The Confederate battle flag outside the South Carolina State House in Columbia was removed Friday, following a vote by state lawmakers to remove the flag after a white gunman who had posed with Confederate flags was charged with killing state senator Clementa Pinckney and eight other African Americans during Bible study at the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston on June 17.
While calls to remove the Confederate flag from state property and store shelves have intensified since the Charleston shootings, such efforts are not new. In 1952, W. E. B. Du Bois wrote, “To me, naturally, the stars and bars of the Confederacy are more than insult, they are threat, because they signify the slavery of four million Negro slaves whose descendants number 15-million second class citizens today.”
After South Carolina leaders raised the battle flag over the Statehouse dome in 1961 to mark the 100th anniversary of the Civil War and express official opposition to the civil rights movement, African American lawmakers led a fight to remove the flag. In 2000, it was moved to a 30-foot pole next to the Statehouse, near a statue of Benjamin Tillman, the South Carolina governor and U.S. senator who proudly described how he undermined post-Civil War Reconstruction by killing Black people who tried to vote in the 1800s.
In 1956, Georgia’s state flag design was changed to prominently incorporate the battle flag in protest against the Supreme Court’s decision in Board v. Brown of Education. In 2001, lawmakers created a new flag that featured the state seal against a blue background with smaller images of the older, Confederate-inspired flags beneath it; but two years later, a new Republican governor signed a bill restoring the flag inspired by the Confederate stars-and-bars flag.
A week after the Charleston killings, Alabama Governor Robert Bentley ordered the removal of four Confederate banners from an 88-foot-tall Confederate monument at the state Capitol. The Mobile City Council last week voted unanimously to remove the Confederate flag and other banners from the city’s seal. The battle flag is also part of the seal used by the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency and the governor’s office; Rev. Robert Shanklin of the Huntsville, Alabama, chapter of the NAACP said he wants the flag removed from Alabama State Troopers’ uniforms and patrol vehicles.
In Tennessee, Memphis officials are working to move the remains and a statue of slave trader and Ku Klux Klan founder Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest out of a prominent park.
Last week, Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives were unsuccessful in their attempt to allow displays of the Confederate battle flag in federal cemeteries on Confederate memorial day, which is celebrated in nine states, and to permit the sale of Confederate flag souvenirs. “There’s not any room on federal property for the display of the Confederate battle flag,” said civil rights leader and Representative John Lewis, Democrat of Georgia. “It represents the dark past as a symbol of separation, a symbol of division, a symbol of hate.”
The state flag of Mississippi has incorporated the Confederate battle flag since 1894, and during a statewide election in 2001, voters decided by a nearly 2-to-1 margin to keep it. Republican Governor Phil Bryant and Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeves have said they stand by those election results, and Bryant has refused to call a special session to consider removing the flag.
“A backlash is beginning,” said Ben Jones, a spokesman for the Sons of Confederate Veterans, which represents 30,000 descendants of Confederate soldiers. “We are putting flags out. Everyone time one is taken down, we put five or six of them up.” Jones, a former Congressman from Georgia who starred in the hit 1980s TV comedy series “The Dukes of Hazzard,” said his show-themed stores have been selling out of Confederate flag merchandise.
Walmart, Amazon, eBay, and Sears have announced bans on the sale of Confederate flag merchandise, which has led to a dramatic increase in sales from vendors like RebelStore.com. North Carolina’s Department of Motor Vehicles recently sold out of specialty license plates featuring the Confederate flag, and has ordered more.
On Sunday, an eight-mile convoy of about 2000 vehicles from states across the South and as far away as California, mostly motorcycles and trucks displaying the flag, drove through Ocala, Florida. Some 4500 people came out to show support for the Confederate flag and for Marion County leaders’ decision to overrule the removal of the flag from a government complex, where it is now flying again.