Remove the Rebel flag
Is the Confederate flag a symbol of Southern pride, or is it a symbol that celebrates racism and hate? That's a debate that once again has found its way into headlines, after an obviously deranged young man opened fire in a Charleston, S.C., chur...
Is the Confederate flag a symbol of Southern pride, or is it a symbol that celebrates racism and hate?
That's a debate that once again has found its way into headlines, after an obviously deranged young man opened fire in a Charleston, S.C., church and killed nine black people who were there for Bible study.
Prior to the incident, the shooter posted photos of himself posing with a Confederate flag, sparking the argument that the flag should be banned from public grounds, including at the Capitol in South Carolina.
This certainly isn't a new issue. It sparked a few years ago at a Veterans Administration Medical Center in Hot Springs, S.D., when some patients there were offended that the Confederate flag was among those displayed in the hospital's rotunda. And in February of this year, residents in Pensacola, Fla., complained that the flag was still flying at government buildings. The flag has even been raised over tea party rallies as recently as a couple of years ago.
Proponents of the flag claim it is only a tribute to a bygone era and Southern pride.
The fatal flaw in their argument can be found in the word, "only."
We acknowledge that the Confederate flag is in part a tribute to Southern pride. The trouble is that it has also become a symbol of segregationist defiance and white supremacy. That what the shooter in Charleston knew when he showed off the flag. That's what the Ku Klux Klan knew when its members adopted the banner.
And for that matter, that's likely what at least some South Carolina legislators knew, when they first raised the flag over their own statehouse-not in 1890 or 1910, but on April 11, 1961.
The stated reason was the 100th anniversary of the battle of Fort Sumter, the Charleston Harbor outpost where the South had fired the first shot in the Civil War. But it wasn't a coincidence that the civil-rights movement also was reaching its peak at that time-and that segregationist Jim Crow laws in South Carolina still held sway.
Today, this more sinister meaning of the Confederate flag (actually the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia) has come to outweigh the flag's "Southern heritage" symbolism.
Furthermore, it's vital to remember that even that more benign meaning utterly ignores the "Southern heritage," pre-Civil War experiences of many thousands of South Carolinians-namely, slaves.
Clearly, whatever unifying purpose the flag once served has eroded. Instead, the banner now has become a divisive emblem that huge numbers of South Carolinians (and others) resent.
That means it cannot stand as a symbol of all Americans.
And that, in turn, means it has no place in American governance and should never be flown on public grounds.
Will taking down the flag materially improve the lives of African Americans in South Carolina or anywhere else? No. But the action will not only reaffirm our nation's commitment to racial equality, but also renounce in a vivid and public way the white supremacy that poisoned American life for centuries.
Dylann Roof hoped to launch a race war. Presumably, he wanted Confederate flags to be raised over or near the Capitols in all 50 states.
Instead, he's likely to see the flag at one of its few remaining official displays come down.
As gestures go, that one would be pretty meaningful and important.