"The First Seeds of Treason Towards Another Civil War"

Criticism of Confederate Flags

Since the end of Reconstruction, Black journalists have frequently criticized the display of Confederate flags—especially, but not solely, the Confederate Battle Flag—in public, particularly in official government capacities. A number of editorials published in the Black press during this period stressed that Confederate flags were unpatriotic and a threat to the sanctity of the Union flag. The language used in these editorials reflects the deep frustration of Black Americans toward the Confederate flags.

In 1890, the State Capital published an editorial (later reprinted by the renowned Richmond Planet) condemning the displaying of the Confederate Battle Flag at the dedication ceremony of the prominent Robert E. Lee monument in Richmond. While they did not take issue with the monument itself—they stated that General Lee “had many virtues worthy of emulation”—they referred to the flag as an “ensign of treason” and its display as a “shameful disregard for the flag of the Union.”[1] They concluded the article by stating “we, as an American citizen, offer our solemn protest and demand in the name of our fathers, in the name of the constitution and in the name of every patriotic impulse that such things not be tolerated.”[2]

One editorial published in the midst of the Cold War by the Carolina Times declared that there was “no difference in displaying miniature Confederate flags and displaying flags of the Soviet Union.”[3] They urged Congress to pass a law banning the displaying of flags of any nation, “existent or nonexistent,” that has tried to overtake the United States or taken up arms against it. They included the Confederacy in this category along with England, Germany, and Japan.[4]

In 1952, the Philadelphia Tribune highlighted conflict over the flying of the Union and Confederate flags in their coverage of a proposed constitutional amendment meant to prohibit the flying of any flag besides the Stars and Stripes at any United States military facility. The amendment, proposed by Republican Representative H.R. Gross of Iowa, was reportedly intended to target the United Nations flag. However, Representative L. M. Rivers of South Carolina asked if the amendment would also prevent flags of the Confederacy from being flown. According to the Tribune, “when the sponsor declared that it would, the amendment went out the window.”[5] It was repudiated with overwhelming numbers in the vote that followed.

In 1958, a bill was proposed in South Carolina that would require Confederate flags to be treated with the same respect as the United States flag. The New York Amsterdam News referred to this legislation as “the first seeds of treason towards another civil war.”[6] The piece expressed hope that if the bill was ever brought to the Federal Courts it would be struck down since “we have men on the bench…who simply are not as stupid and as un-American as the South Carolina Legislature and its Governor.”[7]

A cartoon printed in the Carolina Times by African-American artist Robert S. Pious in the run-up to the 1952 Democratic National Convention in Chicago articulated this perspective visually. Titled, “Will It Replace The Stars and Stripes At the Convention?,” the cartoon is drawn from the vantage of someone high up in a tree, looking down at a flagpole on which the oblong Confederate Battle Flag has been raised. Beside the flagpole is a branch of the tree labeled “States Rights,” from which a noose has been hung. A shadowy figure standing at the bottom of the pole and glaring upwards has been identified as representing the Dixiecrats.[8] This image encapsulated the deep, prevalent suspicion toward the Confederate battle flag as a tool of intimidation and an emblem of white supremacism.

Olivia Haynie


Carolina Times (Durham). “Displaying Flags Of Our Former Enemies.” September 8, 1951.

New York Amsterdam News. “Seeds of Treason.” April 19, 1958.

Philadelphia Tribune. “The Stars and Bars.” June 21, 1952.

Pious, R. S. “Will It Replace The Stars and Stripes At the Convention?” Carolina Times, July 19, 1952.

State Capital (Springfield, IL). “The Shameful Disregard for the Flag.” Richmond Planet, June 14, 1890.

*Carolina Times* (Durham).

  1. State Capital (Springfield, IL), “The Shameful Disregard for the Flag,” Richmond Planet. ↩︎

  2. State Capital (Springfield, IL), “The Shameful Disregard for the Flag,” Richmond Planet. ↩︎

  3. Carolina Times, “Displaying Flags Of Our Former Enemies.” ↩︎

  4. Carolina Times, “Displaying Flags Of Our Former Enemies.” ↩︎

  5. Philadelphia Tribune, “The Stars and Bars.” ↩︎

  6. New York Amsterdam News, “Seeds of Treason.” ↩︎

  7. New York Amsterdam News, “Seeds of Treason.” ↩︎

  8. (Pious, “Will It Replace The Stars and Stripes At the Convention?”) ↩︎