Yesterday South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley announced that the Confederate flag flying over the state capitol should be removed. Governor Haley joined a growing number of political leaders from both parties calling for the removal of the Confederate flag.
COLUMBIA, S.C. — Gov. Nikki R. Haley called on Monday for South Carolina to do what just a week ago seemed politically impossible — remove the Confederate battle flag from its perch in front of the State House building here. She argued that a symbol long revered by many Southerners was for some, after the church massacre in Charleston, a “deeply offensive symbol of a brutally offensive past.” “The events of this week call upon us to look at this in a different way,” said Ms. Haley, an Indian-American, who is the first member of an ethnic minority to serve as governor of the state as well as the first woman. She spoke at an afternoon news conference, surrounded by Democratic and Republican lawmakers including both of the state’s United States senators, Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott, an African-American. “Today we are here in a moment of unity in our state, without ill will, to say it’s time to move the flag from the capitol grounds,” she said. It was a dramatic turnabout for Ms. Haley, a second-term Republican governor who over her five years in the job has displayed little interest in addressing the intensely divisive issue of the flag. But her new position demonstrated the powerful shock that last Wednesday’s killings at Emanuel A.M.E. Church have delivered to the political status quo, mobilizing leaders at the highest levels.
Removing the flag requires a two thirds vote of each chamber of the South Carolina state legislature. Some members have already stated that they will vote not to remove the flag. Protestors have been very vocal about the removal of the flag since the murders of Reverend Clementa Pinckney and eight church members of Mother Emanuel AME Church last week at the hands of white terrorist Dylann Roof. Many people think of the flag as an old relic from the days of slavery in the Confederate South while supporters of the flag feel that it’s a part of their Southern heritage. The Confederate flag hasn’t always been flown at the State Capitol. According to Time Magazine:
South Carolina has not always flown the flag. The state’s first modern hoisting of the standard came in 1961, as part of official commemorations of the centennial anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War. As K. Michael Prince notes in his book about the relationship between the state and the flag, Rally ’round the Flag, Boys!, the celebrations kicked off in Charleston, where the fighting had begun 100 years earlier. The flag’s place at the Capitol was officially confirmed by the state legislature the following year. Still many historians say the appearance of the flag likely had a more nefarious purpose: to symbolize Southern defiance in the face of a burgeoning Civil Rights Movement. The move was, TIME later noted, “a states’-rights rebuff to desegregation.” “The Confederate flag symbolizes more than the civil war and the slavery era,” wrote James Forman Jr. a professor at Yale Law School, in a law journal article about the flag’s history at state capitols. “The flag has been adopted knowingly and consciously by government officials seeking to assert their commitment to black subordination.”
Included in Dylann Roof’s manifesto was a picture of him waving the Confederate flag and burning the American flag. Last week former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney tweeted that the flag should be removed. Before Governor Haley made her announcement many Republican presidential candidates felt that the removal of the flag was a state issue. Today it was announced that many businesses including WalMart, Ebay, Amazon and Sears would stop selling Confederate flag merchandise.
Entering a debate that has played out for years mostly in the political realm, many of the nation’s largest retailers abruptly decided this week to stop selling merchandise tied to the Confederate battle flag. One by one, beginning with Walmart on Monday night, companies including Sears/Kmart, eBay, Amazon, Etsy and Google Shopping disavowed, sometimes in strong moral terms, merchandise that has been sold quietly for decades. “We have decided to prohibit Confederate flags and many items containing this image because we believe it has become a contemporary symbol of divisiveness and racism,” eBay said in a statement, echoing the sentiments of others in the aftermath of the fatal shooting last week of nine black parishioners in a South Carolina church and the arrest of a white suspect.
Despite the news that some companies will stop selling Confederate flag merchandise sales of the flags are booming. The reasons vary from people stocking up for Southern pride to those who want to buy the flag to burn.
The reasons for the purchases varied significantly. One customer at a small Georgia shop told the owner she wanted to line her front yard with Confederate flags. Mr. Van de Putte said a black man had come into Dixie Flags on Monday with his young daughter seeking to buy the biggest Confederate flag in the store. He said he was buying it to burn it.
I’m glad to see the protest against the Confederate flag which is also known as the Battle Flag of Northern Virgina. I never understood why any state would fly a Confederate flag over their state capitol instead of the American flag. The Confederate flag has too much negative history. It may be a source of Southern pride and a cultural symbol for some but it later became the symbol for the Ku Klux Klan and white supremacist groups. The flag was also used by states in defiance of the federal government.
In 1948, Strom Thurmond’s States’ Rights Party adopted the Battle Flag of Northern Virginia as a symbol of defiance against the federal government. What precisely required such defiance? The president’s powers to enforce civil rights laws in the South, as represented by the Democratic Party’s somewhat progressive platform on civil rights. Georgia adopted its version of the flag design in 1956 to protest the Supreme Court’s ruling against segregated schools, in Brown v. Board of Education. The flag first flew over the state capitol in South Carolina in 1962, a year after George Wallace raised it over the grounds of the legislature in Alabama, quite specifically to link more aggressive efforts to integrate the South with the trigger of secession 100 years before — namely, the storming of occupied Fort Sumter by federal troops. Fort Sumter, you might recall, is located at the mouth of Charleston Harbor.
As President Obama stated the Confederate flag belongs in a museum, not in front of a statehouse.