Charleston and the Confederate Flag


Confederate rally at Stone Mountain Park, Georgia, 2015.
(© BRANDEN CAMP/epa/Corbis.)

On June 17, 2015, nine African American congregants were shot to death at the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. The gunman, a young white man, sat with the churchgoers for an hour as they prayed together before he opened fire. He was motivated by a narrative of racial bigotry and white supremacy symbolized by the Confederate battle flag flying proudly in front of South Carolina’s statehouse.

The NAACP and other African American leaders demanded that South Carolina acknowledge the Confederate flag as an “emblem of hate” and remove it from the capitol, and on July 10, 2015, the flag was moved to a nearby Confederate museum.

On June 24, 2015, in response to national pressure, Alabama removed the Confederate flag from the capitol grounds. Although an 88-foot-tall Confederate monument remains there – just one of 59 Confederate markers in the state capital – hundreds of white Alabamians gathered in Montgomery on June 27 to protest the flag’s removal, alleging cultural genocide and holding signs proclaiming that “Southern Lives Matter.” Across the South, some 132 Confederate rallies took place within six weeks of the Charleston shooting, including a Ku Klux Klan rally at the South Carolina statehouse demanding the flag’s return.

Southern states continue to glorify other symbols of resistance to racial equality; they honor the architects and defenders of slavery by celebrating Confederate Memorial Day, Jefferson Davis’s birthday, and (on Martin Luther King’s birthday) Robert E. Lee Day.