Cecilia Elizabeth O'Leary in To Die For: The Paradox of American Patriotism (1999) writes that most of the patriotic symbols and rituals that Americans now take for granted or think of as timeless representations of national culture are in fact quite recent.  The first national observation of Memorial Day took place in 1868, but it was not uniformly observed on the last Monday of May until 1971; Francis Bellamy's Pledge of Allegiance was not written until 1891; “The Star-Spangled Banner” was finally approved as the official national anthem in 1931; and Congress did not enact a national law against “flag desecration” until 1968.  Moreover, these symbols of the nation emerged, not from a harmonious, national consensus, but rather out of fiercely contested debates over, for example, the wording of the Pledge, whose memories would be enshrined in national holidays, and what exactly constituted disrespect for the flag.

O'Leary posits that only the victory of the North in the Civil War assured that the Stars and Stripes would fly as a symbol of the United States.  However, the story of what became the nation's most sacred symbol began in obscurity and arrived at its place of honor by circuitous route.  The paucity of national symbols left the flag as the main physical representation of the early republic.  But outside of the celebration of July Fourth or Washington's Birthday most people had little contact with the Stars and Stripes.


Rallying around the flag, the ritualistic core of the modern patriotic movement, was slow to develop.  In the early republic, the flag functioned simply as a utilitarian symbol, lacking in uniformity and mainly used by commercial ships and the navy.  Early Congresses discussed the national flag infrequently and with marked indifference.  A drafter of a new flag act in 1818 gained a modicum of support only after drawing attention to the fact that all the flags flying over the buildings of Congress were different.  This flag act, still in effect today, was the first to specify that the stripes should be horizontal, but it lacked instructions regarding the number of points on the stars or their arrangement.


Like the history of the flag, the origin of “The Star-Spangled Banner” reflects little of the formality later demanded by self-conscious patriots.  In place of a national anthem, bands indiscriminately struck up numerous “national airs.”  An eighteenth-century English drinking song, “To Anacreon in Heaven,” inspired the melody for “The Star-Spangled Banner.”


During the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, numerous lyrics were sung to its melody, including the poem written by Francis Scott Key.  Reverence would not be expected until the end of the nineteenth century, when patriots campaigned to make the “The Star-Spangled Banner” into the nation's anthem.  In 1893 the navy stipulated that “The Star-Spangled Banner” be placed at the raising and lowering of the colors, and during the Spanish-American War the public began to follow the military's lead in standing while the anthem was played.  But it was not until 1931, almost one hundred and twenty years after “The Star-Spangled Banner” was written, that it gained official recognition as the national anthem of the United States.


Like the anthem-to-be, the flag also was not generally invested with an aura of sanctity before the Civil War.  This began to change during the U.S.-Mexican War, when, for the first time, the army carried the national colors into combat on foreign soil.


O'Leary posits that the meaning of the Civil war profoundly changed on January 1, 1863, when president Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation.  Thomas Wentworth Higginson, a white Union commander of black Civil War regiment, attended one of the first freedom celebrations.  Higginson recalled:

Just as I took and waved the flag, which now for the first time meant anything to these poor people, there suddenly arose, close beside the platform, a strong male voice (but rather cracked and elderly), into which two women's voices instantly blended, singing, as if by impulse that could not more be repressed than the morning note of the song-sparrow--

“My Country, 'tis of thee,

Sweet land of liberty

Of thee I sing!”

Henry McNeal Turner, who served as chaplain to a black Civil War regiment and became a leading bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, shared the initial sense of optimism and anticipation.  Speaking before a large gathering of freed slaves on Emancipation Day in 1866.  Turner proclaimed that “the nation's great emblem is no longer against us... the glories of its fade-less escutcheon will ever bid us go free.”


As long as Reconstruction held, black Southerners formed the backbone of Southern patriotic celebrations.  For black Americans, the answer to the most important question--”How free is free?”--hung in the balance.  Neither side in the Civil War had anticipated that the national divide would develop into a struggle over the meaning of freedom in America.

The most dramatic opposition predictably came from the white South, where defeated Confederates refused to submit to an Americanism forged by the North.  Instead, after the war they rallied behind the confederate battle flag, celebrated the Confederate general Robert E. Lee as their wartime hero, and paid yearly reverence to the bravery of Southern soldiers on their own Confederate Memorial Day.


Black and white supporters of Radical Reconstruction forged interpretations of patriotism that joined the battle to preserve the Union with the realization of democracy and racial equality.  Southerners who refused to be “reconstructed” relived a mythic past of social harmony, while upholding the superiority of white Southern civilization.  Still others sought to negotiate a national culture capable of suturing divisions without jeopardizing social and race-based distinctions and hierarchies.


At the end of the Civil War, black southerners emerged as the region's patriots, while most Confederates retreated from the public sphere in despair.  For a brief historical moment, newly freed slaves became participants in the expression of national culture.  In the nineteenth century, black leaders and spokespersons represented a range of positions, but the majority were not ambiguous about their identity and allegiance: they were both black and American.  During the Civil War, black abolitionists seized the ideological initiative and claimed the language and symbols of the American Revolution in the cause of their freedom.  They proposed that the struggle for liberation and equality would not only affect the future of slaves but also purify American ideals and redeem America's destiny.


Patriotism carried a distinctive meaning for black and white defenders of Radical Reconstruction.  They expanded the language of patriotism from traditional conceptions of willingness to die for one's country to include the reciprocal responsibility of the nation-state to guarantee social, political, and racial equality.  Black leaders held America's republican values up to the nation as a mirror and warned that as long as slavery and inequality endure, America would never be able to “raise her flag of liberty and spread it out unstained and uncontaminated for the world to look upon and admire.”


Following emancipation, most black Americans refused to abandon their claim to an American nationality.  “We are Americans,” declared the citizens of Norfolk, Virginia, “our fathers as well as yours were toiling in the plantations of the James River.”  Recovering their history in the Revolutionary War, the black Virginians claimed that it was a “colored man, Crispus Attucks,” who shed the “first blood,” and on every engraving of “Washington's famous page of Delaware the dusky face of a colored soldier” can be seen.  Another group of Virginia freedmen and women resolved that America was “now our country—made emphatically so by the blood of our brethren.”


At no other time during the nineteenth century would blacks consider themselves so fully American as they did during Reconstruction.  Rituals like the pit barbecue of pork served as earthly reminders of slavery, while “eating higher on the hog” symbolized the social distance traveled since bondage.  Clothing also became an important representation of freedom.  Just as revolutionaries in France changed their style of dress to demonstrate their desire to abolish class distinctions in the 1790s, so too ex-slaves paid careful attention to the neatness of their clothing to communicate their emancipated status.


Black men and women fully participated in all the patriotic holidays, leading a white man from Charleston to bitterly complain that on July Fourth the “Niggers now celebrate, and the whites stay home and work.”  Although only black men ran for elective office and voted, black women visibly participated in political mobilizations too.  Breaking racial and gender barriers, they joined the men in the streets for rallies and parades.  In 1868, during a political campaign in Mississippi, black maids and cooks defiantly wore buttons portraying general grant when they went into the homes of their white employers.


The language of patriotism continue to speak in universal terms of equality and democracy, but conflicts and divisions deepened along racial line.  1877 Reconstruction irrevocably ended with the inauguration of Rutherford B. Hayes and the subsequent withdrawal of federal troops and Republican support for biracial government.  In 1883, the Supreme Court, by ruling the Civil rights Act of 1875 unconstitutional, allowed white Southerners to claim that “people of the United States have, by their suffrages, remitted to the Southern people, temporarily at least, control of the race question.

Bishop Turner issued his condemnation in A.M.E.'s weekly newspaper, the Christian Recorder: “It absolves the Negro's allegiance to the general government, makes the American flag to him a rag of contempt instead of liberty.  It reduces the majesty of the nation to an aggregation of ruffianism.... revise the Ku Klux Klan and white leaguers, resurrects the bludgeons, sets men to cursing and blaspheming God and man, and literally unties the devil.”

Benjamin Tanner, the newspaper's editor, insisted that black Americans had paid “as great a price as any, and greater than most: for liberty: “To say nothing of our enforced immigration and our passive suffering, we absolutely won the boon by helping fight the battles of '76, which made the Republic possible, the battles of '12, which made it respected, and the battles of '60, which made, as the glorious Sumner said, 'the nation national.'  We say, therefore, we have won the right of American citizenship, which no power on earth can make us willingly surrender.”


Deaf to constitutional appeals, the Supreme Court retreated from extending federal protection to anyone who suffered racial discrimination.  In 1896, the court upheld the South's introduction of a “separate but equal” policy in Plessy v.

Ferguson, opening the floodgates of discrimination and inequality as segregation regulations spread throughout the South.  The obstacle of Reconstruction removed, political and cultural space opened for building a New South that did not challenge the reassertion of white supremacy.

How A Rising Star Of White Nationalism Broke Free From The Movement


Derek Black was following in his father's footsteps in the world of white nationalism until he had a change of heart.

Matt McClain/The Washington Post via Getty Images

As the son of a grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, Derek Black was once the heir apparent of the white nationalist movement.

Growing up, he made speeches, hosted a radio show and started the website KidsStormfront — which acted as a companion to Stormfront, the white nationalist website his father, Don Black, created.

"The fundamental belief that drove my dad, drove my parents and my family, over decades, was that race was the defining feature of humanity ... and that people were only happy if they could live in a society that was only this one biologically defined racial group," Black says.

It was only after he began attending New College of Florida that Black began to question his own point of view. Previously, he had been home-schooled, but suddenly he was was exposed to people who didn't share his views, including a few Jewish students who became friends.

Black's new friends invited him over for Shabbat dinner week after week. Gradually, he began to rethink his views. After much soul-searching, a 22-year-old Black wrote an article, published by the Southern Poverty Law Center in 2013, renouncing white nationalism.

Derek Black's "awakening" is the subject of Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Eli Saslow's new book, Rising Out Of Hatred. Saslow also interviewed Black's father and other leaders in the white nationalist movement.

Interview Highlights

On the "rebranding" of white supremacy, led in part by Derek's father, Don Black

Derek Black: My dad popularized the term "white nationalism" ... when he founded Stormfront and called it a white nationalist community, and he saw the distinction between white nationalism and white supremacy as being one that he didn't want anything bad for anyone else — he just wanted everybody to be forcibly put in different spaces, and that that was not about superiority, it was just about the well-being of everybody. ... Looking back on it, that is totally irrational. How exactly do you think you're going to forcibly separate everybody and that that's not supremacy?

Eli Saslow: They believed America was founded as a white supremacist country. ... Their job was just to give people a space to say racist ideas in a more explicit, proud, confident way. ...

White nationalism, I think, effectively identifies a movement of people who are actively pursuing an end cause of separating races into different homelands. White supremacy, unfortunately, is something that's much more endemic, and much more structured into what the country is.

On Black's usage of white nationalist talking points in a campaign for the West Palm Beach County Republican Committee

Black: I knew from the time that I was a child that white nationalism, as long as it was not necessarily calling itself white nationalism, could win campaigns. So I did things like run little Republican county elections [to] demonstrate that I could win with the majority of the vote [using] white nationalist talking points in a very normal South Florida neighborhood.

I ran training sessions on how people could hone their message to try to get that audience, not freak people out and just tap into things like, "Don't you think all these Spanish signs on the highway are making everything worse? And don't you think political correctness is just not letting you talk about things that are real?" And getting people to agree on that would be the way forward.

On how President Obama's election motivated white nationalists

Saslow: I think a lot of white nationalists saw President Obama's election as a huge opportunity for their movement. Because what white nationalists have done, with dangerous effect, is play to this factually incorrect sense of grievance that exists, unfortunately, in large parts of white America.

Polls consistently show that 30 to 40 percent of white Americans believe that they experience more discrimination and more prejudice than people of color or than Jews, which is factually incorrect by every measure that we have. ... By feeding that sense of grievance and by playing to these ideas of your country is being taken away, [that] things are changing ... it's what got Derek elected [he was unable to serve in office], and it's what has gotten other politicians elected in our country as well.

On the responsibility Black feels for racially motivated violence that was inspired by the white nationalist beliefs he once espoused

I said things that tried to energize racist ideas and get people to be more explicit about it. And then people who listened to that and who believed it, some of them committed horrible, violent acts. ... That is a moral weight that is very difficult to reconcile.

Black: I spent so many years rationalizing that that was not us. We were not responsible for that. We were not advocating violence, so therefore when people committed violent acts who had all the same beliefs as us, that that was not us. That was the media portraying us in a way that attracted psychopaths, and that we were somehow not responsible for that because it was not clear how to tangibly connect what I was saying and what I was promoting to the actions that those people took.

And now I look back on it and I said things that tried to energize racist ideas and get people to be more explicit about it. And then people who listened to that and who believed it, some of them committed horrible, violent acts. And what is my culpability and responsibility for how these things went out into the world and they continue to bounce around in the world, and I can't take them back? That is a moral weight that is very difficult to reconcile.

On how the actions of various students Black met at college helped him move away from his white nationalist beliefs

Saslow: In addition to being the story of Derek's transformation, the book is also the story of the real courage shown by a lot of students on this campus who invested themselves in trying to affect profound change. And they did that in a lot of different ways. There was civil resistance on campus by a group of students who organized the school shutdown, and shut down the school, and sort of cast Derek out, and made it clear to him how awful, and how hateful, and how hurtful this ideology was.

And it was also students like Allison, eventually his girlfriend, who won his trust, built a relationship, but [who] also armored herself with the facts, and sort of like point by point went through and showed how this ideology is built on total misinformation.

And then there were also [Jewish] students like Matthew [Stevenson] and Moshe [Ash] who, in a remarkable act, invited Derek over week after week after week, not to build the case against him but to build their relationship, hoping that just by spending more and more time with them he would be able to begin seeing past the stereotypes to the people and to the humanity. ... I think it's important to note that that did not happen quickly, and that they knew the full horror of a lot of the beliefs of this ideology and the things that Derek had said.

Heidi Saman and Mooj Zadie produced and edited the audio of this interview. Bridget Bentz, Molly Seavy-Nesper and Meghan Sullivan adapted it for the Web.

In 'These Truths,' Historian Jill Lepore Asks If America Has Lived Up To Its Ideals

In this June 2, 2009 photo, the Statue of Liberty is seen in New York harbor. The crown is set to open July 4 after being closed since shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

In this June 2, 2009 photo, the Statue of Liberty is seen in New York harbor. The crown is set to open July 4 after being closed since shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

With Meghna Chakrabarti

American truths, not so self-evident. Historian Jill Lepore on why the tension between fact and fiction has been with us since the nation’s founding.


Jill Lepore, professor of American history at Harvard University and staff writer at the New Yorker. Author of the new book "These Truths: A History of the United States."

From The Reading List

NPR: "'These Truths' Looks At America Through The Promises Of Its Beginning" — "The title of Jill Lepore's new history of the United States should be instantly recognizable to all Americans.

"It comes from, of course, the second sentence of the Declaration of Independence: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.' It's hard to think of a single passage more emblematic of the American ethos.

"But has America lived up to the ideas of the founders of this country, many of whom failed to heed their own words in the first place? That's the question that forms the basis of Lepore's magnificent book. Or as she writes, 'The real dispute is between "these truths" and the course of events: Does American history prove these truths, or does it belie them?' "

Boston Globe: "The story of a less perfect union — and its original sin" — "The number of college students majoring in history is dropping. In the five years between 2012 and 2017, the fall off was more than 20 percent, according to the American Historical Association. Students are turning away from all the humanities, but most of all from the study of the past. Perhaps they think it is boring or irrelevant. I once asked a student at a college where I taught journalism to tell me the purpose of a liberal arts education. He replied, 'Networking?'

"These Truths," by Jill Lepore
"These Truths," by Jill Lepore

"College administrators wishing to lure students back to the history classroom might start by assigning Jill Lepore’s new chronicle of the United States. A Harvard history professor and New Yorker staff writer, Lepore writes that she means her book to 'double as an old-fashioned civics book,' and it does, except that it is everything those books were not: gripping, moving, and beautifully written."

The New Republic: "The Origins of America’s Enduring Divisions" — "'To write history is to make an argument by telling a story,' Jill Lepore once explained. And the argument a historian makes about America’s long, turbulent, and demographically complex past—from the arrival of the first European settlers in the sixteenth century to the triumph of Donald Trump—depends upon the story she chooses to tell. It’s the story of a white man’s empire, many scholars on the left contend, against which dissenters of all races and genders have struggled to create a truly democratic society. No, insist most conservatives, it’s a narrative of individuals striving for liberty, who got stymied, at times, by meddlesome progressives and riotous radicals. One group hopes to see America become great again; the other claims that such golden age thinking is a fantasy of the privileged."

This program aired on September 20, 2018.


Views: 76

Comment by mary gravitt on September 26, 2018 at 10:36am

Patriotism is more than a President thanking war Veterans for their service while damning African Americans for practicing the Civil Disobedience that made America great.  While Donald Trump dodged the draft for the Vietnam War, 25 percent of the dead were African Americans.  African Americans at the time form less than 12 percent of American society.  African Americans have fought in every manufactured American war since 1619 when the European settles Massacred Native Americans for their land. 

When the nation nearly split itself in two--emancipated African Americans held it together.  Now we are at a point where the Union is about to be pulled apart by the Race War that the White Americans have feared.  Not because of Blacks or any peoples-of-color, but due to the criminal mind of one man.


Comment by J.P. Hart on September 28, 2018 at 12:13pm

rags,riches,sad sad truth,Algiers,wakes,quakes hairdryers political flyers, mires, Macon,
was going to ask Digital Vega
if he writes with a turkey vulture quill, from time to time, his thoughts so nil
or when he stands on his roof, if he can see another home
lots of stairs
I have climbed
Cabrini Green
that crayola
lots of red
chromium yellow
swept glass
coarse salt
(strategic arms limitation talks)
like drag racing with Clare Booth Luce
not far north or's it NE?

(back room: Boulder Junction, WI)

>Hey hey Mary Gravitt! It's been quite a summer....Today per snapple, I lost my mirror shades, found a well dissolved contact lense in my water bottle, and took to the kelp-coup-later to quantify the 'make-work-make-believe' $ to bury all of the power lines. Yeah. From sea to shinning sea.

Comment by J.P. Hart on September 28, 2018 at 1:32pm

next thing you know,

there's a rose in

Spanish Harlem


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