Though they have been a prominent role in Southern rock for many years, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s legacy is not without criticism. The main focus of this is the current controversy over claims of racism, which has divided both supporters and detractors. The use of the Confederate flag by Lynyrd Skynyrd is at the heart of the dispute. The band widely displayed this insignia, which is frequently linked to racism and the Civil War’s aftermath, in both their live performances and merchandising. The band’s choice to first remove the flag and then put it back up in response to criticism from the public brought attention to how polarizing this emblem is and fanned claims of racism. During their 2012 interview with CNN regarding their album “Last of a Dyin’ Breed,” Lynyrd Skynyrd talked about why they chose not to fly the Confederate flag after realizing its connection to bigotry and division in American history.
Gary Rossington later clarified on the band’s website that the flag, in their view, represents Southern pride and heritage rather than bigotry or hate. He declared: “I wanted to make some clarifications on our recent CNN appearance regarding the Confederate Flag. All of the current and former members who are from the South, like me, are quite proud of our ancestry. We are aware of the Dixie flag’s history and symbolism; states’ rights was a major cause of the Civil War. We are and always will be a Southern American rock band first and foremost, and we still fly the Confederate (Rebel) flag on stage every night of our performances. Lynyrd Skynyrd’s musical roots are firmly ingrained in the blues, a genre that originated from African-American communities, despite the controversies surrounding the band. Blues culture is celebrated in songs like “The Ballad of Curtis Loew” from “Second Helping.” This feature of their music alludes to a more nuanced understanding of race than the charges would imply.
The song “Sweet Home Alabama” is commonly mentioned while talking about racism. Critics claim that the song’s lyrics glorify Alabama’s troubled past and endorse a racist governor. A closer reading of the lyrics, nevertheless, indicates that the song’s racial overtones might not be as clear-cut as first thought. The fact that the band was formed in Jacksonville, Florida rather than Alabama, lends even more context to the conversation. Lynyrd Skynyrd’s direction was drastically changed by the horrific plane disaster in 1977. Some saw the band’s reunification as a break from the previous lineup’s philosophy, with Ronnie’s brother Johnny Van Zant leading the new lineup. The public’s opinion of the band’s views on race and culture was also affected by this shift in the group’s makeup and image. Thus, differing perspectives from fans, reviewers, and cultural observers feed the controversy around Lynyrd Skynyrd’s legacy. Some criticize the band for being misinterpreted and citing their blues inspirations and homages to African-American culture, while others defend them for their usage of Confederate iconography and certain lyrics and call them racist.