The speed at which attitudes and actions have changed, particularly in the South, about the Confederate battle flag has been staggering.
Since the senseless shooting deaths of 9 individuals attending a bible study class in a Charleston, South Carolina church on June 17, we’ve gone from the state’s governor calling for the removal of the flag from the capitol grounds to a growing number of retailers announcing the removal from sale of all items displaying the flag.
After police had arrested the 21-year-old lone shooter, they discovered a website where he posted photos of himself. Several of those photos show him holding the confederate battle flag.
Two days after the incident, political leaders from both parties, called for the removal of the flag. The following day, thousands of protestors gathered in front of South Carolina’s state capitol calling for the removal of the flag from the top of the capitol dome.
On June 22, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley said, “That flag, while an integral part of our past, does not represent the future. By removing a symbol that divides us, we can move forward as a state in harmony.”
The day following that announcement, major retailers Walmart, Amazon, Sears, and e-Bay, all announced that they would stop selling merchandise which displayed the confederate flag.
In a statement demonstrating their responsibility to changing beliefs, Walmart said, “We never want to offend anyone with the products that we offer. We have taken steps to remove all items promoting the confederate flag from our assortment — whether in our stores or on our web site. We have a process in place to help lead us to the right decisions when it comes to the merchandise we sell. Still, at times, items make their way into our assortment improperly — this is one of those instances.”
In an interview, the son of one of the leading segregationists, Strom Thurmond, South Carolina State Senator Paul Thurmond said, “I had a conversation with my wife, and her response was pretty straightforward: ‘Why do you think we need to keep it up?’ I had some conversations with some other people, and it was the same: ‘Do you really have a burning desire to keep it up? Does it make sense?’”
Even NASCAR, that bastion of Southern heritage and fast stock cars announced (July 2), “As members of the NASCAR industry, we join NASCAR in the desire to make our events among the most fan-friendly, welcoming environments in all of sports and entertainment. To do that, we are asking our fans and partners to join us in a renewed effort to create an all-inclusive, even more welcoming atmosphere for all who attend our events. This will include the request to refrain from displaying the Confederate Flag at our facilities and NASCAR events.”
Among the signatories to NASCAR’s statement: Darlington, Daytona, Talladega, Charlotte and Kentucky speedways.
That’s NASCAR, folks! It doesn’t get more deep-rooted than that.
Country-western singer Charlie Daniels expressed his point with a mixture of common sense and homegrown pride. In part, Daniels said,
“The bottom line is that the flag in question represents one thing to some people and another thing to others.… “The Confederate battle flag was a sign of defiance, a sign of pride, a declaration of a geographical area that you were proud to be from.
“That’s all it is to me and all it has ever been to me.
“I can’t speak for all, but I know in my heart that most Southerners feel the same way. I have no desire to reinstate the Confederacy. I oppose slavery as vehemently as any man, and I believe that every human being, regardless of the color of their skin, is just as valuable as I am and deserves the exact same rights and advantages as I do.…
“It’s up to the individual states as to what they allow to be a part of their public image. What the majority of the people of any given state want should, in my opinion, be their policy.…
“Please believe me when I say that, to the overwhelming majority of Southerners, the flag represents no such thing, but is simply a banner denoting an area of the nation and one’s pride in living there.”
Daniels’ sentiment appears authentic, and I applaud his strength in the democratic process in allowing states to determine the symbols that fly over their capitols. From an ethical perspective, however, history tells us that the Civil War was fought over the issue slavery. The Confederate battle flag, while not the flag that represented the eleven states that officially seceded from the Union, nevertheless, remains a symbol of a time in our nation’s history where black people were owned by whites. The Ku Klux Klan has used the flag at many of its events.
Charlie Daniels’ personal views against slavery notwithstanding, the flag continues to be a symbol of hate and oppression.
The flag can be acknowledged as a representative symbol of history, and by some, even honored, but it belongs in museums and homes, not flying on top of state capitol buildings or grounds.
North, South, East, West – it’s time for ALL of us to rally around larger, more inclusive symbols like those expressed in words that are recited daily at schools and events around our country:
“I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”