History happens, and historians establish dates, sometimes retroactively, about when history happened even though people at the time might not have noticed. Here’s a nice perspective about how one 150-year-old arc of history may have just closed, in The New Yorker:
In some future footnote or parenthetical aside, it may be observed that although General Robert E. Lee surrendered in 1865, the Confederacy’s final retreat did not occur until a century and a half later.
Which is when confederate flags started to be taken down in front of southern state capitals, in response to a brutal mass murder by a white man of black church-goers in an explicit attempt to incite a race war, and incident so blunt and racist that the defenders of the confederate flag (on the basis of memorializing some vaguely “southern way of life”) were, finally, shamed into acknowledging it really has been about racism, and white supremacy, all along.
Yes, the civil war was about slavery, and the continued flying of the confederate flag has celebrated the presumed superiority of the white race. The essay quotes the South Carolina convention in 1860, explaining the rationale for succession:
A geographical line has been drawn across the Union, and all the States north of that line have united in the election of a man to the high office of President of the United States, whose opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery.
The article author comments:
The South is exceptional not primarily because of its literature or its food or its politics but because, as historians have pointed out, it is the only region of the United States that has lived for the majority of its history with the experience of military defeat.
It may seem odd, decades after the civil-rights movement, to note that for a sitting President to say that the Confederacy fought for the institution of slavery—and that doing so was a moral wrong—is a radical statement.
The arcs of history sometimes move slowly…. but they move.
Coincidentally, we watched the film Selma the other night, and in the archive footage of the actual march, there were the white hooligans on the sidelines, protesting the marchers, and waving their confederate flags.