South Carolina’s Declaration was drafted by Christopher Memminger, considered a moderate at the time. So well did he articulate the grievances of the South that he was selected at Montgomery to draft the provisional constitution of the new Confederacy, and then to serve as its treasury secretary.
It was in Charleston, South Carolina that the fiery secessionist Edmund Ruffin fired the first shot of the war. And on June 17, 1865—exactly 150 years before the Charleston attacks—Ruffin learned of the South’s surrender, reportedly wrapped himself in a Confederate flag, and then took his own life rather than accept defeat. Those, like Roof, who now want a secessionist banner of their own can order one from the Ruffin Flag Company.
After the surrender in 1865, Confederate flags were folded and put away. They were most likely to be spotted at memorials or cemeteries. Even after the hopeful decade of Reconstruction gave way to the violent repression of Redemption, open displays of the flag remained rare. There was no need for a banner to signal defiance; Jim Crow reigned unchallenged.
The flag slowly crept back into public life over the ensuing decades, saluted at veterans’ reunions, promoted by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, even carried into battle by units from the South. By the mid-twentieth century, the flags were also waved by football fans, and sold to tourists.
But as a political symbol, the flag was revived when northern Democrats began to press for an end to the South’s system of racial oppression. In 1948, the Dixiecrats revolted against President Harry Truman—who had desegregated the armed forces and supported anti-lynching bills. The movement began in Mississippi in February of 1948, with thousands of activists “shouting rebel yells and waving the Confederate flag,” as the Associated Press reported at the time. Some actually removed old, mothballed flags from the trunks where they had until then been gathering dust.
At the Democratic convention that July, nine southern states backed Georgia’s Senator Richard Russell over Truman, parading around the floor behind a waving Confederate flag to the strains of Dixie. The Dixiecrats reconvened in Birmingham, nominating South Carolina Governor Strom Thurmond for the presidency. Sales of Confederate flags, long moribund, exploded. Stores could not keep them in stock. The battle flag became the symbol of segregation.
The flag soon spread. It fluttered from the radio antennas of cars and motorcycles, festooned towels and trinkets, and was exhibited on both sides of the Mason-Dixon line. Some displayed it as a curiosity, a general symbol of rebellion against authority, or an emblem of regional pride. The United Daughters of the Confederacy were split on how to respond, some pleased to see young people showing interest, others calling the proliferation of flags a “desecration.” Newspapers tried to explain the craze, citing explanations from football fans to historically themed balls.