One hundred fifty years ago, on April 9th, 1865, Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox Court House and the Union triumphed in the Civil War. Yet the passage of a century and a half has not dimmed the passion for the Confederacy among many Americans. Just three weeks ago, the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) appeared before the Supreme Court arguing for the right to put a Confederate flag on vanity license plates in Texas. Just why would someone in 2015 want a Confederate flag on their license plate? The answer is likely not a desire to overtly display one’s genealogical research skills; nor can it be simplistically understood solely as an exhibition of racism, although the power of the Confederate flag to convey white supremacist beliefs cannot be discounted.
Rather, displaying the Confederate flag in 2015 is an indicator of a complex and reactionary politics that is very much alive in America today. It is a politics that harks back to the South’s proud stand in the Civil War as a way of rallying opinion against the federal government—and against the country’s changing demographic, economic, and moral character, of which Washington is often seen as the malign author. Today’s understanding of the Confederacy by its supporters is thus neither nostalgia, nor mere heritage; rather Confederate sympathy in 2015 is a well-funded and active political movement (which, in turn, supports a lucrative Confederate memorabilia industry).