Professor says local support is culturally and politically based
Robby Poffenberger | Assistant News Editor | @robby_poff
Photo credit: Gabi Campbell | Photo Editor | @gabicampbellphotos
A Provo flag store owner is reporting a large increase in sales of the Confederate flag this summer.
Stan Softly, owner of Flags and Stuff on University Ave., said customers from various backgrounds have come in the store to purchase the old stars and bars.
The rise in Confederate flag sales follow a nationwide debate that started in June over whether the flag is an acceptable piece of history. That debate followed an incident on June 17, when a white male entered a black Methodist church in Charleston, S.C., and opened fire, killing nine people and later confessing that his actions were racially charged.
“The people that buy them are young, they’re old, they’re in between,” Softly said.
Utah Idaho Supply, a store in Lindon that also sells flags, reported their sole Confederate product–a decal–sold out within a week of major retailers, including Wal-Mart, Sears, Target and eBay, discontinuing the flag in July.
South Carolina and Alabama have stopped flying the Confederate flag on government buildings, and several lawmakers have introduced legislation to ban the flag from government buildings.
According to UVU Integrated Studies Professor Alan Clarke, Utahns’ support of the flag likely stems from a combination of historic Confederate ties and a libertarian culture.
“A lot of Confederates came out here (to Utah) after the Civil War,” Clarke said. “I suspect that many people here do have ancestry to the South. Maybe not a majority, but a lot of ex-Confederates came out west.”
He said the choice to sport the flag, especially in view of recent events, could be political as well as cultural.
“Some of those conservative attitudes that are aligned with the South also seem to mirror themselves out here in Utah,” Clarke said. “The inter-mountain West as a whole … has this independent streak, this ‘don’t mess with me’ streak that is anti-government.”
Softly has had discussions with customers who have come to purchase the flag and said of their motives, “They’re tired of getting told what they can fly, what they can do and what they can’t.”
The Confederate controversy is not foreign to Utah. In recent years, Dixie State University in St. George has come under fire for their name, Confederate soldier mascot and other Confederate references on campus, including their yearbook titled The Confederate and the naming of student dorms after plantations in the South.
The school ultimately voted to keep its Dixie name when it became a four-year university in 2013, despite protests from black students and members of the Salt Lake City chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. They did, two years prior, change their athletic mascot to the Red Storm, though the Rebel moniker remains attached to the school.
Clarke, himself a native of the South, said while many Utahns don’t consider the flag to be a symbol of slavery, the meaning of the flag and of the Confederacy is not as closely linked to states rights as many believe.
“There are quite frankly … great historical misconceptions about what the Civil War was all about,” he said. “It stems from the fact that in 1915 some historians at Columbia (University) managed to give great popularity to a sort of mystical South that never existed—a gallant South that was fighting for states rights and so forth.”
He went on to say that Texas’ Resolution of Succession, signed at the beginning of the war, mentions slavery 22 times, and that all major figures of the confederacy said slavery was the primary reason why they seceded.
“There’s no doubt, historically, that slavery was the big issue,” he said. “When they say ‘states’ rights,’ well, yes, it was the right to maintain slaves and slavery.”
However, Xavier Gutierrez, a junior at UVU and Texas native, said he didn’t see the Confederate flag displayed in a hateful light growing up.
“A lot of my friends had [the Confederate flag]. To me, its not a symbol of hate or slavery or what everyone is saying it is. It’s just a symbol of Southern heritage,” Gutierrez said. “My friends who fly that flag, they re not racist. They’re not hateful people. They’d give you the shirt off their back if it was the last shirt they had.”