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The Confederate battle flag on display at Episcopal cemetery

The Confederate battle flag on display at Episcopal cemetery

My wife and I recently dropped in at a church that my grandfather served early in his career during the 1920s and 30s, one of three churches in his circuit. It is one of the oldest and most historic parishes in the Diocese of Virginia.

Our visit was mid-week during the holidays so no one was there to open the church. We walked around the outside and also gained a look at the colonial interior through the windows.

Coming right up to the rear of the church was a small cemetery. I noticed some of the graves were marked with red, white and blue flags, the kind of flag a child might wave at a veterans parade. Some of those red, white and blue flags were the American flag, but others were the Confederate battle flag.

When I saw the Confederate flag I experienced a pang of pain and a flood of questions. Why was the flag there? Who put it there? Had the church considered taking a stance on the display of the flag?

Plainly, the flag denoted the grave of a confederate veteran. My basic question was and is, why was it there given that we know the display of the flag is a cause for deep hurt among African-Americans?

Some will offer the explanation that the flag is displayed to honor an ancestor and not to cause hurt to African-Americans; that the display of the flag for reasons of heritage should not be equated with the flag’s association with the KKK and other groups who actively promote their belief in white superiority. I am confident that many offer explanations of this kind with sincerity. But I do not share the point of view that their preference overrides the hurtful message the flag sends.

With an exception for gravestones and other memorials of the period, I believe we should adopt the stance that the Confederate flag has no place in an Episcopal cemetery. I call upon dioceses to adopt this stance, and for parishes and cemetery trustees to adopt it as policy.

Where do you stand? Do you dismiss my view that the Confederate flag has no place in an Episcopal cemetery? Do you agree with me, but believe a diocese should do more than encourage parishes to ban display of the flag?


John B. Chilton is a member of the Race Relations Committee for the Diocese of Virginia. A draft of the diocese’s report on the diocese’s role in slavery and its aftermath, being prepared in response to General Convention’s A143-2009 is available here.


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Bill Dilworth

One last note about fascist symbols… While the use of the Japanese flag, with the red sun disk on a white field, was severely restricted during the US occupation, those restrictions were lifted in 1949. It didn’t officially become the national flag until 1999. There are still those inside and outside of Japan who object to its use, but it’s generally accepted. Photos of memorial ceremonies at the Yakusuni Shrine (where Japanese war dead are enshrined) show it’s used there. Even the battle flag, with its sixteen rays spreading out from the central disk, and widely associated with the Japanese Empire, is used at Yakusuni.

Bill Dilworth

Jonathan, a quick and dirty survey of photos of Germany’s national mourning day shows that Germans don’t go in for decorating their graves with flags, but instead use wreathes with ribbons in the national colors: red, black, and gold. Wikipedia says that red, black, and white – which were the national colors during the war and at other times in German history –

are almost exclusively used these days by the Far Right and monarchist parties (as well as some sports organizations founded before World War I). So even though the national colors during WWII were red, black, and white, WWII veterans’ graves and memorials get wreathes with ribbons in the present-day national colors.

As you pointed out, Germany actually outlaws any symbols associated with the Nazi regime. I also learned this evening that the Celtic cross is banned in Germany (!).

Bill Dilworth

I don’t know what the Germans do over there, but I stumbled across some information about what we did with German POWs who died in our custody during the war and were given military funerals. In some cases the Army used the black, white, and red flag that Germany used alongside the Nazi flag from 1933-1935 (before that the colors had been the same as on the German flag today). That would seem roughly parallel to using the first national flag of the CSA. But sometimes they actually used Nazi flags. If you scroll down the page here you’ll see a photo:

I also came across a post on a military buffs’ board that claimed the remains of dead German soldiers returned to German were allowed military funerals with the Nazi flag until 1950, but I don’t know if that’s correct.

Jonathan Chesney

Yeah, I dunno, that’s a good question. It probably wouldn’t ignite the strong feelings that the other seems to illicite (one way or another,) in so many people.

I wonder (and honestly, not to make any kind of direct correlation,) do modern Germans, for example, (who are much closer in relation to the time period of WW2 than we are to the Civil War,) honor their war dead? I assume it can’t be with flags and such, as I understand those symbols to be illegal, but how do they honor those who died as their fathers,brothers, loved ones, etc., while avoiding the very real and very painful symbols associated with the regime those men died for? Does that make sense? If they do, somehow, it might be a model for a reconciling away to address that painful but real part of our history in ways that aren’t hurtful to the many still affected by the symbols associated with it.

Bill Dilworth

Jonathan (and others) would you feel differently about the use of the (first) national flag of the CSA? As far as I know the Klan et al have never used it, nor have I ever seen it on the back window of a pick-up truck? Illustrations here:

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