It was a sad day in this country on June 17, 2015 when 9 African-American men and women, including the Senior Pastor, State Senator Clamenta C. Pinckney, were maliciously gunned downed and killed during bible study at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown Charleston, South Carolina.
Police arrested 21 year old Dylan Roof the morning after the attack. The United States Department of Justice is investigating the possibility that the shooting was a hate crime or an act of domestic terrorism, among other motives. On a website published by Dylan Roof he included a manifesto detailing his beliefs on race, as well as several photographs showing him posing with white supremacy, but what has triggered the most uproar and debate are his photos of the Confederate battle flag.
After the attack, calls to remove the flag from statehouse grounds were renewed. At a statehouse press conference on June 22, 2015, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, flanked by elected officials of both parties called for the flag to be removed by the state legislature, saying that while the flag was an integral part of our past, it does not represent the future of South Carolina.
Several national retailers like Wal-Mart, Amazon.com, Sears Holding Corporation, and Ebay all announced plans to stop selling merchandise with the Confederate flag. Even my childhood dream car, The General Lee of The Dukes of Hazard will remove the flag from the car. This attack against the Confederate flag has caused many to fight back and say that their heritage is being destroyed and that they are not racist.
Those who support the flag say its beginnings were not harmful or offensive, but merely a symbol of recognition on the battlefield for southern soldiers. Others, especially many African-Americans, say the confederate flag is a symbol of racism and hate. Those trying to preserve southern heritage and culture, however, say the flag was taken over by hate groups that misrepresented the true nature of the flag’s history.
Let me give you my thoughts. Most Americans are not ultra-right-wing white supremacists, and a flag did not shoot nine innocent people during a Bible study meeting. But Dylann Roof is one example of a very real and very deep problem. Roof, like practically all American white supremacists, affiliated or otherwise, use the Confederate battle flag as a symbol of their hateful ideology. My research on the Confederate flag contradicts what many who support the flag are saying when they say it is only a symbol to preserve their heritage and not a symbol of hate. The facts show, by its own founding documents, was that it was explicit in its intent to maintain both white supremacy and African bondage; anyone who tells you otherwise is ignorant at best.
What happened in Charleston, SC is a result of America’s shameful past, and we have to do something about it. These are the questions we must answer to move forward. How do we meaningfully honor the victims in Charleston and how can we discourage support for white supremacy?
America probably can’t do anything to ever atone for so many generations of suffering and hardship brought upon African-Americans, but we can do something small and expedient. We can rid our public spaces of support for the Confederacy. We can demand our legislators and representatives, by any means necessary, to strip every public building and stretch of land of any recognition of those who rebelled against our United States and who brought death and destruction to our nation rather than recognize the liberty of African-Americans. We can metaphorically spit in the eyes of those who believed that their fellow human beings belonged in bondage by removing all images of the Confederate flag. We can do this now. There are no excuses. There’s simply no heritage of the Confederacy worth preserving. The Confederacy was wrong in its objectives.
In the long run, we can also push to see every statue of a Confederate leader torn down from their public squares, and every bridge, road, or other landmark renamed if they were named for anyone who joined the fight. Remove the flag on the grounds of its hatred symbolism.