Less than a week after a 21-year-old white avowed racist massacred nine people at the historic Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, Gov. Nikki Haley called for the removal of the Confederate battle flag that flies on the grounds of the state Capitol.
Life in America will not change if the flag comes down. But it’s time for the South to bury the Confederacy and remove this offensive symbol that revives unpleasant memories and resentments from a regrettable past.
The wanton, senseless killing of those church members was a despicable, barbaric and unforgiveable act. Adding insult to injury, because South Carolina state law expressly prohibits lowering of the rebel flag, it defiantly flew on the capital dome even after the American flag was lowered to half-staff in memory of the slain church members.
Gov. Haley’s appeal to the Legislature is one of many attempts over the years to remove one of the enduring visible symbols of racial oppression. It follows demands by protestors, which grew louder after the discovery of shooter Dylann Roof’s manifesto glorifying white supremacy and included photos of Roof posing with the Confederate flag.
But America should keep this issue in perspective.
Although all the attention is on South Carolina, we should be remindful that Confederate symbolism still adorns many official state flags in the South in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. Some states, like Georgia and Mississippi, have seen fierce political battles over explicit Confederate imagery.
Georgia, for one, incorporated the rebel design in 1956 in protest of the Supreme Court’s Brown vs. Board of Education ruling which rendered segregation unconstitutional. It was raised over the Alabama Capital in 1961 to coincide with the Civil War Centenary.
Some years ago, a controversy developed on the campus of the University of Tennessee (aka, the Volunteers) over the use of the rebel flag during ceremonies and sports events.
Supporters of the flag say it represents pride in Southern identity, a symbol of Southern heritage. But those who want it removed maintain it is a symbol of slavery and black oppression; that racism and subjugation are forever entwined in that heritage and history.
Others contend we shouldn’t allow repulsive language or reprehensible displays to define who we are, or to have hyper-emotional reactions even when they are shoved in our face.
Arguably, bringing down the Confederate flag is, at best, a diversion. It neither restores the lives of the unfortunate victims nor moderates the beliefs of racists or bigots. Its removal would be in itself another symbolic gesture with no major consequence.
Displaying the Confederate flag at a private residence, on a tee shirt, a hat or on a bumper sticker is, of course, a form of free speech protected under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. As such, the embrace of this liberty means there will be times when we have to do a gut check and endure utterances and the display of symbols we find degrading and offensive.
That said, it is past the time that America should be subjected to and be reminded this is the flag slaveholders carried into the battle during the Civil War. The image of the star-spangled St. Andrews cross on a red field is a distasteful reminder of a repulsive time most of us would just as soon forget. It has historical significance, but nothing more. Its likeness does not belong on government buildings.
The South will not rise again – the Civil War is history. The South Carolina Legislature should move quickly to bring down a symbol that least represents the sentiments of the majority of Americans.