Professor gives speech on history behind Confederate flag

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CHARLESTON, Ill. (WCIA) — A guest speaker came to Eastern Illinois University to share historical facts behind the Confederate flag and why it’s become so controversial in the U.S. 

This was the inagural EIU Presidental Lecture. The room was packed from wall to wall. The first guest was a history professor from Louisiana State University. Gaines Foster spoke in depth about how peoples’ view of the flag has been shaped by historical events. 

Foster says, “It is a symbol of the confederacy and the confederacy was an attempt to maintain slavery and white supremacy. You can’t get away from that.” 

The audience got a history lesson that started with the Civil War and how the flag has continued to cause contention today. 

Foster says, “My overwhelming argument is that these fights are about grievances in American society and attitudes towards race more than they are a continuing battle of the Civil War.”

Lucas Voudrie came to hear the lecture. He’s a history teacher, hoping to apply what he learned to help his students. He says, “It’s a very emotional issue that people take it very different meanings from. So you need to get a general understanding of how to approach how everybody sees the issue.”

Gaines’ speech focused on a clear distinction. He says, “One of the things that fascinates me about the perception of the confederate flag is how little it has to do with the Civil War anymore. The polling data on attitudes toward the flag show that there’s a regional split that’s clearly a racial split. Blacks and whites think of the flag differently.”

In the end, he wanted people listening to gain a perspective they may not have recognized before. 
Foster says, “I hope they have a little better understanding of the Civil War and how it does and doesn’t function in contemporary society and a better understanding of the problems that American society that is behind these flags that we need to address.” 

Gaines also talked about how in the 1950’s and 60’s the flag also became a symbol of the preservation of segregation in the face of the civil rights movement and how that has tied the flag even more to white supremacy than other confederate symbols. 

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