A conversation with William Blair

Sara Brennen
October 20, 2008
man points at flags

Southern friends like to tell me when they come north to central Pennsylvania, they’ve never seen so many Confederate flags as here, and it puzzles them. William Blair, Director of the Richards Civil War Era Center and Professor of American History

The first Research Unplugged event of the fall season kicked off with a thought-provoking conversation led by William Blair about the symbolism of the Confederate flag.

Blair, a professor of history and director of Penn State's Civil War Era Center, explained the fascinating history of the Confederate flag and asked the large crowd of attendees for their views on its use today: Is the "Southern Cross" a symbol of Southern heritage that should be permitted to fly from top of official buildings? Or is it an emblem of racism and a celebration of slavery and white supremacist views?

High-school students from The Delta Program attended the event with their teacher, Gary Masquelier, and contributed their thoughts to the lively discussion.

William Blair suggests...

book cover for The Confederate Battle Flag

The Confederate Battle Flag, by John M. Coski

"To some, this piece of cloth is a symbol of white supremacy and enduring racial injustice; to others, it represents a rich Southern heritage and an essential link to a glorious past. Polarizing Americans, these "flag wars" reveal the profound—and still unhealed—schisms that have plagued the country since the Civil War."— John M. Coski

book cover “Colors and Blood: flag passions of the confederate south”

Colors and Blood: Flag Passions of the Confederate South, by Robert E. Bonner

As rancorous debates over Confederate symbols continue, Robert Bonner explores how the rebel flag gained its enormous power to inspire and repel. In the process, he shows how the Confederacy sustained itself for as long as it did by cultivating the allegiances of countless ordinary citizens. Bonner also comments more broadly on flag passions—those intense emotional reactions to waving pieces of cloth that inflame patriots to kill and die. Colors and Blood depicts a pervasive flag culture that set the emotional tone of the Civil War in the Union as well as the Confederacy.

For more about William Blair, read on...

Last Updated October 20, 2008