Gov. Nikki Haley of South Carolina acted in the interest of her state and the nation on Monday when she called on the Legislature to remove the Confederate battle flag from the State Capitol grounds, after a white man charged with killing nine African-Americans was seen waving the flag in photographs.
Ms. Haley avoided the long-running controversy over the flag in the days after the massacre at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston. But on Monday, in acknowledging that this horrendous act of violence required a new response, she said, “The State House is different, and the events of this past week call upon us to look at this in a different way.”
Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr. of Charleston, a voice of sanity throughout this tragedy, framed the matter in exactly the right way when he said that, even though the battle flag symbolized “Southern pride” to some people, it had a much more sinister meaning to others. “When it is so often used as a symbol of hate,” he said, “of defiance to civil rights, to equal rights, equality among the races, a symbol used by the Klan, a symbol you saw at every protest event during times of integration and racial progress, then, in front of the State Capitol, for those who harbor any of those kinds of feelings — and we hope they are very few — it nonetheless sends the wrong kind of message.”
Those who have defended keeping the Confederate flag flying at the Capitol have often described it as merely a commemoration to the Civil War dead. But as the writer K. Michael Prince documents in “Rally ’Round the Flag, Boys!,” flags were not used in this way at the Confederate memorial on the Capitol grounds in the late 19th or early 20th centuries. Only in later decades was the flag introduced — and steadily elevated in importance — to bolster the idea of white supremacy at moments when South Carolina’s Jim Crow-era government came under federal pressure to allow black citizens even nominal civil rights.
Hence, the Confederate battle flag was displayed in the South Carolina State House in 1938, after angry Southerners in Congress managed to defeat a bill that would have made lynching a federal crime. They saw that law as an intrusion on what was often called “the Southern way of life.” The flag was brought into the State Senate two years after the Supreme Court struck down school segregation in Brown v. Board of Education.
The flag was quietly moved up to a position of pride on the dome on the Capitol in 1962, after President John F. Kennedy called on Congress to end poll taxes and literacy tests for voting and the Supreme Court struck down segregation in public transportation. By this time, of course, the flag had been closely associated with racial tyranny.
Over the next four decades, the South Carolina Legislature conducted its business under the Confederate battle flag. Anger over the issue peaked in the late 1990s when the N.A.A.C.P. announced an economic boycott of the state, and presidential candidates were peppered with questions on the topic.
In 2000, the state’s legislators removed the flag from the Capitol dome as well as from their chambers and placed a smaller version on a flagpole near the Confederate memorial. Those who remembered the days of racial terror continued to bristle at the presence of the flag. Those memories returned with full force when photos circulated showing Dylann Roof, the 21-year-old man charged in the church massacre, waving this flag. Friends say he had long espoused a white supremacist ideology.
Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican presidential candidate from South Carolina, who initially said the flag was “part of who we are,” urged the Legislature to remove the flag from the Capitol grounds. He said, “I hope that, by removing the flag, we can take another step toward healing and recognition — and a sign that South Carolina is moving forward.” State lawmakers who must vote on removing it need to do that now and show the nation they understand the pain this symbol of hate and brutality causes to this day.
Source: The New York Times