The flag we're discussing, the "Battle Flag" with the big X across it, became the overwhelming symbol not in the 1860s, but in the 1950s. It's about revolt and rejection, heavily on race, but not entirely so. It includes a heavy helping of "Don't tread on me." It also has a loud, rambunctious, beer-and-pickup truck style. It's Lester Maddox and George Wallace and the Dukes of Hazzard.
I'm told my grandfather's comment on the Klan was "When they go marching in their sheets, just look at their shoes." He meant that they were poor men, with few options and a large helping of desperation. And he also meant that he, a man with a college education, a law practice, and inherited land, was too good for that.
My grandfather was raised in home that displayed a flag with two red bars with a white one in between, and a blue field at upper left with thirteen stars in a circle. That's the "Stars and Bars." It goes with verandas and juleps and cavalry officers and gentility. It's Ashley and Melanie Wilkes. It's a different symbol than the one we're puzzling here.
Seeing that divide may help untangle what's up with the heritage v. hate argument about the Battle Flag.
When we ask someone to let the Battle Flag go, I think they hear a request to let go of those other loyalties too, to say they wish they'd grown up in a bigger house, with a newer car and more educated parents and a life style Martha Stewart would approve. They think we're asking them to say they look down on what their parents were able to provide, and on their parents. They think we're asking them to sign up not just for my grandfather's relatively decent views on race, but his smug, witty, indecent view of social class. And, of course, they're not entirely wrong.
The heritage thing isn't the whole truth. It isn't even half the truth. But it is a part of the truth, and very few people who fly the Battle Flag will take it down if they have to let that family pride element go to do it.
(My current take on the issue in small Kentucky towns is to say "I'm a one-flag Southerner" and "When I say the Pledge of Allegiance, I mean it all." I've gotten at least a few Battle-Flag fans to chuckle and nod in response.)