Less than a week after the shooting at a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina, a national movement to ban the Confederate Flag has begun. The push to ban the flag has been swift and effective, gaining traction amongst citizens after shooting suspect Dylann Roof was shown in photographs with depictions of the Confederate Flag. The flag, which has been existence in some form since 1861, holds different meaning for multiple groups of Americans. Many view the flag as a reminder of slavery and a symbol of the nation’s persistent racism. Others view it as a symbol of Southern pride and tradition. The debate as to whether the flag should continue being flown has existed since at least the end of the Civil War, but last week’s shooting has quickly sped up the process of calling for its removal.
The debate began near the location of the shooting, where the Confederate battle flag flies on South Carolina’s Capitol ground. In this time of mourning over a shooting with racially-charged motives, South Carolina residents began calling for an end to what they view as a symbol of the state’s divided past. South Carolina politicians were forced to comment on the issue, with people like U.S. Senator and 2016 presidential candidate Lindsey Graham initially stating the flag was a “part of who we are.” “The flag represents to some people a civil war, and that was the symbol of one side,” Graham said, according to Politico. “To others, it’s a racist symbol and it’s been used by people in a racist way. The problems we’re having in South Carolina and around the world aren’t because of a symbol, but because of what’s in people’s hearts.”
Graham has since changed his tune, aligning with a bipartisan group of South Carolina lawmakers calling for its removal. According to NBC News, the decision to vote on the issue of the flag later this summer passed by a vote of 103-10 in the South Carolina House and by a voice vote in the Senate. South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley also announced her support for the flag’s removal, stating the flag, “while an integral part of our past, does not represent the future of our great state.” Regardless of the initial reaction by politicians like Graham, legislators appear to be responding to the wishes of protestors in their state.
While it seems as if legislators will likely heed the call of the people and remove the flag from Capitol grounds, the debate has advanced far beyond South Carolina’s borders. As CNN reports, major stores like Walmart, Amazon, Sears and eBay have announced that they will no longer continue selling Confederate flag-related merchandise. eBay spokesperson Johanna Hoff described the flag as a “contemporary symbol of divisiveness and racism.”
Politicians outside of South Carolina also commented on the issue. Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, for instance, referred to the flag as “inescapably a symbol of human bondage and slavery, and particularly when people use it obviously for murder and to justify hate so vicious that you would kill somebody.” Most other Republican presidential candidates have called for the flag’s removal in South Carolina, even Rick Perry. Mike Huckabee, however, according to NPR, said the debate was “not an issue for someone running for president."
There are, inevitably, still arguments in support of the Confederate Flag. Part of the reason in delaying the South Carolina vote, as Associated Press reports, is that some lawmakers believe this week of grieving is not the right time to examine the issue. The Confederate flag has defined Southern heritage for decades, serving to some as a way to remember the Confederate soldiers who died in battle during the Civil War. It is, in fact, associated with a war memorial on South Carolina's Capitol grounds. It is theoretically possible to own Confederate Flag related paraphernalia without necessarily holding racist or white supremacist views.
The Confederate flag has been flying on South Carolina Capitol grounds for more than forty years. It took one horrific incident to rally the people to enact true change. That’s a trend that’s been occurring much more often lately — as protests over police brutality and other issues have accelerated legislation in Congress and other forms of government. Regardless of what anyone says about the flag’s history or representation of Southern culture, it’s obvious that people are ready for the use of its symbolism to end. Mississippi’s flag — which prominently and proudly features Confederate symbolism — will likely be the next to be changed. The will of the people is readily apparent: the Confederate Flag is a racist symbol that should no longer be tolerated. It is, of course, slightly disconcerting that it took a mass killing for this movement to begin. Those who truly feel the flag represents Southern heritage should be given a fair chance to give a reasonable argument against the court of public opinion, but it’s clear that they’ll likely end up on the unpopular side of the overall consensus.
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