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Flying of the Confederate Flag Over the Alabama State Capitol in 1988 Case Study

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Updated: Aug 5th, 2021

Background

Flying the Confederate flag over the Alabama State Capitol raised little controversy when first implemented by Governor George Wallace in 1960. The issue became even more acute in the mid-1970s when Representative Alvin Holmes advocated for flag replacement, calling its current positioning “inappropriate” (Vocino, 2000, p. 1). Governor Wallace mostly ignored the issue but ordered to rearrange the flags at “an unspecified earlier time” (Vocino, 2000, p. 2).

During the 1970s and 1980s, the Deep South state of Georgia implemented policies that promoted equal rights, such as desegregation in public schools, emerging as a hub for economic activity in the Southeast region. Alabama did not contribute to those race-friendly actions significantly at the time, thereby perpetuating its image as “socially and economically backwards” (Vocino, 2000, p. 2). The newly elected Republican governor Guy Hunt refused to address the demands of an Afro-American Tuskegee legislator Tom Reed to bring the Confederate flag down, declaring it a point of pride for the Southern people. The latter prompted an adverse reaction from Reed, who tried to remove the flag with the help of twelve other Afro-American legislators, which resulted in their public arrest. Eighty percent of white voters in the poll following the event favored the flag, while most blacks opposed it. The small movement to eliminate the flag gained traction, its headcount rising into hundreds. The issue concerned industry leaders; they blamed it for Alabama’s bad reputation in the market.

Issues

  1. Should the Confederate flag be hung alongside the American and state flags when the public opinion is divided, and the political leadership is vocal about the issue constitutes a relatively small proportion?
  2. Will this decision help to change Alabama’s nationwide image to a more positive one thereby promoting its economic development?

Stakeholders

As an adamant defender of the Confederate flag, Governor H. Guy Hunt will actively protect his legacy, relying on the results of the poll and advocating for the historical significance of the symbol. Representative Tom Reed is a similarly active politician who will oppose the presence of the flag and raise an even greater support group to advance his position. As a member of the NAACP, the Representative is likely to perceive his action as continuing the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. who led a peaceful Civil Rights march in the 1960s.

Already supporting the movement and growing in numbers, the group of black legislators is likely to recruit more members to support the issue. As the “socially and economically backwards” image that is perpetuated by the ongoing debate on this issue is hurting recruiting in Alabama’s economy, industry leaders should support removing the flag. Competing with Georgia, named the most progressive state in the Deep South, industry leaders are likely to either shift their business orient towards the state and/or financially support the advocacy for flag removal.

In a state where more than 50% of the population are white conservatives, and 80% support for the Confederate flag to stay most likely determines the public stance. It is essential to note that the whole country is moving towards a more liberal and inclusive society, which might sway the opinions of some voters towards supporting Reed’s action. However, liberal policies enacting significant social change do not usually excite people, and in the conservative Deep South, the public is likely to adhere to their values even more.

Values

Peacefully resolving the controversy is the most important action that needs to be taken at the present moment. Considering the significance of symbolism to both political figures and the public, this issue needs addressing immediately to prevent further escalation to statewide protests and/or arrests. Although the majority of the state supports the continued presence of the flag, it is crucial to address the current liberal dynamic of policies nationwide. As the country moves towards a more liberal society, one can expect that generation that follows less likely to support conservative policies. Taking into account the disruption caused by Martin Luther King Jr.-led Selma-Montgomery march and the subsequent rise of the Civil Rights movement, one can only predict further advocacy for equal rights.

Industry leaders made clear their frustrations with the state of Alabama’s economy and are likely to act if the issue persists for an unfavorably long time. Therefore, it is crucial to address the rising concerns of this group and pursue a nationwide policy that eliminates the influence of the state in the firm’s hiring practices. This can be possible by either liberalizing recruitment by allowing companies to establish their guidelines or promoting equality in the process nationwide.

Recommendations

  1. Conduct a referendum within the state government to see the spread of opinions. Depending on its outcomes, develop a strategy to proceed on the issue, keeping in mind the overarching liberalization trend across the country. Possible results can be:
    1. The strong dominance of conservative votes for keeping the flag. In this case, do not immediately consider the issue resolved but instead, focus on the long-term consequences of the status quo, such as persisting protests of black legislators and the slowdown of Alabama’s industrial sector. Take nationwide action to address at least the latter issue, which can eventually lead to smaller divergence in the public preferences.
    2. 50/50 or relative split of the votes. Consider the place of the Confederacy in the history of the United States. The Confederate States of America was an unrecognized, self-declared country that existed from 1861 to 1865, i.e. the Civil War. The main reason the war erupted was the belief of the Confederacy in the legitimacy of enslavement of the black people. The war was more like one between two countries rather than independent states demanding their rights. Historically, ever since the first draft of the Declaration of Independence, the institution of slavery was a highly debated topic that was scaled down to a state-wide level to prevent the fall of their economies (Ellis, 1996, p. 50). The Confederacy, later established due to the contentions about the legitimacy of slavery, was built upon a belief in its righteousness. Therefore, it is only natural that the Confederate flag, although reflecting the “unique history of the American South”, does carry a strong racist sentiment (Hunt, 1988).
    3. The strong dominance of liberal votes for removing the flag. Removing the flag is encouraged and addressing the public is vital. Portraying the benefits of such action through the engagement of industry leaders and linking this event with the nationwide liberalization trend would be beneficial.
  1. Consider nation-wide long-term circumstances of this change. Would this bring about a wave of similar action in other states of the Deep South? The Civil Rights movements of the 1960s onwards enacted a significant ideological shift towards a more liberalized the United States. Although it is fair to debate whether other symbols of the historical past of the South, like the First White House of the Confederacy, should be similarly eliminated, they represent more substantial assets that could be repurposed with an educational purpose. For example, the building referenced above could become a museum containing the Confederacy flag in it. Otherwise, the presence of a flag that symbolizes division and discrimination is unnecessary when the political future of the country has been finalized more than a century ago.

References

Ellis, J. J. (1996). American Sphinx: The character of Thomas Jefferson. New York, NY: Vintage Books.

Hunt, H. G. (1988, March 31). Flag Part of Complex Heritage. The Advertiser: 13.

Vocino, T. (2000). Alabama’s Confederate flag controversy. From The Electronic Hallway: Case teaching resources from the Evans School of Public Affairs. Web.

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IvyPanda. (2021, August 5). Flying of the Confederate Flag Over the Alabama State Capitol in 1988. https://ivypanda.com/essays/flying-of-the-confederate-flag-over-the-alabama-state-capitol-in-1988/

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"Flying of the Confederate Flag Over the Alabama State Capitol in 1988." IvyPanda, 5 Aug. 2021, ivypanda.com/essays/flying-of-the-confederate-flag-over-the-alabama-state-capitol-in-1988/.

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IvyPanda. "Flying of the Confederate Flag Over the Alabama State Capitol in 1988." August 5, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/flying-of-the-confederate-flag-over-the-alabama-state-capitol-in-1988/.

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IvyPanda. 2021. "Flying of the Confederate Flag Over the Alabama State Capitol in 1988." August 5, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/flying-of-the-confederate-flag-over-the-alabama-state-capitol-in-1988/.

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IvyPanda. (2021) 'Flying of the Confederate Flag Over the Alabama State Capitol in 1988'. 5 August.

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