Promising to remove the Confederate flag is good first step after over 50 years, but let’s not be so quick to praise the people of South Carolina

It looks like the Confederate flag, which has flown over the state capitol in South Carolina since 1962, a year after Alabama Governor George Wallace raised it on the grounds of the state legislature in Alabama to signify his dedication to the principles of segregation, may finally be coming down. Nikki Haley, South Carolina’s Republican Governor, had the following to say at a press conference late this afternoon, standing alongside several black members of the South Carolina legislature and fellow South Carolinian, presidential hopeful Lindsey Graham. “Today, we are here in a moment of unity in our state, without ill will, to say it is time to move the flag from the Capitol grounds,” she said. “One hundred fifty years after the end of the Civil War, the time has come.”

This, of course, comes just days after a young white gunman entered the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston and proceeded to take the lives of nine men and women engaged in Bible study.

Given how people on the right, in the immediate aftermath of the murders, did their best to suggest that the killings were not racially motivated, I wouldn’t have imagined that now, just a few days later, we’d be talking about the removal of the Confederate flag from the grounds of the South Carolina capitol. It’s amazing, however, how quickly the political winds can change direction in this era of ubiquitous social media and 24-7 news coverage. And, now, thanks to the discovery of the suspected killer’s racist manifesto, and photos like this one, showing him posing proudly with the Confederate flag, any hint of political cover has been ripped away, and people who, just weeks ago, were talking about how this flag is more a symbol of southern heritage than an advertisement for racism, are finding themselves with no choice but to admit that perhaps it’s time to finally move on from the Civil War.

Screen shot 2015-06-22 at 8.42.14 PM

[The Confederate flag, with this image, had become completely toxic… a symbol of what this young killer had stood for.]

With the discovery of the alleged killer’s so-called manifesto, and reports that he said “I have to do it… You rape our women and you’re taking over our country, and you have to go” to his victims while reloading his gun, there was no longer any denying that his actions were motivated by a deeply held belief in white supremacy.

Knowing this, and not wanting the Confederate flag to dominate the 2016 election cycle, Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, said that it had “become too divisive and too hurtful for too many of our fellow Americans.” He urged the the South Carolina legislature to remove the flag from their capitol. And all of the Republican candidates running for President, led by Jeb Bush, who, to his credit, had removed the Confederate flag from Florida’s capitol when he was Governor, joined him. They stopped downplaying the role of race in the murders, and they began joining the chorus of people demanding that it be taken down. By the time Governor Haley took the podium this afternoon, even Walmart had accepted the inevitability of it, announcing that they would be pulling all Confederate flag merchandise from their shelves.

I wouldn’t have thought it possible, but, when Governor Haley announced her intention to see the flag removed from the capital, her fellow Republicans in the South Carolina statehouse actually applauded her. [We’ll have to wait and see how they actually vote when the time comes, though.] In a state where, less than a year ago, six out of ten people still supported the flying of the Confederate flag over the capitol, this is truly an amazing change of course.

The alleged killer, according to friends, took the lives of these nine men and women in hopes that it would spark a race war. And, instead, all his actions have brought about so far is the unprecedented recognition on the part of South Carolinians, at least of the time being, that they can no longer in good conscience rally together beneath a flag that demonstrates to the rest of the world just how backward they are.

For those of you unfamiliar with the history of the Confederate flag, you should know that, despite claims to the contrary, it was never just a symbol of southern heritage. The following comes from The Week.

…(H)istory is clear: There is no revolutionary cause associated with the flag, other than the right for Southern states to determine how best to subjugate black people and to perpetuate slavery.

First sewn in 1861 — there were about 120 created for the war — the flag was flown by the cavalry of P.G.T. Beauregard, the Confederacy’s first duly appointed general, after he took Manassas, Virginia, in the first Battle of Bull Run.

After the Civil War, the flag saw limited (and quite appropriate) use at first: It commemorated the sons of the South who died during the war. We can easily forgive the families of those who died for grieving. No account of the Civil War can be complete without noting how vicious the Union army could be, and how destructive its strategy toward the end of the war had become. That the cause of the war, once the damned Union army actually invaded the South and started destroying it, came to be associated with an actual, guns-out defense of real property and liberties — mainly, the liberty not to die during a war — is not controversial. That’s what happens during wars.

But never did the flag represent some amorphous concept of Southern heritage, or Southern pride, or a legacy that somehow includes everything good anyone ever did south of the Mason-Dixon line, slavery excluded.

Fast-forward about 100 years, past thousands of lynchings in the South, past Jim Crow and Plessy v. Ferguson, past the state-sanctioned economic and political subjugation of black people, and beyond the New Deal that all too often gave privileges to the white working class to the specific exclusion of black people.

In 1948, Strom Thurmond’s States’ Rights Party adopted the Battle Flag of Northern Virginia as a symbol of defiance against the federal government. What precisely required such defiance? The president’s powers to enforce civil rights laws in the South, as represented by the Democratic Party’s somewhat progressive platform on civil rights.

Georgia adopted its version of the flag design in 1956 to protest the Supreme Court’s ruling against segregated schools, in Brown v. Board of Education.

The flag first flew over the state capitol in South Carolina in 1962, a year after George Wallace raised it over the grounds of the legislature in Alabama, quite specifically to link more aggressive efforts to integrate the South with the trigger of secession 100 years before — namely, the storming of occupied Fort Sumter by federal troops. Fort Sumter, you might recall, is located at the mouth of Charleston Harbor.

Opposition to civil rights legislation, to integration, to miscegenation, to social equality for black people — these are the major plot points that make up the flag’s recent history. Not Vietnam. Not opposition to Northern culture or values. Not tourism. Not ObamaCare. Not anything else…

Just so we’re clear, the reason the Confederate flag is coming down in South Carolina after over 50 years isn’t because conservatives finally saw the error of their ways. No, the reason the flag is coming down is that it’s relatively easy to take down a flag. [It’s sure as hell a lot easier than dealing with racism in a substantive way.] The bottom line is that the Republicans didn’t want to go into the 2016 election cycle with this flag as a backdrop. They know there’s too much on the line, as the next President will likely be replacing two justices on the Supreme Court, and they weren’t willing to sacrifice that in order to preserve a flag, no matter how much they might like it… Make no mistake. This isn’t about accepting change. This is about delaying change. This is like when a moonshiner with federal agents on his tail decides to start throwing bottles from his car in order to slow down his pursuers and make his escape.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy that the flag is likely coming down, and my hope is that other good things follow from it… But, when you get right down to it, it’s just a flag. And we shouldn’t see this as a huge victory. There’s still a great deal to be done, and we can’t just walk away from the fight thinking that we’ve won. We haven’t.

[As for how the flag should be taken down, I know I said a few days ago that it should be quietly pushed down by a crowd of a million people, but now I’m thinking that we should kill two birds with one stone and launch The General Lee at it, full of explosives.]

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15 Comments

  1. Elviscostello
    Posted June 23, 2015 at 12:19 am | Permalink

    I hope at the next Press Conference, a reporter asks Haley, “So why did it take 9 deaths for you to change on this issue?”

  2. Meta
    Posted June 23, 2015 at 8:35 am | Permalink

    I don’t think that she’s changed her mind on the flag. She just knew that the politics were against her.

    “For many people in our state, the flag stands for traditions that are noble. Traditions of history, of heritage, and of ancestry,” Haley, a Republican, said. “At the same time, for many others in South Carolina, the flag is a deeply offensive symbol of a brutally oppressive past.”

    The state, Haley said, can survive and thrive “while still being home to both of those viewpoints. We do not need to declare a winner and a loser.”

    “For those who wish to show their respect for the flag on their private property, no one will stand in your way,” Haley said. “But the Statehouse is different. And the events of the past week call upon all of us to look at this in a different way.”…

    Haley said to applause that if lawmakers don’t debate removing the flag this summer, she would call them back for a special session. “That will take place in the coming weeks after the regular session and the veto session have been completed,” she said. “There will be a time for discussion and debate. The time for action is coming soon.”

    Read more:
    http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2015/06/22/south-carolina-confederate-flag/29109939/

  3. anonymous
    Posted June 23, 2015 at 8:48 am | Permalink

    The clock was ticking. Obama was going to be delivering the eulogy for Rev. Clementa Pinckney on Friday, and you can be sure he was going to mention the flag.

  4. Arun
    Posted June 23, 2015 at 9:50 am | Permalink

    Haley will be impeached before that flag goes anywhere.

  5. Posted June 23, 2015 at 10:29 am | Permalink

    Maybe they should take down the American flag instead.

  6. jcp2
    Posted June 23, 2015 at 10:30 am | Permalink

    Interesting question. How do you get people to change their core beliefs? With small things at first. Then bigger. Then bigger. It’s just like cooking a frog.

  7. Eel
    Posted June 23, 2015 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

    If you happen to have a Confederate flag that you would like to get rid of, there’s going to be burning of such items on Friday, July 3 in Ypsilanti.

    https://www.facebook.com/events/965229120196625/

  8. Bad Amazon
    Posted June 23, 2015 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

    Mark, yesterday, in a stunning show of self-awareness, major U.S. retailers Walmart and Sears pledged to remove all Confederate flag merchandise from their physical and online stores.

    However, e-commerce platform Amazon has yet to pull products bearing Confederate symbolism.

    A search for “Confederate flag” on Amazon yields over 30,000 results—including bikinis, electronics, and home decor decorated with the flag.

    Sign the petition to Amazon: Immediately pull all merchandise bearing the Confederate flag.

    https://www.dailykos.com/campaigns/1318

    Keep fighting,
    Monique Teal, Daily Kos

  9. Meta
    Posted June 23, 2015 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

    Mississippi is considering changing their flag as well.

    http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/jun/23/mississippi-confederate-flag-consider-dropping-emblem

  10. Meta
    Posted June 24, 2015 at 7:50 am | Permalink

    The Cooter Store will not stop selling Confederate flag merchandise says Ben “Cooter” Jones.

    WVLT reported that Jones will not change the business and will continue to sell the flags. Retailers like Walmart and Amazon have pulled products depicting the Confederate flag.
    Jones told the station, “This is an American symbol of independence, of rebellion, yes, but of a spirit also of a nation, a country, a region, the south that pulled itself back up from total destruction.”

    “We’re not going to change a thing at Cooter’s. Ever. We know who we are, we’re good people, we’re not racist.,” Jones said in the WVLT interview. “We love everybody and we see that symbol as very, very positive. And we despise people who don’t. I despise people who use those symbols for racist or white supremacist purposes.”

    Read more:
    http://www.wsbtv.com/news/news/national/cooters-place-staying-put-despite-anger-over-confe/nmj8y/

    Buy racist trash:
    http://www.cootersplace.com/general-store/category/confederate-merch/

  11. Lynne
    Posted June 24, 2015 at 9:50 am | Permalink

    What I don’t understand about the people who say that this is just a symbol of southern pride is why on earth would anyone want to use a symbol of the regions most shameful period and most shameful action (They committed treason because they were worried that they might lose the privilege of actually owning other people!) as a symbol of pride for the region. There is much for the south to be proud of but that flag doesn’t symbolize any of those things.

  12. Jim
    Posted June 27, 2015 at 9:07 am | Permalink

    And the flag is down:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gr-mt1P94cQ&feature=youtu.be

  13. Posted June 27, 2015 at 9:41 am | Permalink

    Beautiful. Thanks, Jim.

  14. Meta
    Posted July 2, 2015 at 8:21 am | Permalink

    Why do people believe myths about the Confederacy? Because our textbooks and monuments are wrong.

    History is the polemics of the victor, William F. Buckley allegedly said. Not so in the United States, at least not regarding the Civil War. As soon as Confederates laid down their arms, some picked up their pens and began to distort what they had done, and why. Their resulting mythology went national a generation later and persists — which is why a presidential candidate can suggest that slavery was somehow pro-family, and the public believes that the war was mainly fought over states’ rights.

    The Confederates won with the pen (and the noose) what they could not win on the battlefield: the cause of white supremacy and the dominant understanding of what the war was all about. We are still digging ourselves out from under the misinformation that they spread, which has manifested in both our history books and our public monuments.

    Take Kentucky. Kentucky’s legislature voted not to secede, and early in the war, Confederate Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston ventured through the western part of the state and found “no enthusiasm as we imagined and hoped but hostility … in Kentucky.” Eventually, 90,000 Kentuckians would fight for the United States, while 35,000 fought for the Confederate States. Nevertheless, according to historian Thomas Clark, the state now has 72 Confederate monuments and only two Union ones.

    Neo-Confederates also won western Maryland. In 1913, the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) put a soldier on a pedestal at the Rockville courthouse. Montgomery County never seceded, of course. While Maryland did send 24,000 men to the Confederate armed forces, it sent 63,000 to the U.S. Army and Navy. Nevertheless, the UDC’s monument tells visitors to take the other side: “To our heroes of Montgomery Co. Maryland / That we through life may not forget to love the Thin Gray Line.”

    In fact, the Thin Grey Line came through Montgomery and adjoining Frederick counties at least three times, en route to Antietam, Gettysburg and Washington. Lee’s army expected to find recruits and help with food, clothing and information. They didn’t. Maryland residents greeted Union soldiers as liberators when they came through on the way to Antietam. Recognizing the residents of Frederick as hostile, Confederate cavalry leader Jubal Early demanded and got $300,000 from them lest he burn their town, a sum equal to at least $5,000,000 today. Today, however, Frederick boasts what it calls the “Maryland Confederate Memorial,” and the manager of the Frederick cemetery — filled with Union and Confederate dead — told me in an interview, “Very little is done on the Union side” around Memorial Day. “It’s mostly Confederate.”

    Read more:
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2015/07/01/why-do-people-believe-myths-about-the-confederacy-because-our-textbooks-and-monuments-are-wrong/

  15. Mike S
    Posted July 12, 2015 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

    Meta,
    You also need to atach all the corrections that this one sided article written by James W. Loewen had to post at the bottom of his article. Loewen left so many holes in his story that comments to his article tore it to pieces. He tried to mislead his readers into thinking Kentuckians don’t know their history. Kentucky in fact was a severely divided state that did lean more to the union but not by much. True numbers that fought for the union were thought to be 50,000 white men with another 24,000 freed slaves. Confederate soliders out of KY was thought to be somewhere between 35,000 to 40,000 troops. Louisville was pro Union while huge areas of the western part of the south was pro confederate. That’s just one of the many holes in his article.

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  1. […] those of you who still aren’t convinced, I’d suggest reading our last conversation about the Confederate flag, and the essay “It’s Time to Burn the Confederate Flag.” And, if, after that, you […]

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