By Sheryl Estrada
UPDATE (4:15 pm 6/22/15): South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley announced that she will call on state lawmakers to move the Confederate flag from state grounds. Lawmakers are expected to debate the issue and vote in the coming weeks.
Following racist gunman Dylann Roof’s mass murder of nine members of Charleston’s historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, the debate to remove the Confederate flag from South Carolina’s capitol grounds is now at the forefront.
Online photos have surfaced of Roof holding a Confederate flag and gun, and his car had a Confederate flag license plate. (There was also a photo on hisFacebook pageof him wearing the flags of defunct white supremacist regimes in Rhodesia and South Africa.)
Graham will make his announcement during a press conference with South Carolina’s Republican governor, Nikki Haley, at 4 p.m.
He said last week that it was Roof to blame for the killings, not the flag, and that the flag is appropriate for South Carolina.
“It works here, that’s what the statehouse agreed to do,”he said. “You could probably visit other places in the country near some symbol that doesn’t quite strike you right.”
South Carolina State Rep. Norman D. Brannon also wants to take the flag down:
“The flag is kind of like algae in a lake,” he said. “It’s just barely under the surface, everybody knows it’s there, but unless something like this happens, nobody talks about it. What lit the fire under this was the tragic death of my friend and his eight parishioners. It took my buddy’s death to get me to do this. I should feel ashamed of myself.”
Brannon was friends with State Sen. Clementa C. Pinckney who was murdered in the mass shooting Wednesday, and he said he is going to introduce a bill in the next session of the Legislature to remove the Confederate flag from South Carolina’s statehouse.
Mayor of Charleston Joseph P. Riley Jr. is urging state leaders that the flag should go into a museum.
“It sends at best mixed messages, and at worst, for hateful people like Roof, it’s an affirmation,” Riley said. “They have appropriated something and used it as a symbol of hatred.”
TheConfederate flag represents the South’s defense of slavery and segregation.Activists have contested the flag for decades. Back in 2000, they were successful in getting the flag moved from the dome of the Capitol building, where it was placed in 1962, to a memorial of Confederate soldiers. However, that memorial is still located on the statehouse grounds, and activists have made it their goal to take the flag down completely.
According to a 2011 Pew Research Center poll, “Civil War at 150: Still Relevant, Still Divisive,” there is more of a negative response to the flag than positive:
A majority (58 percent) say they have no particular reaction to the Confederate flag, the symbol of the South. Among those who have a reaction to the flag, more than three times as many say they have a negative reaction as a positive reaction (30 percent to 9 percent).
NAACP President Cornell Brooks said at a news conference on Friday the flag needs to be removed:
The flag has to come down. This was not merely a mass shooting, not merely a matter of gun violence. This was a racial hate crime, and must be confronted as such. We say this not because we’re trying to sow division, but rather because we’re trying to sow unity a unity of purpose, a unity of commitment, a unity of resolve so that we confront the racism in our midst. And that means, certainly symbolically, we cannot have the Confederate flag waving in the state capitol.
The Confederate flag, which is touted by supporters as representing heritage, was adopted as a battle flag by the Army of Northern Virginia under General Lee. However, it is actually not one of the three national flags that were used to represent the Confederate nation during the Civil War, the first called “Stars and Bars.” The flag at the center of debate was only associated with the Confederacy after the South lost the Civil War, and is also known as the “rebel flag.”
There was a revival of the Confederate flag in the 1940s. In 1948, the segregationist Dixiecrat party ushered in the use of the battle flag as a symbol of resistance to government. The Ku Klux Klan (KKK) then used the flag to support their agenda of hate. Though not the group’s official flag, it had a substantial influence on the symbolism of the Confederate flag. In the 1960s, the flag was also used by white separatists in the South.
In 1956 a redesign of Georgia’s state flag incorporated the Confederate flag. Though the state changed its flag in 2013, Mississippi’s state flag still contains a Confederate emblem.
Just last week, on June 18, The Supreme Court ruled that Texas is free to reject a proposed design by the Sons of Confederate Veterans that features the Confederate flag, saying that messages used on specialized license plates are a form of government speech.
Politicians also have taken to social media to voice their opinions. On Saturday, former GOP presidential candidate and former governor of Massachusetts Mitt Romney posted a message on Twitter:
Mitt Romney (@MittRomney) June 20, 2015
President Barack Obama replied:
Good point, Mitt. https://t.co/Ryusfp8Xbh
President Obama (@POTUS) June 21, 2015
“The president has said before he believes the Confederate flag belongs in a museum, and that is still his position,” a White House spokesman Eric Schultz said.