South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley has called on state legislators to bring down the Confederate flag from the grounds of the State House, a move that earlier this month was so politically toxic that Republican politicians were loath to discuss removing it.
It’s part of our history, they said. It’s part of our culture, they said. In saying that, they were brushing aside those who called the Confederate flag an offensive reminder of the South’s racist history.
Impossible to brush aside was the massacre at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church last week in Charleston, South Carolina that left nine black parishioners dead. The man who confessed to the shooting, Dylann Roof, has since surfaced in numerous photos displaying the Confederate flag.
Those photos served as a reminder that despite whatever calls to Southern heritage the flag may invoke, it has long been used as a divisive and racist symbol.
But while discussion on the Confederate flag has rarely been more prevalent, there are a lot people who don’t know about the controversial flag.
The flag in question never was the flag of the Confederacy
The Confederate States of America had three flags, though not one of those flags is the one that flies on the grounds of the South Carolina State House. That flag was the battle flag of Confederate General Robert E. Lee and actually was rejected as the official flag of the Confederacy.
It did not become a symbol of racism until nearly 100 years after the Civil War
Negative interpretations of the Confederate flag often summon images of slavery and racism in 19th Century America, but after the Civil War the flag served mainly as a commemoration of fallen soldiers at veterans’ events, PBS reported.
In 1948, the Dixiecrat party adopted the flag and it gradually became used as a symbol for segregationists.
California has banned the flag
While five Southern states have laws that ban desecration of the Confederate flag — unenforceable because the Supreme Court says flag-desecration is protected as free speech — California has a law that bans the state government from displaying or selling merchandise bearing the Confederate flag, according to PBS.
The states with laws protecting the flag are Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and South Carolina.
Many associate the flag with Southern culture rather than racism or slavery
Driving on highways and backroads in the South, it’s not rare to see the Confederate flag on license plates and bumper stickers. While extremists have used the flag to spread hate, many Southerners view the flag as an extension of regional culture: Southern hospitality, biscuits and gravy, country music, NASCAR, sweet tea, Spanish moss, and many others.
The Confederate flag in South Carolina can’t be lowered without legislative approval
The state of South Carolina received a lot of criticism after last week’s shooting because the Confederate flag remained at full-staff while the American and state flags were lowered to half-staff.
After the flag war moved from the dome of the State House to the House grounds in 2000, any change to the flag requires legislative approval. South Carolina’s legislature was not in session last week.
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