The Charleston Shooting Should Bring Down the Confederate Flag in South Carolina

The evocative symbol flying in front of South Carolina’s statehouse can no longer be considered a ‘nonissue.’

The statehouse in South Carolina on MLK Day 2015. (Photo: Chris Hondros/Getty Images)

Jun 18, 2015· 2 MIN READ
Britni Danielle is a regular contributor to TakePart. She writes on a variety of subjects for Clutch, Ebony, Jet, and others.

After the tragedy in Charleston, one of the first things people searched for was the why.

In a photo that circulated broadly on social media, things start to seem clearer. Suspect Dylann Storm Roof sits on the hood of a black Hyundai, fussing with the brim of his hat.

A telltale Confederate flag vanity plate can be seen between his legs.

When South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley took to her Facebook page to offer condolences, she wrote: “We’ll never understand what motivates anyone to enter one of our places of worship and take the life of another.”

The governor might take a look at the flag flying outside South Carolina’s statehouse for a clue to what might motivate a young white man to open fire in a black church that was the planning ground for one of the largest proposed slave rebellions in U.S. history.

Haley has called that flag a “nonissue” in the past, but the mass slaying in Charleston brings the potent symbol of racial violence front and center. Resurrected over South Carolina’s statehouse in 1962, the Confederate flag went up in response to federal orders to desegregate the South, and it remains a favorite among hate groups throughout the nation, which have ballooned in membership since President Obama took office. There are 784 known hate groups in the U.S., 19 of which are in South Carolina, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. Those who revere the Confederate flag and advocate keeping it visible in America cling to its historic significance, while those who wish it gone remember that history differently.

So, Why Should You Care? The Confederate flag initially served as a symbol of the failed insurrection of the Confederate States of America, the group of Southern states that attempted to secede from the United States. Plantation owners who pushed to secede believed their economic viability depended on continuing slavery in America at a time when owning another person was being rejected as a human rights travesty in other parts of the country. The rebel flag has also become a visceral representation of white supremacy, segregation, and racially motivated terror.

The debate over the flag remains a hot-button issue all over the South. On Thursday, the Supreme Court ruled against the Texas division of a group dubbed the Sons of Confederate Veterans that wanted to force its state into issuing vanity license plates that bear the Confederate flag. The Sons were seeking the right to have state-sanctioned license plates with the rebel flag on them, somewhat similar to what Roof had. Texas officials had declined the request, but the Sons believed it had a right to the plates under free speech. For the Supreme Court, it boiled down to a free speech issue—but it sided with the state, saying Texas can’t be forced into appearing to sanction the flag.

Given South Carolina’s, and particularly Charleston’s, history as the entry point for more than 40 percent of all enslaved Africans to America, flying the flag in a state that is more than a quarter black is not only problematic but also inflammatory. Imagine the black flag of the Islamic State flying over an American city as a constant reminder of the terror group’s heinous acts and ideology—that’s what the Confederate flag means to many African Americans.

In 2000, the flag was finally removed from the state Capitol when 50,000 people flooded the streets in protest. Despite the outcry, it was relocated to a nearby Confederate memorial and is available on state-issued license plates. It’s unclear how this might change in the wake of Thursday’s Supreme Court ruling.

During her 2014 reelection campaign, Haley said her state’s continued embrace of such an ugly symbol of the old South was a “nonissue.”

“What I can tell you is over the last three and a half years, I spent a lot of my days on the phone with CEOs and recruiting jobs to this state. I can honestly say I have not had one conversation with a single CEO about the Confederate flag,” Haley said in a debate, going on to cite diverse leaders being elected in the state as proof “we really kinda fixed all that.”

The mass murder of worshipers in one of the nation’s oldest black churches proves her wrong. Taking down the Confederate flag would send an even louder message.