Charleston shooting has Americans pushing the Confederate flag into the history books

One petition has received more than 100,000 signatures.


Patrick Howell O'Neill


Published Jun 19, 2015   Updated May 28, 2021, 1:06 pm CDT

The Confederate flag flying over the South Carolina State House has attracted vigorous new criticism after a white man killed nine black churchgoers in Charleston in what’s being described as both “an act of terror” and race-motivated hate crime.

As other flags around Columbia, the state’s capital, flew at half-mast, the Confederate flag flew tall, provoking questions as to why it wasn’t lowered—or removed entirely.

The state’s Republican governor, Nikki Haley, said she had no legal authority to do so, that only the state’s General Assembly could move the Stars and Bars. That’s true, a legal novelty introduced because the flag has been flown since 1962 in the face of nascent civil rights movements. But South Carolina is not the only state that flies the Confederate flag, nor is it the only place activists want to see it drop into the pages of history.

Around the country, the flag is receiving renewed criticism after this week’s massacre in Charleston. Over 107,000 people have signed a petition to “Remove the Confederate Flag from all government places.”

“Symbols of hate have no place in our government,” petitioner Karen Hunter wrote. “The Confederate flag is not a symbol of southern pride but rather a symbol of rebellion and racism. On the heels of the brutal killing of nine black people in a South Carolina church by a racist terrorist, it’s time to put that symbol of rebellion and racism behind us and move toward healing and a better United States of America!”

For South Carolinian conservatives, the issue is more “complex” than that, according to Rep. Mark Sanford (R-S.C.), who espouses the “heritage not hate” defense of using the flag. 

Arguments that the flag is about Southern “heritage” are countered with the fact that it’s a “heritage of White Supremacy was not so much birthed by hate as by the impulse toward plunder,” the Atlantic‘s Ta-Nahesis Coates wrote.

The Confederate flag was designed in 1861. It served as a battle flag during the American Civil War, a conflict in which the southern states fought to secede from the union on the basis that blacks were inferior and slavery should persist.

The flag became a major symbol of the South in the 20th century. It was used in a variety of ways, including by organizations like the Klu Klux Klan.

On white nationalist websites, like Stormfront, the Confederate flag is a powerful symbol recognized by the supremacy community.

For opponents of the flag, the issue is simple.

Photo via AK Rockefeller/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

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*First Published: Jun 19, 2015, 2:36 pm CDT