The Charleston tragedy has sparked controversy over whether or not the Confederate flag should fly at the state’s capitol, even causing the hashtag #ConfederateFlag to trend on social media. While many people, perhaps most notably South Carolina governor Nikki Haley, have now called to remove the flag because of the racism and hatred it signifies, this is not the first time this debate has been brought to light. And prior to the South Carolina shooting, many citizens, including politicians, did not feel as strongly as they do now about what the flag symbolizes.
In 1994, a vote to remove the flag was passed by the State senate but the House never voted, so action was never taken. Several more attempts in the 1990s to take the flag down proved to be in vain.
But throughout the 1990s, the flag had many prominent political supporters. In 1999, former state Sen. Joe Wilson deemed it “offensive” that people associated the flag with a “Holocaust era-type description,” calling Southern and Confederate heritage “very honorable.” Former State Sen. Glenn McConnell was also vehemently opposed to removing the flag: “This state is not going to succumb to economic terrorism. We are a democratic government and don’t take dictates well.”
According to legislators, however, despite the age-old views of these politicians, the flag was supposed to be taken down in 1966 after the Civil War centennial celebrations were over. George Campsen, a former state Rep. who was in favor of the flag being flown in the initial 1962 vote, called it a “mere oversight or omission” that the flag was never taken down. And according to the Charlotte Observer, 48 legislators who wanted the flag flown in the 1960s eventually signed a petition to have it taken down (at this time, less than 70 of the original 170 signers were still alive).
It is unclear why this “oversight” went unnoticed for almost half a century. It was not until Sen. John Courson came around that any type of compromise was reached: the flag was removed from its initial location and instead moved to the grounds, in a less prominent area, in 2000.
For a long time, the flag’s placement at the capitol or symbolism in general didn’t concern a lot of people. According to a 2013 poll, most white Americans didn’t even view the flag as a symbol of racism only 22 percent felt this way. The majority, 42 percent, viewed it as “Southern Pride”; 18 percent said they felt the flag viewed it as an equal representation of both ideas, and 18 percent also said they were not sure.
However, the response was different among Black people who were polled. The majority of those polled, 38 percent, saw the flag as racist. 28 percent believed it equally symbolized racism and Southern pride. 20 percent were not sure, and just 14 percent saw it as southern pride.
When asked if the flag should fly in public places, the majority of all Americans have always said no, but not a very large majority just 38 percent. 34 percent had no opinion, 20 percent approved of the flag flying in public, and 8 percent were not sure.
Many politicians in today’s era do not hold the same views as those who were prominent in the 1960s and 1990s. Many of the presidential candidates have agreed with Governor Haley in her call to remove the flag. And while some believe it is not their place to make that decision, saying it should be left up to the state, none of them had expressed outright support for the flag to remain at the capitol.
The same poll conducted in 2013 would likely yield very different responses today. However, despite the changing views of many Americans, this “mere oversight” has only been revisited after a horrible tragedy.