Walmart (one of DiversityInc’s 25 Noteworthy Companies) announced Monday night that it was pulling all Confederate-themed merchandise from its shelves, and by lunchtime Tuesday, the nation’s largest retailer was joined by Sears, eBay and Amazon in banning the Confederate flag and related products.
The controversial symbol, which has it roots as a battle flag representing slaveholding secessionist states, became even more toxic in the wake of the Charleston shooting last week when alleged white supremacist Dylann Roof, who idolized the flag, killed nine churchgoers in an attempt to spark a race war.
On Monday, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley called on the state’s lawmakers to vote to remove the flag from Statehouse grounds, and a swell of state and national politicians calling for the same quickly followed.
Walmart announced its decision in response to a CNN inquiry about its products, which ranged from Confederate flag beach towels to themed pocket knives.
Speaking to CNN on Tuesday, Walmart CEO Doug McMillon said he was surprised to learn the retailer was selling products featuring the Confederate flag. “When we saw that [those items] were out there, we decided to discontinue,” he said.
“We just don’t want to sell products that make anyone feel uncomfortable and we felt like that was the case,” McMillon said. “This was the right thing to do.”
By midday Tuesday, Confederate items could not be found on walmart.com, though a search for “Dukes of Hazzard” did return nearly two dozen DVDs of the popular 1980s series featuring cover art that included the Confederate flag painted prominently on the roof of the protagonists’ car, the “General Lee.”
Meanwhile, music albums by southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd featuring the Confederate flag on their covers also were still available for sale. It is not clear whether removing those items would constitute censorship and lead to further backlash against Walmart. A request for comment from the company was not returned by press time.
Confederate flags were “Movers & Shakers” on Amazon Tuesday.
In the hours prior to Amazon announcing its decision to remove Confederate merchandise, the retailer’s website experienced a rush on Confederate flags, with sales of some products jumping by more than 4,000 percent, and by late Tuesday, sales for one of its Confederate flags jumped more than 15,000 percent, bringing its sales rank to number four from 613.
Based on the popularity of the flag, however, some companies that make Confederate flags and related products say they have no plans to stop selling them.
“I don’t sell the Confederate flag for any specific group, I just sell the flag,” said Kerry McCoy, owner and president of FlagandBanner.com in Arkansas, to The Associated Press. “This is America. Everybody has a right to be represented whether you are a history buff or a nut.”