Lynyrd Skynyrd Stirs Up Confederate Flag Controversy: Experts Weigh In
Throughout their history, legendary southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd has often used the Confederate Flag as part of its imagery, but it seems that may be changing. There is currently just one item with a Confederate design in their online store — a “Lynyrd Skynyrd Jr. t-shirt” — and it’s in the “sale” area, listing for $6.98.
In a recent interview with CNN, guitarist/founding member Gary Rossington said that hate groups like skinheads and the KKK have “kidnapped” the Confederate Flag, and that the band wouldn’t be using it in their imagery in the future. In the same interview, singer Johnny Van Zant stressed that the flag never had any kind of racist symbolism within the band, pointing out that their biggest influences include African-American blues singers and Ray Charles. Rossington then said, “We’re proud to be American,” and as such, are more comfortable displaying the American flag.
A wave of negative fan reaction followed. Rossington then took to the band’s Facebook page to clarify his position saying that the band “Are all extremely proud of our heritage and being from the South. We know what the Dixie flag represents and its heritage; the Civil War was fought over States rights. We still utilize the Confederate (Rebel) flag on stage every night in our shows, we are and always will be a Southern American Rock band, first and foremost.”
(Lynyrd Skynyrd/ photo credit: Geoff Burke, Getty Images)
Reaction from Skynyrd fans has been mixed, with over 3,000 comments following the Facebook post at press time. Some fans were adamant that the flag should remain a part of the band’s imagery, maintaining that the flag doesn’t, or shouldn’t, have any racist implications. Many of these comments mentioned that the flag symbolizes southern culture, and honors the struggle for state’s rights (as Rossington alluded to in his Facebook post).
Comments included: “The Confederate (battle) flag was never RAISED for hate, but against Northern aggression and the rights of Southern States.”
And, more bluntly, “I’ve been a fan ever since the band began, and I have every Skynyrd album that has ever been released. If Skynyrd drops the flag, I’ll drop Skynyrd.”
(Lynyrd Skynyrd “Last Of A Dyin’ Breed” cover)
Still others feel that the band has done the right thing by downplaying the flag’s imagery: “It certainly is/was a part of the Southern Heritage,” read one comment on Skynyrd’s Facebook wall. “But the link to slavery is undeniable. State’s rights was indeed an large issue/cause of the Civil war, but in truth the right the southern states were most concerned with was the right to own slaves…especially in plantation states like Virgina, South Carolina, Mississippi. The economies of those states were dependent upon the free slave labor.”
One fan on Twitter pointed out that the band’s late leader, singer and lyricist, Ronnie Van Zant, might have agreed with the band’s course of action: “If I recall correctly Ronnie VZ was not so happy with stars and bars, The Music doesn’t need it, it stands alone.”
CBS Local spoke to two political bloggers, one from each side of the political fence. Bill Buck is a Democratic strategist and President of the Buck Communications Group, a media relations and new media strategies consulting business based in Washington, DC. His comment on the matter: “This country has one flag, and it is a flag of unity. The Confederate flag has been used by hate groups for over a century because the fact of the matter is that the fight for ‘states rights’ was the fight to enslave people. No one was fighting and dying over Medicare block grants or highway money. People did fight and die for equality and the end of Jim Crow. The Confederate flag served as a symbol of opposition. The Confederate flag always will be a symbol of slavery, hate and division. There is plenty of southern history to be proud of. The Confederate flag, however, is nothing to be proud of.”
Scott Paulson, who writes political commentary for Examiner.com and teaches English at a community college in the Chicago area, has a different point of view: “Gary Rossington gave his personal reasons for the display of the flag, and it is his right to display it. While his reasoning of ‘Heritage – not Hate’ is an appropriate explanation, he is still offending many with the symbol of our nation’s past segregation. If I were him, I would address the offensiveness by flying the American flag solo. As he said himself, ‘At the end of the day, we’re all Americans.’ So why not symbolize all of us together with our one American flag.”
It’s worth noting that the Confederate flag has not appeared on a Lynyrd Skynyrd album cover since 1988’s Lynyrd Skynyrd Live: Southern By The Grace Of God. While many items at the band’s online store feature imagery that include the American flag, the aforementioned “Lynyrd Skynyrd Jr.” shirt in the “sale” area is the last piece of merchandise with the Rebel flag. As of now, it doesn’t seem like there will be any more t-shirts sporting that logo. What remains to be seen is if the fans will keep buying merchandise – and music, and tickets – from the band in the future.
— Brian Ives, CBS Local