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Mississippi Changing Its Flag Isn't the End of Confederate Symbols in State Flags

Historians in the News
tags: racism, Confederacy, Mississippi, state flags, flags



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The Confederate flags

First, let's clear up a common misconception: The crimson and blue flag we usually refer to as the Confederate flag is in fact a Confederate battle flag, most famously used by Gen. Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia.

The actual flag of the Confederate States looks a lot different: It has two red stripes and one white, with a familiar field of stars on the hoist. There were four iterations throughout the Confederacy's short life, with each one bearing different numbers of stars to correspond to the number of Confederate states at the time.

The famed phrase "Stars and Bars," however, usually refers to the original Confederate flag, designed in 1861, which has seven stars arranged in a circular pattern. This is an important flag to remember as you look at some current state flag designs.

Here's something else to remember: Flags, as a national symbol, are a relatively new invention. Marc Leepson, a historian and author of the book "Flag: An American Biography," explains that, up until the last few hundred years, flags and pennants were used most widely for military purposes. (Another fun fact, Leepson notes: The United States had an official national flag years before France. The US adopted its first version in 1777, while France didn't adopt one until 1794, during the French Revolution.)

"For the first third of our nation's history, from about 1777 to 1861, it was almost unheard of for individual Americans to fly the flag. It was mostly flown primarily by the government, mainly by the military, and especially by the Navy," he says.

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