Like all but the most hateful of Americans, I was deeply saddened by the massacre at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C last week. While there is no question the presumed perpetrator, Dylann Storm Roof is a deeply disturbed individual, it would seem there is little coincidence in the fact that he brandished his racial hatred while surrounding himself with the Confederate Battle Flag.
The flag’s apologists are quick to state their belief that the Confederate standard is merely a symbol of Southern pride and tradition, not a symbol of racial hatred. Recent history appears to contradict this claim. An excellent article in the online publication Vox explains how the 20th century use of various Confederate flags (there were several) arose as a racist southern response to the civil rights movement. Beginning in the 1950s state governments throughout the south began to amend their state flags to include the stars and bars as their way of expressing resentment of the federal government and the U.S. Supreme Court in particular. Following this they backed up the symbol with a rigid intransigence against cooperating with court rulings aimed at dismantling segregation and fully enfranchising African Americans.
When displaying the Confederate Battle Flag (or some variation of it) the person doing so is brandishing a reminder of the long defunct Confederate State of America, the rebellious “state” that seceded from the United States and was established exclusively to preserve the reprehensible institution of slavery. Today, neo confederates are fond of arguing that the passion for “states rights” was the cause of southern secession. While this is technically true, it remains evident even to the casual observer that there was really only one right they cared about–the right to own slaves and to profit from the free labor they provided.
In our hearts, ALL Americans know the real meaning of the Confederate flag. Let’s put it where it belongs: in a museum and nowhere else. By doing so, we can truly honor the victims of Charleston.