ (Bohlin 1998: 184).
The widely acclaimed museum has done a terri¬c job in making visible
and personalizing the story of forced removals under apartheid and in
making ˜˜the object of conservation [that which] has already been
destroyed™™ (Angelini 2003: 17). Just as important to its founders is the role
that it has played in the movement for land restitution, community
development, and political consciousness. For years, the museum hosted
meetings to mobilize support for restitution and informed people of their
legal rights. The District Six Bene¬ciary Trust representing some 2200
families demanded restitution under the 1994 Land Restitution Act and in
1998 reached an understanding with the governments of Cape Town and
Province of the Western Cape that was signed at a public meeting in the
museum. Under the agreement, there would be a participative and con-
sultative redevelopment process. For the Bene¬ciary Trust it was impor-
tant that there was no distinction made between previous landowners and
tenants and that land would be restored to the community that would then
assign it to individuals.20 The process of working out a speci¬c agreement

Among the reasons for this is that blacks could not own land in the district although
Malays, white, and coloreds could.

Cultural Contestation in Ethnic Conflict

was slow however and only in March 2003 did the government agree to
begin construction of the ¬rst twenty-four houses in the district.

Large-scale regime change provokes many challenges resulting from
social role transformations. In South Africa perhaps the most immediate
was the need to recount and publicly acknowledge the tremendous inju-
ries in¬‚icted by apartheid. This took place in many ways including the
publication of books and articles, media interviews, and testimony before
the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. This chapter has focused on
the role of museum exhibitions as another tool for understanding the past
in a period of transformation.
Through their presentations cultural institutions both re¬‚ect and
create popular, accessible accounts about a society and its core values. Of
course, their accounts vary in speci¬city and focus so that often, but not
always, differences in apparent content can mask more basic agreement in
their underlying themes. In long-established countries, where there is
high consensus around issues such as the founding of the state and the
legitimacy of its institutions, national heroes, and core values, this
material is often barely noticed by citizens who have internalized the
messages since childhood. In new, or transformed, states great effort and
resources are often put into addressing these matters. Israel, as Zerubavel
(1995) shows, developed a powerful and rich symbol-laden narrative
linking the modern state to the biblical one.
In South Africa since 1990, there has been interest in expressing openly
and publicly ideas that previously were explored only in private or pro-
tected settings. In particular, there has been a widely felt and intense need
to have state institutions and the media address the past and to legitimate
the experiences of the previously marginalized and powerless. The three
museums discussed in this chapter all express the commitment to give
voice to the past; however, they show great variation in their styles and
speci¬c messages as each offers a narrative that reframes the past in ways
that are politically relevant for the present and locates them in a speci¬c
historical and spatial context.
There are many common elements of the new national narrative
recounted in heritage sites throughout the country. What these sites share
is a long historical perspective, identi¬cation of the abuses and brutality of

Enlarging South Africa™s symbolic landscape

the apartheid regime, description of the forms resistance took, and the
faith in the inevitability of a successful outcome, meaning the end of
apartheid and exclusive white rule. To those who, like me, are foreigners,
the accounts are dramatic and inspiring, forcing one to ask how a nego-
tiated transition to a non-racial society could come out of a system ¬lled
with so much racialized violence and oppression. The accounts reinforce
the view of Mandela as an extraordinary ¬gure and the strength of so
many people in South Africa who rejected the path of revenge and bit-
terness. In Ncome we see how complicated it can be to make room for
additional complexity and how local and national political concerns can
intersect with these efforts. In Robben Island, Mandela™s creative, long-
term responses to his treatment there are used as a model for the South
African future, and meet a widespread, basic need to have a coherent
explanation for the transition from apartheid, a rationale for reconcilia-
tion (and non-vengeance), and an optimistic vision for the future, offering
the country inspiring heroes and moral principles.
Robben Island and sites such as the Hector Pieterson or Apartheid
Museums raise dif¬cult questions that may be especially relevant for
audiences such as school children or jobless South Africans living in
inadequate housing with few, if any, amenities and social services. The
narrative has a paternalistic side that emphasizes the role of amazing
people triumphing over incredible odds “ and somehow, from the start,
having a vision that in the end they would prevail. How, one might ask,
might a child or young adult process this story? While it is intended to
communicate ef¬cacy and hope, might he or she not see this as something
no ordinary person like himself or herself could possibly do? There is
little in these exhibitions that actively engages viewers as democratic
citizens or in fact suggests what democratic participation entails. It is a
narrative of triumph over adversity indeed, but one that offers few spe-
ci¬cs about the future other than the reassurance that the same leadership
that defeated apartheid will lead the country and build a more just South
Africa and empower its citizens.
In contrast, the District Six Museum™s narrative offers a different
perspective although it too contains many of the same elements found in
other heritage sites. It uses a narrative built from the stories of District
Six™s residents™ daily lives showing how they both paid the price for
apartheid and managed at times to create spaces in which they could
insulate themselves from its oppressive presence. The museum™s founders
and board clearly believe that recovered complex truth is needed to
Cultural Contestation in Ethnic Conflict

reddress past injustice and to do this, political consciousness must be built
and action strategies developed. What is so compelling in the District Six
story told through the street signs, the map with thousands of names, the
memory cloth, the sights, sounds (and almost the smells) of daily life is
how reasonable, even necessary, land restitution is.
The South African experience offers an important case where one can
examine the hypothesis that long-term con¬‚icts must address psycho-
cultural issues as well as con¬‚icting interests. In comparison with
Northern Ireland, for example, where attention on constitutional con-
cerns and interests has dominated peacemaking efforts, South Africa™s
transition has paid signi¬cant attention to the trauma citizens experi-
enced during apartheid as a step in building an inclusive society. From a
psychocultural perspective, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission
was a crucial aspect of the effort to provide a public record of past
abuses and possible models for building a shared future (Gibson 2004;
Hayner 2002; Krog 1999). Cultural institutions and expressions such as
those considered here are another mechanism the country has devel-
oped. It would be na±ve to believe that there is one best strategy for
dealing with past injustices for all citizens or that any one method will
be equally effective for everyone. There are many unresolved issues in
the aftermath of long-term con¬‚ict: issues of silence and shame; issues
of mourning, including loss of victim status; justice and restitution;
making sense of what happened at different levels; and questions of
access and institution building in a multicultural society. There will no
doubt be ongoing psychocultural con¬‚icts and dramas as South Africans
continue to address issues of recognition and inclusion. In fact, the
presence of such con¬‚ict and drama is probably far healthier than not
dealing with these matters in a society that was so recently severely
divided. These challenges will not go away over night. Rather, the
question is how the society will deal with them. There will be ongoing
demands for recognition and recti¬cation of injustice and surely there
will also be challenges to the new narrative of struggle and resistance
that will raise the issues of new emerging voices that confront those
in power and those who control the narrative of transformation at
At the same time, there are signi¬cant dilemmas given the continuing
inequalities between groups. Moving too quickly to rectify them threatens
to disrupt the country™s economic stability, while acting too slowly
will produce political disillusionment and protest. The South African
Enlarging South Africa™s symbolic landscape

transition and the country™s success in the ¬rst years of majority rule offer
great hope that even the most racially divided societies can ¬nd ways to
heal past wounds and build a shared future. As Gibson (2004) concludes
in his study of public reactions to the TRC process, the answer is a clear
˜˜maybe they can.™™ In this day and age of ethnic hatred and clashes of
civilization perhaps this is not such a pessimistic conclusion.
The emphasis here has been on the effort in post-apartheid South
Africa to enlarge the country™s symbolic landscape, and to develop an
inclusive narrative and set of symbolic attachments with which a majority
of all of South Africa™s racial and ethnic groups can identify. The analysis
in the past two chapters emphasizes the content of these narratives and
images but offers no evidence concerning the extent to which they have
had an impact on how ordinary people understand the past and imagine
the future. Although he did not study the country™s heritage sites,
Gibson™s (2004) analysis of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission™s
¬ndings suggests that there is a good deal of support in South Africa for a
common national identity and a broad acceptance of the TRC™s ¬ndings
about the abuses of the apartheid era. His results are certainly consistent
with the hypothesis offered here that narratives found in the country™s
heritage sites not only reinforce the new national narrative but transmit it
in ways that change how many people think about social and political
relationships and open possibilities for a continuing inclusive, democratic
political life in the country.


Flags, heroes, and statues: inclusive versus
exclusive identity markers in the American South

A theme running through the previous chapters is that in symbolic
con¬‚icts the speci¬c objects of contention are the surface manifestations
of deeper issues of identity, recognition, inclusion-exclusion, and respect.
As Bryan (personal communication) noted in the case of Loyal Order
parades in Northern Ireland, ˜˜Parades con¬‚icts aren™t about parades.™™
They are about the threatened identities of Protestants and Catholics and
each group™s mutually experienced lack of respect. In this chapter, I
examine how ¬‚ags and monuments can be the surface manifestation of
con¬‚ict over issues of race and power (Leib 2002: 306).
In previous chapters, the substantive cases have all come from societies
other than my own, although I have also lived in France a good deal on
and off over the past thirty-¬ve years. Here I apply the tools and insights
from the cases I have already considered to show their relevance for
understanding race in the United States. The Lost Cause narrative is a
powerful example of a socially constructed narrative that played a poli-
tically signi¬cant role in the effort to come to terms with the legacy of the
Civil War and slavery in the US. It framed white American under-
standings of race in both the North and South for decades and was not
seriously challenged politically until 100 years after the Civil War. The
narrative not only re¬‚ected existing views on race, but at times exacer-
bated differences, and shaped behavior, as it made some actions more or
less socially and politically plausible than others.
In doing the research on con¬‚icts over the Confederate battle ¬‚ag,
there were times when I realized once again that it is often harder to
examine narratives from my own society than from those in which I had
never lived for extended periods, as my own experiences and political
views framed how I processed and reacted to the different positions. At

Flags, heroes, and statues

the same time, I hope that my engagement in the most enduring con¬‚ict
in American history, while painful at times, also offers an opportunity to
understand why and how taking people™s narratives seriously is a crucial
starting point for constructive con¬‚ict management (Roy 1994). A goal
here is to examine a con¬‚ict, on which I admittedly have my own strong
views, to explore what is needed to encourage mutual acknowledgment
and recognition that could lead to more constructive race relations.
The starting point for this chapter is the con¬‚ict over the display of the
Confederate battle ¬‚ag in of¬cial settings in the American South.1 Once one
asks about the display of the battle ¬‚ag, such as over Alabama™s or South
Carolina™s capitol or as part of Georgia™s or Mississippi™s state ¬‚ag, it is easy
to identify related symbolic con¬‚icts in the United States (North and South),
which are ostensibly about the meaning of slavery, the Civil War, and past
constitutional con¬‚icts but whose emotional intensity alerts us to their
contemporary relevance for understanding the politics of race. While the
Civil War ended legal slavery, the war™s aftermath hardly provided mean-
ingful social or political equality for former slaves and their descendants, and
certainly did not eliminate the importance of race as a social and political
issue in American society. Rather, as Blight (2001), Linenthal (1993), and
others have argued, regional reconciliation in the two generations after the
war required the construction of a narrative from which questions of slavery
and race were omitted to permit white Northerners and Southerners to
come back together. An important cost of the only partially inclusive
reconciliation narrative is that Americans are still grappling with the legacy
of slavery and the civil war in current contestation around race.
First articulated in the South in the years immediately following the
Civil War, the ˜˜Lost Cause™™ narrative argued that the war was about
different constitutional principles and ways of life, not slavery, which
Jefferson Davis said was just an ˜˜incident™™ (Blight 2001). Slaves, in this
account, were well treated and content with their position. Whites pro-
vided economic security, health care, Christianity, and civilization for
which slaves were grateful. ˜˜No argument in the Lost Cause formula
became more an article of faith than the disclaimer against slavery as the
cause of the war. In reunion speeches, committee reports, and memories,
it is remarkable to note the energy Southerners spent denying slavery™s
centrality to the war™™ (Blight 2001: 282). It emphasized that the war was

Actually the controversial ¬‚ag is just one of the battle ¬‚ags Confederate troops used (Coski
2000; 2005).

Cultural Contestation in Ethnic Conflict

lost because of superior Northern numbers and resources “ not for the
lack of Southern commitment and bravery. Blight identi¬es ¬ve central
aspects of the Lost Cause narrative:
First, veterans (and their supporters) continued to glorify the valor of Southern
soldiers and to defend their honor as defensive warriors who were never truly
beaten in battle. Second, Lost Cause advocates of the 1890s especially promoted
the Confederate past as a bulwark against the social and political disorder of that
tumultuous decade. Third, the UCV (United Confederate Veterans) and the
UDC (United Daughters of the Confederacy) established history committees that
guarded the Confederate past against all its real and imagined enemies. Fourth,
contrary to the norm in Blue-Gray fraternalism, many Lost Cause writers and
activists during the reconciliationist era were not at all shy of arguing about the
causes of the war. Fifth, and most strikingly, a nostalgic Lost Cause reinvigorated
white supremacy by borrowing heavily from the plantation school of literature in
promoting reminiscences of the faithful slave as a central ¬gure in the Confederate
war. Together, these arguments reinforced Southern pride, nationalized the Lost
Cause and racialized Civil War memory for the postwar generations
(Blight 2001: 273“74).

The Lost Cause narrative that argued that slavery, was an ˜˜incident™™ but
not cause of the Civil War is certainly at odds with the dominant view of
historians over the past half century (McPherson 1997; Dew 2001).
However, the substantive question for this chapter is not establishing
whose account of the origin of the war is most correct, but re¬‚ecting on
the intensity with which competing narratives about it are held and their
relevance for contemporary understanding of American race relations.
The powerful Lost Cause narrative is a particularly good example of how
a psychocultural narrative did more than just re¬‚ect existing beliefs, but
also shaped behaviors over decades and limited the possibility of effective
black“white dialogue in the North and South.
The Lost Cause narrative achieved hegemonic status among whites in
the North as well as the South by the turn of the twentieth century and its
core assumptions about black inferiority gained wide acceptance,
appearing in political rhetoric, popular literature, and war memories.
There was little white recognition of African American perspectives which
were sharply at odds with the romantic vision of Southern ante-bellum
life, perhaps best captured in Gone with the Wind, and these got little
attention until the civil rights era. For 100 years after the war, most whites
had little knowledge of what African Americans felt, not because their
views were not available, but because, for the most part, blacks were
considered uninformed and/or ignorant, and were treated as socially
Flags, heroes, and statues

invisible. Whites readily accepted the views of the few blacks who said what
they wanted to hear, and systematically ignored dissonant views that
challenged their own strongly defended positions. When civil rights pro-
tests began in the 1950s, more than a few southern whites responded with
anger, but also with hurt, a sense of betrayal, that blacks whom they
thought they knew well had deceived them. Most whites, North and South,
engaged in little self-re¬‚ection about how their own intimidation and
discrimination might have contributed to the situation. While there was
some change once the civil rights movement began, for the most part there
was little sustained white engagement in matters of race. By the 1970s, after
the Johnson era civil rights legislation was passed, whites grew increasingly
impatient with continuing black demands, rejecting the idea that blacks
were doing enough for themselves and showed diminished support for
social programs and for af¬rmative action which they saw as unfair.
Race, in both the North and South, remains a topic about which
constructive dialogue is all too rare. There is still very modest socializing
across racial lines and there is little trust that cross-racial discussions
around race can be honest and not hurtful. Much of this is related to the
very different experiences and beliefs of blacks and whites and the very
different narratives about American life they recount (Hacker 1992). For
example, black“white differences in interpretation were especially visible
in the reactions to the O. J. Simpson verdict in 1994. The jury™s decision
was announced on television during the workday and throughout the
country people in dormitories, schools, of¬ces, and factories gathered
around television sets or radios to hear it. Many of these settings had both
whites and blacks who reacted emotionally to the announcement that the
jury found Simpson not guilty. Whites were overwhelmingly incredulous
and dismayed, while many blacks responded joyfully. Each looked at the
other in disbelief and anger. Two competing narratives drove these
divergent reactions as whites focused on what they considered the over-
whelmingly persuasive prosecution evidence, while blacks “ including
many who thought Simpson was, in fact, guilty “ were delighted because
of the jury™s refusal to convict a black man on the testimony of a lying
racist white cop. For whites the question was about Simpson™s innocence
or guilt; for African Americans it was about the justice system and their
long experience with racist police practices, trumped up evidence, and
lack of equal justice. Their joy at the verdict was not for Simpson, but for
the validation that a white racist cop had lied in court once again but this
time his testimony was rejected.
Cultural Contestation in Ethnic Conflict

Interestingly, black and white Americans in different settings “ both
public and private “ could have used the decision to talk about the very
different spontaneous reactions each had to the verdict. But that didn™t
happen for the most part as many remained either too puzzled, angry, or
hurt to talk about what had happened. Few whites and blacks are comfort-
able engaging each other and they often move either toward hyper-
politeness or bluntness, rather than to genuine exchange in an effort to
comprehend why each understands political and social events so differently.
Con¬‚icts over ¬‚ags, statues, and murals in the South have, ironically,
promoted some constructive exchanges that have increased the com-
plexity with which blacks and whites view each other™s worldviews. While
surveys show that most people tired of these issues over time, there is
evidence as well that con¬‚icts over them forced increased engagement
with the most basic concerns of the other side, a constructive reframing of
positions, and outcomes that while not fully satisfactory to almost anyone
were good enough for many.
To explore con¬‚icts over the South™s symbolic landscape, this chapter
focuses on two speci¬c con¬‚icts from the past decade to better understand
contemporary racially structured narratives in the United States. First, I
look at the Confederate battle ¬‚ag controversy in South Carolina and
Georgia, and second, I consider on-going symbolic skirmishes in Rich-
mond, the capitol of the former Confederacy, over statues and murals
representing the city™s history. These con¬‚icts are marked by the intense
emotions they evoke that are paradoxically both polarizing and oppor-
tunities for reframing competing narratives. The hegemonic status of the
Lost Cause narrative affected black“white relationships in many basic
ways. By the 1990s, however, the psychocultural dramas described in this
chapter challenged many of its core elements, and the movement toward
dialogue in South Carolina, Georgia, and Virginia that is described here
suggests that the dramas that were played out in these states moved race
relations in a more constructive direction. All sides seem to have done a
better job of listening to each other than in the past and this has helped all
parties to explore jointly their core needs and to articulate a somewhat
more inclusive narrative about a shared past and present.

Flags and emblems as sources of division and con¬‚ict
Flags are the focal point of intense emotions in many settings (Prince
2004). As condensation symbols, ¬‚ags and other emblems represent a
Flags, heroes, and statues

collectivity to its members and outsiders so that an attack upon the ¬‚ag is
viewed as an attack upon the group itself. This is seen in countless times
and places as, for example, when soldiers in battle protect their ¬‚ags at
great risk to themselves. Displaying the ¬‚ag is a statement of attachment
and political commitment for all to see, as we saw in the discussion of the
1992 Olympics in Barcelona. Many have remarked at how millions of
Americans expressed their grief after the September 11 attacks by hanging
a ¬‚ag in front of their houses or businesses or putting ¬‚ag decals on their
Desecration of a ¬‚ag such as by burning it publicly is often viewed as a
crime act and sometimes enraged crowds attack the perpetrators of such
acts.2 During a Vietnam era protest, I well remember when a group of
normally mild mannered faculty secretaries at Northwestern University
attacked a group of protesters who displayed the American ¬‚ag upside
down, the naval sign of distress. Marvin and Ingle (1999) who write
engagingly about the psychocultural and political signi¬cance of ¬‚ags
recount that one year Marvin began her class on the subject by burning an
American ¬‚ag to get the students to re¬‚ect on its emotional power and
Most political communities are very careful about the design of their ¬‚ag
and the messages it communicates to citizens and outsiders. For example,
in 1993 as part of the transition process, South Africa appointed a com-
mission to consider the issue of ¬‚ags and other symbols and the result was a
series of proposals that emphasized inclusion of all groups in the country.
The new national anthem, for example, includes two verses of Nkosi Sikelel™
iAfrika, the unof¬cial anthem apartheid™s opponents sang for many years,
and a verse of the Afrikaans anthem, Die Stem or The Call of South Africa.
In 1994 at Nelson Mandela™s inauguration the new South African ¬‚ag was
¬‚own for the ¬rst time ˜˜not as a symbol of a political party, nor of a
government, but as a possession of the people “ the one thing that is
literally and ¬guratively above all else, our ¬‚ag™™ (Beckett 2002).3 The new

Most countries have rules about how to dispose of a tattered, no longer usable, ¬‚ag.
Generally this should be done in a ˜˜digni¬ed™™ manner such as burning so that remaining
pieces are not used in an inappropriate way such as cleaning rags. What this reveals is that
it is not the burning per se that is the problem but it is who is doing it and the context in
which it is done that matters.
The quote comes from the introduction to Flying with Pride: The Story of the South African
Flag, a coffee table book ˜˜derived from the incredible variety of ways in which this unique
cloth has become woven into the fabric of South African society™™ (http://www.safrica.info/

Cultural Contestation in Ethnic Conflict

¬‚ag™s design and color represented an explicit, conscious effort to link all
groups in the country in an inclusive symbol.
Northern Ireland has had its share of controversies over ¬‚ags and
emblems “ as we would expect in such a divided society (Bryson and
McCartney 1994). Because Northern Ireland is part of the United
Kingdom, the Union Jack is its of¬cial ¬‚ag and Protestant support for the
union is aggressively reinforced though red, white, and blue emblems,
¬‚ags and painted curbstones “ especially during the summer marching
season. However, it is the Irish Tricolor that is the emotionally salient
¬‚ag for the region™s Catholic population who regularly display it in areas
where they are dominant. Following the Belfast Agreement in 1998, there
was some attention to developing new, non-sectarian symbols in
Northern Ireland ˜˜such that symbols and emblems are used in a manner
which promotes mutual respect rather than division™™ (Bryan and Gillespie
2005). This has, however, proven dif¬cult to do in practice.4

Confederate battle ¬‚ag controversies
The ¬‚ag known as the Confederate ¬‚ag is today a racially charged symbol
to many black and white Americans (Coski 2005). It consists of the
St. Andrew™s cross and three red and white bars (Figure 10.1). Its sig-
ni¬cance, like that of many powerful symbols, has changed over time and
much of its power derives from the different and strong uses and con-
notations it has. For many southern whites, the ¬‚ag is associated with
southern culture and community “ what many call heritage “ while for
most blacks and some whites it evokes slavery, Ku Klux Klan violence, Jim
Crow era segregation, and present-day discrimination.
It was actually never the of¬cial ¬‚ag of the Confederacy but has
become that in popular parlance over time. The ¬rst of three of¬cial ¬‚ags
of the Confederacy, commonly called the Stars and Bars, consisted of a
rectangular ¬eld with a corner square and a circle of stars to represent the
seven states which originally seceded, and three alternating red and white
bars (Figure 10.2). The ¬‚ag featuring the St. Andrew™s Cross was ¬rst used
as a battle ¬‚ag by Robert E. Lee™s Army of Northern Virginia in part
because the of¬cial Confederate ¬‚ag so resembled the US ¬‚ag that soldiers
in battle sometimes confused the two. Its use spread to other units during

The Irish and British ¬‚ags are not the only ones that are controversial in Northern Ireland.
So are sectarian paramilitary ¬‚ags that are often displayed.

Flags, heroes, and statues

Figure 10.1 Square and rectangular Confederate battle ¬‚ags. The square ¬‚ag is
a captured ¬‚ag from Lee™s Army of Northern Virginia and the rectangular one is
originally the Confederate naval ¬‚ag

Cultural Contestation in Ethnic Conflict

Figure 10.2 The three different of¬cial ¬‚ags of the Confederate States of

the war even as it took different shapes and forms but it was at no time
either the only ¬‚ag that Confederate soldiers used in battle or the of¬cial
¬‚ag. The second and third Confederate national ¬‚ags incorporated the
St. Andrew™s cross into the upper-left-hand corner replacing the blue ¬eld
with stars. In the decades following the Civil War, it was the battle ¬‚ag
(which in its rectangular form was known as the Confederate naval jack)
that most often appeared at Confederate Memorial Day commemorations
and it was more and more referred to as simply the Confederate ¬‚ag (and
even the Stars and Bars) in common parlance (Coski 2000; 2005).
Coski (2005) points out that for many years the ¬‚ag was widely dis-
played in the South, and sometimes in the North, and carried by Amer-
ican troops in battle, but was not necessarily politically contentious
despite its association with the Confederacy. He contends that while the
¬‚ag was always problematic for some northerners and many blacks, it only
became an especially contentious political symbol in 1948 when it was
used widely at political rallies during South Carolina Governor Strom
Thurmond™s Dixiecrat presidential campaign. The rallying theme of
Thurmond™s campaign and rhetoric was his defense of segregation, so it is

Flags, heroes, and statues

not surprising that the ¬‚ag soon became a widely used symbol of southern
resistance to civil rights in general and school desegregation in particular.
In the 1950s and 1960s segregationist politicians prominently displayed it
at campaign appearances and public speeches while anti-black political
groups including the Ku Klux Klan and other extremist organizations
used it widely as well.5 Before 1956 Georgia™s ¬‚ag resembled the ˜˜Con-
federate Stars and Bars™™ with the state seal in place of the stars; in 1956
the state changed it, substituting the Confederate battle ¬‚ag for the state
seal (Figure 10.3). Alabama (1963) and South Carolina (1962) hung the
battle ¬‚ag atop their state capitols in what were widely interpreted as
statements of resistance to integration. Mississippi™s state ¬‚ag, adopted in
1894, also incorporates the Confederate battle ¬‚ag in its design. Defen-
ders of the ¬‚ag do not agree that its display is anti-black, saying that the
¬‚ag is a statement of remembrance for Confederate soldiers who died in
battle. Opponents argue that the timing of these gestures makes the
argument suspect.
During the 1970s and 1980s southern blacks began to protest the state-
sanctioned displays of the Confederate battle ¬‚ag and called for their
removal from the capitols in the cases of South Carolina and Alabama and
the ¬‚ags™ redesign in Georgia and Mississippi.6 White heritage groups
such as the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV), the Southern Heritage
Association (SHA), and many Republican politicians vigorously opposed
any change and charged that the ¬‚ag opponents were attacking their
heritage and the honor of Confederate soldiers who had fought for their
nation™s liberty. Clearly, the competing narratives differ in many ways
and over the next two decades the ¬‚ag con¬‚icts regularly returned to
legislative dockets and political campaigns. In Alabama, after a decade of
political wrangling, Governor Guy Hunt, following a court decision,
ordered in 1993 that the ¬‚ag no longer be raised over the capitol (Coski
2005: 237“44). In contrast, in South Carolina and Georgia, the con¬‚icts
were long and drawn out but eventually white and black coalitions
developed to build widely supported compromise outcomes.

Coski (2005) argues that older heritage groups such as the Daughters of the Confederacy
and sometimes the Sons of the Confederacy often voiced concerns that the popularization
of the ¬‚ag as a cultural symbol and its use in political campaigns threatened its solemn
meaning and objected to its use in these ways. He also says that the Ku Klux Klan
displayed the US ¬‚ag even more than the Confederate one.
Coski (2005) discusses many disputes over the display of the ¬‚ag involving public schools
and universities as well.

Cultural Contestation in Ethnic Conflict

Figure 10.3 Georgia state ¬‚ags

Flags, heroes, and statues

As in many other cultural con¬‚icts, there is nothing especially
complicated about the surface issues in these ¬‚ag controversies. At the
core is not the ¬‚ag but two entirely different interpretations of its sig-
ni¬cance, so that where it was displayed could not be separated from what
it meant. As a result, each side repeatedly rearticulated its intensely held
position, and for the parties modifying their position on the ¬‚ag issue
raised deep identity-rooted fears. In the end, only a public that grew tired
of the issue, a mobilized business community worried about the economic
consequences if the disputes continued, and politicians who feared the
consequences of inaction more than action ¬nally cobbled together the
The outcomes that were reached were not especially new or clever.
They were fairly obvious and had been discussed as possible solutions for
a long time. Here, as in other psychocultural con¬‚icts, the issue was not
how to invent a better outcome, but to create a process that would permit
one of the many competing proposals to gain suf¬cient support from the
diverse parties; that proved to be no mean feat. In a context of distrust and
strong feelings of vulnerability “ both of which were present “ solutions
that one side strongly supports often result in the ire of the other. An
acceptable outcome requires a dialogue around dif¬cult issues of race that
in itself is a constructive process. As an editorial in South Carolina™s
leading newspaper said in 1997, ˜˜The victory for all South Carolinians
would not lie in the physical act of moving the banner itself but rather in
the process of agreeing to do so™™ (Prince 2004: 5; italics added).

South Carolina
In South Carolina the psychocultural drama began in the early 1970s and
was especially acrimonious and it was not until 2001 that a compromise
was reached that while receiving signi¬cant black and white support also
left some blacks (including the state and national NAACP) and the white
heritage groups dissatis¬ed (Coski 2005; Prince 2004). The compromise
was one that had originally drawn signi¬cant white and black support
seven years earlier when a group of hardcore pro-¬‚ag senators and seven
of the state™s eight African American senators negotiated a plan called the
1994 Heritage Act. It proposed moving the rectangular battle ¬‚ag from
the dome and placing a square battle ¬‚ag, the one originally associated
with the Army of Northern Virginia (ANV), next to the Confederate
Soldiers Monument, and putting the ¬rst Confederate national ¬‚ag (the
Cultural Contestation in Ethnic Conflict

Stars and Bars) next to the Confederate Women™s memorial on the state
house grounds. They agreed that there would be an explicit statement
˜˜placed in the legislative record saying that the ¬‚ags were being ¬‚own
solely for the purpose of honoring South Carolinians who had fought and
sacri¬ced in the Civil War (and that no racial or segregationist sentiment
of any kind should be inferred from the display)™™ (Prince 2004: 162“63).
In addition, the bill would have preserved existing Confederate monu-
ments in the state and the group committed themselves to work toward
the creation of a monument to honor African American achievements and
contributions in South Carolina. The bill passed the South Carolina
Senate but not the House, and it would take another seven years before a
deal could be struck, one that was modeled on the 1994 proposal (Coski
2005: 244“252).
In the intervening years, a number of proposals were introduced and at
one point there were up to twenty different ones under active con-
sideration. Some involved moving the ¬‚ag to a new location but then
there was disagreement over which location was best. Flag supporters
favored the Confederate Soldiers Monument while opponents either
wanted it in a less prominent place on the state house grounds or inside
the state™s Confederate Relic Room and Museum. There were proposals
to leave the ¬‚ag but to put up additional ones with it such as a black
nationalist ¬‚ag; suggestions to put it in a display with all the ¬‚ags that had
been used in the state. Others advocated holding a referendum which
would take responsibility for making a decision away from politicians
wary over the potential fallout.7 There were those who suggested that the
¬‚ag ¬‚y over the capitol only a few days a year, such as on Robert E. Lee™s
birthday and Confederate Memorial Day. Even the height of the ¬‚agpole
that would be used if it was moved next to the Confederate Soldiers
Monument was a source of contention.
There was constructive dialogue in public settings and the press as well
as some fanciful cultural exploration of the underlying issues. For
example, two young clothing designers in Charleston formed a company
The referendum strategy was used in Mississippi. In that state, in 2000, the Mississippi
Supreme Court ruled that the state technically had no ¬‚ag because the 1894 design had
been accidentally omitted when the state code was updated in 1906. The legislature then
appointed a commission to design a new ¬‚ag and asked the voters to pick between the old
and new designs. The old one that included the battle ¬‚ag won easily, getting two-thirds of
the vote. In addition, it is worth noting that even though voters were clearly split on racial
lines, one survey showed that about one third of blacks favored keeping the old ¬‚ag (Sack
2001; Smythe 2001).

Flags, heroes, and statues

called NuSouth that sought to promote discussion by designing clothes
that used the battle ¬‚ag, but changed its colors to those of the black
liberation movement “ black, green, and red “ to represent unity (Prince
2004: 117“24). Sherman Evans, one of the company™s founders, said that
the new emblem was forward looking and proclaimed, ˜˜I am proud to be
an African American and I am proud to live in the South. We transformed
the symbol that oppressed us, we took away the power it had over us and
eliminated the hatred it represented™™ (Prince 2004:119).
The ¬‚ag con¬‚ict expanded beyond the state. National media covered
the story which seemed more and more like the movie Groundhog Day as
it came up in the legislature each year in more or less the same way.
Politicians wanted the dispute to end and were afraid of political fallout
from it, especially after Governor David Beasley went down to defeat in
1998 after having tried to work for a compromise. Presidential candidates
running in the South Carolina primaries were pushed to take a position
on the ¬‚ag and did their best to say whatever they thought would not hurt
them with their core constituencies. The most sustained outside involve-
ment came from the NAACP which called for a tourist boycott of the
state that gradually gathered momentum. While the economic losses were
modest, the boycott brought more attention and embarrassment to South
Carolina and strengthened the voices both inside and outside the legis-
lature calling for a solution.
By 2000, it was increasingly clear that the ¬‚ag would come down from
the capitol as there was a strong consensus developing that only ¬‚ags
representing sovereign governmental entities should ¬‚y over the State
House.8 With many proposals ¬‚oating around by early 2001, it was not
obvious how to build an effective consensus. There were proposals reg-
ularly made to include Martin Luther King Day and Confederate
Memorial Day as of¬cial state holidays as part of any solution. Flag
proponents were fearful that removing the ¬‚ag would just be the ¬rst step
in what Senator Glenn McConnell called ˜˜cultural genocide.™™ Opponents
were always uneasy with any of¬cial state recognition of the battle ¬‚ag
given its past associations. Many blacks found it particularly hard to
accept the argument that the ¬‚ag simply represented cultural heritage and
was ˜˜just a soldier™s ¬‚ag.™™

Prince reports that as the eventual removal of the ¬‚ag became more and more certain, sales
of souvenir ¬‚ags that had hung over the capitol “ even for only a few minutes “ skyrocketed

Cultural Contestation in Ethnic Conflict

The New York Times reported that ˜˜profound mistrust and animosity
between the two sides kept any plan from mustering a majority™™ (Firestone
2001). In the end, the Senate compromise built around the 1994 Heritage
Act proposal was a product of personal trust among members of the body
and ˜˜¬‚ag fatigue.™™ Prince (2004) suggests that the fact that the NAACP™s
continuing opposition to the compromise proposal because the battle ¬‚ag
(albeit the square ANV version) would still be on the state house grounds
and in too prominent a place for them probably made it easier for pro-
ponents to vote to remove the ¬‚ag from the capitol building.9

In Georgia, the psychocultural drama went on even longer. The com-
promise that was ¬nally adopted in 2003 provided for a return to the pre-
1956 state ¬‚ag. The difference between the two is that the earlier Georgia
¬‚ag incorporated the Stars and Bars, the ¬rst Confederate national ¬‚ag,
while the post-1956 ¬‚ag had substituted the battle ¬‚ag for the national
¬‚ag (Figure 10.3). While both evoked memories of the Confederacy, the
battle ¬‚ag™s explicit connection to racial violence and segregation meant
that it was totally unacceptable to blacks and their white supporters.
When South Carolina adopted its compromise, pressure increased to end
the Georgia controversy. In 2001 Governor Roy Barnes proposed a new
¬‚ag, one that had ¬ve former Georgia ¬‚ags on it “ each one quite small “
including the 1956 one with the battle ¬‚ag on it. The legislature passed
his proposal but Barnes was defeated in the next election and a major issue
his opponent Republican Sonny Perdue raised was that he never sub-
mitted the new design to the voters in a referendum. This position won
Perdue the strong backing of ¬‚ag supporters.
Perdue, however, lost control of the issue two years later when the
legislature voted for the state™s third ¬‚ag in three years, this one based on
Georgia™s state ¬‚ag from 1879 to 1956 and modeled on the ¬rst Con-
federate national ¬‚ag, the Stars and Bars. The governor had supported the
new design, but proposed a two-stage referendum process. The ¬rst vote
would have asked voters to approve or disapprove the new design and if it
failed there would be a second one asking voters to choose between the

There were signi¬cant disagreements within, and just between, the groups. Whites were
split, but so were blacks. In South Carolina, while all but one African American senator
backed the compromise only three of twenty-six black house members did.

Flags, heroes, and statues

pre-1956 ¬‚ag featuring the Stars and Bars, and the 1956 one with the
battle ¬‚ag. Black legislators balked at the two-stage proposal, opposing
any vote involving the battle ¬‚ag.
The coalition supporting the pre-1956 design and a one-stage refer-
endum barely got through the legislature as politics ¬nally prevailed over
ideology. Republicans, a good number of whom supported the rebel ¬‚ag,
wanted the issue behind them as did business groups worried about a
possible boycott of the state, a number of black legislators, and some
white Democrats. Black Caucus head Senator Ed Harbison said the pre-
1956 ¬‚ag based on the Stars and Bars was one he could live with. ˜˜It has
never been used by neo-Nazis and the Klan to intimidate and really
deprive people of their freedom of speech and right to do what they want
to do . . . I will call it a reasonable compromise™™ (Halb¬nger 2003). The
following year, 2004, voters overwhelmingly supported the new ¬‚ag in a
non-binding referendum by a 3“1 margin, and it passed in each of the
state™s 159 counties.

Toward greater inclusivity
Why were these con¬‚icts so prolonged and hard to settle? The problem
was that the opposing sides while ostensibly talking about ¬‚ags and their
placement were in fact disagreeing over more basic emotional issues such
as respect, acknowledgment, recognition, identity, and the meaning of the
past, while renegotiating their relationship in the present. The hurt and
loss each experienced was compounded when there were explicit denials
of the validity of their long-held beliefs. Only when some mutual
acknowledgment occurred could the parties work to invent an acceptable
compromise solution.
Although the ¬‚ag disputes dragged on endlessly in the eyes of many of
those involved, they did provide a public context in which each of the core
narratives was articulated and at times “ but not always “ the disputants
acknowledged each other™s positions in ways that created more common
ground than had previously existed. In Georgia, long-time ¬‚ag supporter
and former SCV member Bobby Franklin, who helped design the new
¬‚ag, said his action resulted in part from the fact that hate groups and
white racists had hijacked the battle ¬‚ag and that they had never been
publicly repudiated (Halb¬nger 2003). In South Carolina, Senator Glenn
McConnell, a long time prominent pro-¬‚ag spokesman, said he backed
the compromise because he realized how keeping it on the capitol
Cultural Contestation in Ethnic Conflict

offended many South Carolinians. In the end, some blacks acknowledged
the distinction between heritage and racism in both states. In South
Carolina, they did this by accepting the square version of the ¬‚ag that had
been ¬rst associated with the ANV but not the more familiar rectangular
one connected to the Klan and other racist and segregationist groups. In
Georgia, although some found it ironic, blacks supported the design
based on the ¬rst of¬cial Confederate national ¬‚ag. Georgia historian
James Cobb said that that was because the Stars and Bars was not asso-
ciated with the Lost Cause, was not the ¬‚ag the Klan waves, and was not
the one that Strom Thurmond carried when he campaigned as a segre-
gationist (Smith 2004a). An acceptable outcome required that each side
develop a more differentiated view of the other and its positions. For
blacks, this meant acknowledging that not all elements or proponents of
white heritage were equally racist, while among ¬‚ag supporters it required
recognizing how for many African Americans the battle ¬‚ag was a symbol
of intimidation and racial domination.

Monuments: Lincoln in Richmond
As groups renegotiate their relationship, contestation frequently arises
over public and of¬cial symbols since the weaker group is invariably un-
or underrepresented in the symbolic landscape. Certainly this is true of
race in the United States “ especially in the American South. Richmond,
Virginia, the capital of the Confederacy is a good example of this phe-
nomenon. Historically, Richmond™s public buildings, museums, and
monuments all have been intimately associated with white rule and it is
the Confederacy that is honored while the city™s large African American
population and its heritage is hardly visible. The city has a long history,
but it is only the white parts which are renowned and celebrated.
Richmond was ¬rst settled shortly after Jamestown in the early
seventeenth century and there are important colonial and revolutionary
sites in and around Richmond, such as the church in which Patrick Henry
delivered his, ˜˜Give me liberty or give me death™™ speech. The city served
as the Confederate capital, and the Confederate White House where
Jefferson Davis resided throughout the war is one of the Richmond™s
prime tourist attractions. In and around Richmond are dozens of major
battle¬eld sites, the city™s Hollywood cemetery is the burial place of Davis
and other Confederate leaders, and Monument Avenue (sometimes
grandiosely referred to as the Champs Elyse of the South) is home of the
Flags, heroes, and statues

large statues of ¬ve Confederate heroes: Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson,
Jefferson Davis, Jeb Stuart, and Matthew Morey.
It should be no surprise that dominant groups control a region™s
symbolic landscape and that when there is pressure to broaden repre-
sentation the majority feels threatened and the minority is impatient. As
in the South African case, public monuments focus on the past, yet, as
Savage reminds us, ˜˜in de¬ning the past we de¬ne the present™™ (1997: 4).
In the United States, that present has overwhelmingly been about white
rule. From the country™s earliest days, there has been a notable absence
of African American images in spaces that de¬ne the nation™s public
symbols. ˜˜Before 1860 there are no known images whatsoever of African-
Americans slave or free, in marble or bronze™™ (Savage 1997: 16). Fol-
lowing the Civil War there were several waves of monument construction
as Americans sought to come to terms with the four years of death and
destruction. Northern memorialization began in battle¬elds such as
Gettysburg (Linenthal 1993) and in public squares and parks. By the
1880s southern monuments began to appear as well, led by local com-
mittees often spearheaded by the United Daughters of the Confederacy.
The southern wave of monument building reached its crescendo over the
next few decades. By 1920 there were thousands of monuments and
memorials to the war in both the North and South.
The ¬rst wave of monuments featured heroic ¬gures such as Lee or
Lincoln. While there was a great deal of discussion about how to
represent both slavery and emancipation in post-war monuments, few that
do so were actually built, and even in those that were completed, such as
the Freedman™s Memorial in Washington, DC, paid for by freed blacks,
they are portrayed in a subservient position.
Thus the juxtaposition of standing Lincoln and kneeling slave was probably meant
to suggest a narrative of uplift from slavery rather than continuing dependence
after slavery. The problem with this argument is that it takes no account of the
genre of commemorative sculpture in which this image would be created and read.
(Savage 1997: 75)

Savage argues that as a result such monuments were less about emanci-
pation than domination and that ˜˜the nation™s most ambitious proposal
for a monument to emancipation collapsed, we can argue, because it was
dedicated to a new order that it did not comprehend and could not
visualize™™ (Savage 1997: 113)

Cultural Contestation in Ethnic Conflict

By the end of the nineteenth century, common-soldier monuments
were more and more frequent. The soldier ¬gure was supposed to be
universal in its reference “ yet it was invariably white (Savage 1997: 162)
as ˜˜the marginalization of African Americans went hand in hand with the
reconstruction of white America™™ (Savage 1997: 19). Despite the hun-
dreds of thousands of African Americans who served in the war as soldiers
and the 36,847 who died, ˜˜only three monuments in the nineteenth
century depicted blacks in military service, all appearing in the last decade
of the century and none of them generic war memorials™™ (Savage 1997:
192).10 Savage concludes, ˜˜At the most basic level the monuments were
white because the American polity itself was structured as white™™ (Savage
1997: 191).
Like ¬‚ags, monuments and memorials following a war or other intense
traumas serve two important functions as re¬‚ectors and as shapers of
To be erected, monuments usually had to mesh with the beliefs and aspirations of
the majority, even when those were so deeply seated that they were unspoken. And
once monuments were erected, they reshaped those beliefs and aspirations simply
by giving them a concrete form in public space.
(Savage 1997: 210)

Historical memorialization emphasized white rule freed from the
morally questionable institution of slavery (Savage 1997: 157). In the early
phases, Confederate heroes, especially Lee, were symbolic ¬gures of white
domination and the wide acceptance of them and the lifestyle they were
protecting paved the way for representations such as a monument to
faithful slaves in South Carolina as ˜˜white Southerners came to see slavery
as peculiarly suited to commemoration, a kind of golden age of race
relations, built on intimate bonds between blacks and whites™™ (Savage
1997: 157).
One hundred years later, these representations are historical to some,
and offensive to others. The question of what to do with monuments and
other public representations of an earlier and politically problematic
regime or era is not easy to decide. As we saw in South Africa, there is an
effort to enlarge symbolic space to be more inclusive than in the past

The best known is certainly the Shaw Memorial on the Boston Common honoring the
54th Massachusetts regiment, the ¬rst black regiment, organized in the North, made
famous in the ¬lm Glory, and led by Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, a wealthy white

Flags, heroes, and statues

rather than to eliminate existing monuments. These issues also have
arisen in the American South and some states have passed or considered
legislation barring the removal of Confederate monuments or renaming
of parks, roads, or towns named after Confederate leaders (Levinson
1998; Martinez et al. 2000). Levinson discusses various options of what to
do with Confederate monuments in ways that are far more nuanced than
the simple choice between doing nothing and removing them, including
building additional ones close by, changing the text presented with them,
or including them in a museum that offers different viewpoints on the war
(Levinson 1998: 109“129). It is against this background of symbolization
that recent con¬‚icts in Richmond are best understood.

Arthur Ashe statue
Several proposals to alter the symbolic landscape have set off recent
psychocultural dramas in this now black-majority city. The ¬rst one
discussed here arose in 1993 when Richmond-born tennis star and human
rights activist Arthur Ashe died, and it was proposed that the city erect a
statue in his honor (Leib 2002). First, it was to be placed outside a youth
sports complex, but then the city council decided to locate it on Monu-
ment Avenue. The proposal for the ¬rst prominent statue of an African
American in Richmond unleashed a torrent of controversy that was often
embarrassing for the city. However, Richmond went ahead with its plans
and the statue was unveiled three years later (Black and Varley 2003;
Levinson 1998). Both whites and blacks on the city council supported the
statue™s placement but it should be noted that there were different reasons
for this; some blacks opposed this location to express opposition to
honoring Monument Avenue because of its association with Confederate
heroes whose statues are there (Leib 2002).

The Lee mural controversy
In 1999 Richmond was again embroiled in a psychocultural drama when
Richmond™s Historic Riverfront Foundation hung thirteen murals with
twenty-nine different images on the city™s ¬‚oodwall along a newly built
canal path. The murals focused on important personalities and events in
Richmond™s history including Robert E. Lee in his Confederate uniform
which turned out to be controversial. Immediately City Councilman
Sa™ad El-Amin met with the foundation and threatened a boycott if the
Cultural Contestation in Ethnic Conflict

Lee portrait remained. The foundation™s response was to put together a
committee to assess the images on the ¬‚oodwall. Former black Governor
L. Douglas Wilder spoke out saying there was a place for Lee on the wall
and surveys showed public support “ much higher among whites than
blacks “ for maintaining Lee™s image. The committee recommended that
Lee™s image be included but as a civilian after the war rather than in
After an intense debate, the council voted 6“3 in favor of a resolution
to place the murals, including the one with Lee™s image as a civilian, on
the ¬‚oodwall. A few days later it was revealed that several black organi-
zations were shunning the two black city council members who voted for
the resolution supporting an inclusive compromise. Both black and white
public opinion, however, supported Lee™s inclusion. Several months later “
in November “ the murals were completed and hung including the one
with the new image of Lee. On January 17, 2000 the Lee mural was
¬rebombed during the night. An interracial group restored the damaged
mural and it was rehung within a month.

Bridge renaming
Richmond is ¬lled with monuments, memorials, and streets named for
white Confederate heroes and the city™s Hollywood Cemetery is another
place where they are honored. There are still a Robert E. Lee bridge over
the James River and a Jefferson Davis Highway. In 1987 there was con-
troversy when the Jefferson Davis Bridge was renamed the Manchester
Bridge. Following on the heels of the Lee mural controversy, the City
Council voted to rename the J. E. B. Stuart Memorial Bridge and the
Stonewall Jackson Memorial Bridge (commonly known as the First and
Fifth street bridges) after two local civil rights leaders, Samuel Tucker and
Curtis Holt. It was claimed that the Confederate generals had no sig-
ni¬cant ties to the neighborhoods adjoining the two bridges, but this
explanation really avoids the more basic motivation which was that blacks
in Richmond have long felt they were unrecognized in public places
despite their long-term presence and contribution to the city™s culture and
The issue of street, school, and bridge names is far from dead in
Virginia and future skirmishes are likely. In 2004, the Virginia Senate
unanimously passed a bill that would prohibit the renaming, relocation,
or removal of Virginia™s historic monuments, streets, and bridges but it
Flags, heroes, and statues

died in the House. What this could do is set the state on a course more like
South Africa where there is addition and modi¬cation rather than removal
in the symbolic landscape. This, however, would require resources whose
allocation may set off additional controversies. Tied to this issue is the
recurring debate about whether to designate April as Confederate History
and Heritage Month. Black legislators call it offensive and repugnant.
One said it would be akin to proclaiming January as ˜˜Third Reich History
and Heritage Month . . . Confederate history is nothing more than exul-
tation of one of the most shameful episodes in this country™s history™™
(Bellantoni 2004).

Lincoln™s second visit to Richmond
Perhaps the most vituperative recent psychocultural drama in Richmond
arose in late 2002 when the United States Historical Society, a Richmond-
based non-pro¬t organization, donated a small statue of Abraham Lincoln
and his son Todd to the National Park Service to be placed outside the
Tredegar Richmond National Battle¬eld visitor center (Figure 10.4).
Lincoln had visited Richmond only once “ less than two days after the
Confederate army and government ¬‚ed at the very end of the war and a few
days before his assassination. The statue is reported to be the only Lincoln
statue in the former Confederacy. It shows Lincoln sitting on a bench with
his arm around the 12-year-old Todd who was in the city with him that
day. Behind the bench is a wall with the inscription, ˜˜To bind up the
nation™s wounds.™™ It is hardly triumphalist, but that is not the point.
Opponents who included vocal members of the Sons of Confederate
Veterans denounced the move to the press and wrote furious letters to local
papers (Ferguson 2003).
Brag Bowling, the SCV Virginia commander described the statue as a
˜˜slap in the face of brave men and women who went through four years of
unbelievable hell ¬ghting an invasion of Virginia led by President
Lincoln,™™ and comparisons were made between placing this statue in
Richmond and the placement of a statue of Osama bin Laden in New
York, of Hitler in Tel Aviv, or of Tojo at the USS Arizona memorial in
Pearl Harbor (Williams 2002). The opposition was vocal but there is little
indication that it was very widespread. Editorials from Virginia news-
papers and the Washington Post supported the placement of the statue
and the Richmond City Council backed the project, contributing $45,000
and calling it a symbol of unity and reconciliation. In a letter written
Cultural Contestation in Ethnic Conflict

Figure 10.4 The ¬rst, and only, statue of Abraham Lincoln in any of the former
Confederate states. He is shown sitting with his son. Behind him are the words
˜˜To bind up the nation™s wounds.™™ It is located in Richmond, Virginia since 2003.

Flags, heroes, and statues

by a descendant of a Confederate soldier to the Richmond Times-Dispatch,
the author said he was ˜˜saddened and embarrassed by those who would be
so ignorant as to see the statue of Abraham Lincoln as being anything
more than a symbol of liberty, equality and unity™™ (Richmond Times-
Dispatch, January 24, 2003). The mayor said the money for the project was
the ˜˜best 45K this city ever spent.™™ Deputy Mayor Dolores L. McQuinn
said, ˜˜Lincoln is just the beginning . . . you haven™t seen anything yet. I
am going to go out of my way to try and diversify the statues [in
Richmond]™™ (Redmon 2003). Some hard-core opponents, somewhat
ironically, claimed that Lincoln was a segregationist and should not be
honored, and they even sponsored a conference, ˜˜Lincoln Reconsidered™™
featuring a series of Lincoln bashers that emphasized that Lincoln had no
real affection for blacks and was an inattentive father who told bawdy
The Lincoln statue con¬‚ict escalated quickly but also ended abruptly
once the statue was dedicated. The dedication went off with a few dozen
SCV protestors outside the park but there was no violence. Former
Governor Linwood Holton delivered the keynote address and there were
a number of distinguished people in attendance. The next afternoon there
was a walk in downtown Richmond to retrace a possible route Lincoln
had taken in 1865. The SCV sponsored an alternative ˜˜weekend for those
who hold their heritage high™™ holding a rally at Hollywood cemetery and
a parade along Monument Avenue, announcing, ˜˜It™s all part of Con-
federate history and heritage month™™ (Jones 2003). While the open
controversy ended, the underlying issues were hardly resolved.
These disputes over Richmond™s symbolic landscape could suggest that
the city is paralyzed around racial issues. The reality is more complicated,
and more hopeful. As each of these controversies developed there has
been signi¬cant black and white cooperation that has worked toward
inclusive solutions “ as was the case in the Ashe statue, the Lee mural, and
Lincoln statue con¬‚icts. In addition, there are a number of other examples
of how public symbolic space in Richmond has been de¬ned more
inclusively with respect to race in recent years.
Contrary to what many visitors must expect, the Museum of the
Confederacy is not simply one that offers either an unvarnished version of
Many of the hard-core opponents were highly in¬‚ammatory. One example is the blurb
about a story on the http://southerncaucus.com website: ˜˜The Jefferson Davis Memorial
Site is Reopening Again to the Public “ This is great news. Now if they would just close
down the Lincoln Memorial and reopen it as a memorial to the Lincoln Holocaust.™™

Cultural Contestation in Ethnic Conflict

the Lost Cause narrative to visitors or advocacy for the Confederate
cause, as some would like. While the museum and Confederate White
House are built around Civil War era Confederate and Southern arti-
facts, they have presented exhibits that offer a more complex view of the
war and the region™s politics that has not always pleased hard-core neo-
Confederates.12 A decade ago the museum presented an NEH funded
exhibit on ˜˜Before Freedom™™ which addressed many of the core issues
involving slavery head on. Slavery is not skirted in its permanent col-
lection either and it includes panels that show slavery™s role in the
succession and there is at least one that speci¬cally challenges the Lost
Cause™s emphasis on contented slaves. However, the Confederate arti-
fact-based exhibits offer insights into only one of the narratives framing
the period.
Another emerging effort in Richmond that shows great promise for
building a more inclusive narrative around the past is a newly opened
museum, the American Civil War Museum at Tredegar, at the site of the
former Tredegar Iron Works along the James River, the factory that
produced about half of the Confederate army™s heavy artillery.13 The
project™s executive director, Alex Wise, explained that the museum jux-
taposes Confederate, Union, and black narratives about the war, its
causes, and effects, in one site. The project has an impressive range of
board members including distinguished scholars, local representatives,
and diverse voices that helped articulate the three narratives. In addition,
it displays a signi¬cant number of African American, Confederate, and
Union objects from the period that either are part of its collection or
available through loans from other museums to facilitate re¬‚ection and
dialogue over alternative perspectives on the past and present.
A third promising initiative is spearheaded by Hope in the Cities, a
national organization that has its headquarters in Richmond. For more
than a decade it has worked to use the past to address present-day racial
issues in Richmond. One of its most interesting innovation projects is
built around Montville™s (1993) idea of ˜˜Walking Though History,™™ in
which participants visit historically signi¬cant sites to talk about past
events and their present relevance. Hope in the Cities built a 1993 Walk

The dilemma, as at the Voortrekker monument, is the issue of what the hard core wants
and needs and how this is to be balanced against the professional judgments of the staff.
As a result, some of the hard core feel that their views are marginalized.
Today part of the site is a visitor center for the federally run Richmond National

Flags, heroes, and statues

around Richmond™s history as a center of the slave trade. The city had one
of the most active slave markets in the country and served as the port for
sending slaves from the east coast to Gulf coast cities such as New
Orleans. The walk began at the church where Patrick Henry delivered his
impassioned call for liberty, wove its way through historically important
African American sites in the old city including those where slave auctions
were once held, and ended at the docks along the river where slaves were
shipped out. The group re¬‚ected on what these experiences might have
been like, and at the conclusion tossed ¬‚owers into the river in memory of
those who had gone through these experiences. Since then, among its
other activities, Hope in the Cities in conjunction with the city has
developed a mile-long Slave Trail to mark the route slaves probably took
to the docks; it is now included along with other ante-bellum sites on
tours of historical Richmond.

Conclusion: moving toward inclusivity
Memorialization and memories about the past change over time in many
ways. In the American South, for example, immediately after the Civil War
Confederate Memorial Days were marked in ceremonies in cemeteries
(Savage 1997). On these occasions, the battle ¬‚ag was often displayed as
˜˜a soldier™s ¬‚ag,™™ not a political symbol. Two decades later memor-
ialization began to take new forms and moved into other settings. While
as early as the 1870s, there was elaboration of the Lost Cause narrative
and popular literature glorifying the ante-bellum South, it was not until
the end of the next decade that veterans™ groups and the United
Daughters of the Confederacy began to organize. The former sponsored
reunions, and by 1900 there were often joint events with Union veterans™
groups, while the UDC focused its efforts on memorial construction in
small towns and cities. Soon Confederate battle ¬‚ags captured during the
war were returned to the South, Confederate dead were reburied in
Arlington National Cemetery, there were monuments to the dead from
both sides at Gettysburg and other battle¬elds, and the Spanish American
war and World War I brought together soldiers from both regions in
ways that symbolized reunion and reconciliation. In World War II the
Confederate battle ¬‚ag occasionally appeared among American troops,
but it was not seen as a divisive symbol “ at least by white soldiers.
The symbolic and political context changed in 1948 with the push for
civil rights and southern resistance crystallizing around Thurmond™s
Cultural Contestation in Ethnic Conflict

presidential campaign, and then opposition to the 1954 Brown vs. Board
of Education decision ruling that segregated schools were inherently
unequal (Coski 2005). Blacks still had few rights in the South and white
politicians used the race card to build support and organize resistance to
change. During this time Confederate iconography and the Lost Cause
narrative became key political symbols and provided a readily available
narrative around which to organize resistance. Groups such as the UDC
and SCV played key roles in many ways in the campaign against civil
rights legislation although they were uneasy with and often opposed the
political and pop cultural display of the ¬‚ag (Coski 2005).
Another burst of interest in the Civil War and its meaning followed
Ken Burns™ incredibly successful PBS documentary series in the 1980s.
Visits to battle¬elds and battle reenactments shot up (Horwitz 1999).
Heritage groups continued to prosper, regularly participating in
reenactments, holding local meetings, and political and ritual celebra-
tions. In Richmond, members of these heritage groups were involved in
all three of the controversies outlined in this chapter. Both the SCV and
the UDC have a regular ritual calendar and a high point for these groups
is marking Jefferson Davis™ birthday each June. Clearly, con¬‚ict has
moved toward contestation over symbolic and ritual representation and
is elaborated in reenactment rituals that limit direct confrontation. The
SCV holds a yearly memorial service and rededication of the Davis Circle
at his grave site in Richmond™s Hollywood Cemetery combining civil,
religious, and political expressions. Throughout the one I attended in
2004 there was little talk of slavery or race, although there were a few
references to blacks who fought for the South, and the focus was on the
cause and states rights. In the afternoon of the same day, the United
Daughters of the Confederacy hold their Annual Massing of the Flags, an
elaborate ritual in which the ¬‚ags of eighteen states in the Confederacy or
sympathetic to it in one way or another are presented to the audience one
at a time by a man dressed in a Confederate uniform and a woman often,
but not always, wearing a period dress who process from the back to the
front of the auditorium while a song associated with each state is sung and
the ¬‚ag unfurled for presentation to the audience.
The elaborate expression of political positions through ceremony and
ritual is surely not unique to the South. Rather, as Cohen (1974; 1993)
suggests, it is through cultural organizations that emphasize ritual and
symbols that groups often mobilize to articulate and work for political
goals that might be otherwise unachievable through direct action.
Flags, heroes, and statues

Southern heritage groups have worked hard to articulate and defend their
interests in recent years and their activity reveals two different motives:
explicitly political ones often associated with race, and cultural ones more
connected to identity and recognition needs. The more clearly the latter
are expressed, as they have been at times in the con¬‚icts that are the focus
of this chapter, the more it becomes possible to identify ways that the core
needs of whites and blacks can be met.14
What might a constructive dialogue look like around issues of race and
the Civil War? In the South, the hurts of both blacks and whites would
probably be at its core. For blacks it is the pain and humiliation of slavery,
Jim Crow, segregation, and discrimination. Slavery was earliest and most
profound; it was accompanied by lack of control over the most basic
relationships “ families that could be split up at the whim of an owner,
rape of women, selling of children, and treating people as property. It
doesn™t matter if they were treated well or not on a daily basis. Slavery was
just plain wrong and horrible. The post-war freedom was a signi¬cant,
but not suf¬cient, change, since the next 100 years continued a pre-
sumption of inferiority, and introduced legal segregation, overt dis-
crimination, and physical intimidation that included lynching.
For whites, the Civil War produced losses and humiliations too. Here
too there was destruction of families, deaths, maiming, and defeat. There
had to have been considerable depression and anger “ not just stoicism “
after the war. Anger got turned against Lincoln, Sherman, Grant, and the
North but also against former slaves for their perceived disloyalty. The
sequences no doubt were complicated, but when during reconstruction
blacks moved into authority positions they became a particular focus of
wrath. The Lost Cause narrative, as Blight (2001) argues, built on this
anger through nostalgia for what people wished had existed before the
war and it took root in both the North and South among the many people
seeking white reconciliation and reunion. Mourning the loss and change
was far from complete and explains, in part, the American inability to turn
the page.
This analysis suggests that both African American and Confederate
narratives are about loss, suffering, and humiliation. In the one case, it is
rooted in slavery and power relationships; in the other, it can be argued

There have been a good many dialogues between SCV members and those taking
different positions on issues such as the Confederate ¬‚ag and other symbolic disputes in

Cultural Contestation in Ethnic Conflict

that whites did it to themselves. They did not have to continue the system
of slavery; they did not have to go to war. But this is beside the point.
What is common to both is the suffering each experienced; the humi-
liation each felt; and the lack of acknowledgment of these feelings and
experiences. An effective narrative of reconciliation does not necessarily
have to address cause and responsibility so much as recognize the deep
vulnerabilities, humiliations, and losses all have had, and their implication
for the present and future.
In interviews, John Coski and Alex Wise both discussed possible
bridging narratives for Richmond. Coski said that many white south-
erners have problems around the issue of slavery as a cause of the Civil
War for it often feels to whites that to say slavery was a motive for the war
is a moral condemnation of their ancestors. What they need is a space in
which judgments about slavery are separated from the motives and moral
character of those who fought for the Confederacy. If this distinction
could be made more publicly, whites might more easily recognize the role
that slavery played and contextualize, rather than deny, it. Wise suggested
that many whites seek black acknowledgment that whites delivered blacks
from darkest Africa, giving them a higher standard of living and Chris-
tianity. I don™t believe that this is an easy starting point for African
Americans unless it is also accompanied by acknowledgment of the evils
of slavery, Jim Crow, post-war segregation, and physical intimidation. Is
this possible? Perhaps for some people, some of the time, especially if
African Americans also acknowledged white family disruption and suf-
fering in the war.15
The aftermath of the Civil War raises the important issue of a too-
limited reconciliation. As Blight (2001) makes clear, the story of reunion
is one of North“South white reconciliation. It brought together both
sides to rebuild a stronger union and was concretized in a number of ways
including joint reunions of former soldiers from both sides at Gettysburg

It should also be remembered that while this discussion emphasizes black and white
differences, each group is not homogeneous in its actions and beliefs. In each of the
con¬‚icts examined in this chapter, there were coalitions of whites and blacks who worked
together for the settlements that were achieved. Many whites have supported real change
in the South, opposing the use of the battle ¬‚ag as an instrument of intimidation, and
recognizing its history and meaning to blacks. Those who resist change are a small hard
core of heritage militants. Two strategies are possible for dealing with them. One is to
simply ignore and try to isolate them and their claims. The other is to reach out; engage
in dialogue and deescalate public rhetoric through mutual acknowledgment and effective

Flags, heroes, and statues

and elsewhere, the return of captured ¬‚ags to Southern units, and reburial
of Confederate dead in Arlington National Cemetery. But in the process,
black experiences, needs, and a very different narrative of exclusion, dis-


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